COLLEGE HOOPS NOTEBOOK | Pitino pumped, Poythress positioned - WDRB 41 Louisville News

COLLEGE HOOPS NOTEBOOK | Pitino pumped, Poythress positioned, Crean 'cookie'd'

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The WDRB College Basketball Notebook has not had a Maker's Mark bottle created in its honor. But on the up side, you don't have to scramble to liquor stores all over the city to find it, nor do you have to enter a ticket lottery to get it signed. On the down side, you can't drink it, though from time to time its authors are accused of having written it under the influence.

But enough of that. Let's break the wax seal on this week's edition:

PITINO PUMPED ABOUT CARDS' EARLY WORKOUTS

Before signing bottles at the KFC Yum! Center this week, University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of his team's first summer workout: "It was the finest practice I've had in my 12 years here for one hour."

The 'Book believes it was a two-hour workout, so one of the hours may not have been quite as sterling, but be that as it may, Pitino described why he was so impressed: "So competitive. I was blown away by it. I'm very pumped up and very excited."

Earlier, with Terry Meiners on WHAS radio, Pitino said, "Things look good. I like the guys. They came back with a great attitude."

From a first look, Pitino said he expects sophomore Montrezl Harrell to have the upper hand at the starting center spot. Harrell, who is trying out for the USA under-19 team, "has dominated the workouts we've had," Pitino said. "He looks awesome right now."

He said Chane Behanan suffered from a sophomore jinx and says he's learned a lesson from that. Pitino said Mangok Mathiang, a redshirt freshman center, "is sort of like a 6-10 version of Otis George (who was 6-8). He's a shot-blocker, a terrific athlete, good runner, great size. He's a little more offensively talented than Otis. He's one of the quickest guys on our team, not as talented or gifted as Gorgui (Dieng), but he's still just a freshman."

Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear will share time at small forward. And Pitino said he doesn't know what the guard combination will be, just that all of them will play, saying, "the backcourt is wide open."

"Russ (Smith) is really excited," Pitino said. "He's showing a lot of leadership. . . . He wants to make himself a first-round draft pick. He knows he has to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio, and his outside shot."

Pitino says he's also high on his newcomers at guard, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. "Rozier is very, very talented. So is Anton (Gill) and so is Chris."

Listen to the entire interview on Terry Meiners' page by clicking here.

U OF L TO BUY COURT FROM NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP

Pitino also said on Meiners' show that U of L is close to announcement that the program will purchase the basketball court from its NCAA Final Four run. UK did the same last season using a portion of it as the floor for its renovated Rupp Arena locker room.

Pitino told Meiners he expects to sign a large number of pieces to be placed up for sale. He said to expect an official announcement in the coming weeks.

UK'S POYTHRESS LISTED AHEAD OF HANCOCK, SHEEHEY BY SPORTING NEWS

Mike DeCourcy last week ranked the top players in college basketball at all five positions, but it's his rankings at the small forward spot that likely will raise some eyebrows in these parts.

He ranked Andrew Wiggins of Kansas No. 1. Little surprise there. But at No. 6, he placed Alex Poythress of UK, who struggled down the stretch of his freshman season. His reasoning? "We all know how disappointing Poythress' freshman season was," DeCourcy wrote. ". . . (but he) still averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 58 percent from the floor. Those numbers were almost by accident. What if he returns for his second season with confidence and wisdom?" It's a point worth thinking about.

Still, DeCourcy placed reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock of Louisville at No. 9, and didn't even rank Indiana's Will Sheehey, who he implied was an either/or choice with Hancock on his list. Said DeCourcy of Hancock, "He scored only 27 points in the team's first four tournament games. So the question is whether the Cards will require him to be a high-level option, or once again someone who accepts his role and plays heroically when there's no other choice. If it's the latter, we'll regret not ranking IU's Will Sheehey."

Because who wants a kid who plays heroically when his team needs him, and fills roles when the team needs that? Better to average 11 and 6, the 'Book guesses.

CARDS TO GET NASCAR TREATMENT

When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Vickers climbs in the No. 55 Toyota at Kentucky Speedway on June 29 he and his Aaron's Dream Machine will sport U of L colors and a paint scheme honoring the school's 2013 NCAA championship team.

The Cardinal mascot on the hood and Vickers' red, black and white fire suit will pay tribute to the school whose campus is about 60 miles from the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky.

"This will certainly help my popularity with local fans that weekend," said Vickers, who will drive Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 in the nationally televised NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

"I'm a big fan of sports in general so to have the national champions on board is a huge honor. They are winners and it's always cool to surround yourself with success. Our goal is to make them proud."

"We're thrilled Aaron's and Brian Vickers have chosen to run the Louisville colors during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Kentucky Speedway," Rick Pitino said. "I know how many Louisville basketball fans are NASCAR fans, and like them I'm looking forward to seeing the car on the track. I think one of those die cast cars might eventually make it to my office. I've seen the paint scheme and it's really sharp."

U of L supporters and alumni can support Vickers in his second Sprint Cup start at the speedway by taking advantage of a special Cardinal Takeover ticket package that includes admission to a hospitality tent with food and complimentary beverages, a Fan Zone pass that provides race-day admission to the infield for pit road access and a trackside view of a prerace concert with Billy Currington.

The first 200 fans to attend the Cardinal Takeover also will receive a collectible red miniature Louisville Slugger bat with the race logo emblazoned in gold. Cardinal Takeover packages can be purchased by clicking here.

ANTIGUA TAPPED TO LEAD DOMINICAN NATIONAL TEAM

A familiar face will slide into John Calipari's vacated seat as coach of the Dominican Republic national team.

UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua was named the head coach by the Dominican Federation on Thursday.

Antigua has spent the past two seasons serving as an assistant to John Calipari for the Dominican team which fell one win shy of advancing to the nation's first Olympic appearance in 2012.

"I'm extremely excited to have this opportunity," Antigua said in a release from UK. "Anytime you can coach and be a participant of a national team, it's very special. For Coach Calipari and (UK Athletics Director) Mitch Barnhart to allow me to take part in this opportunity means a lot, on a personal level as well as professionally.

"I'm also thankful to the Dominican Federation, (Federation GM) Eduardo Najri and (Federation President) Rafael Uribe for their confidence in entrusting this program and team to me," Antigua said. "It is my goal to build upon the recent success we've enjoyed and continue to make this a program the Dominican Republic can be proud of."

More from the UK release:

A native of the Dominican Republic, Antigua suited up for the national team in 1994-95 and 1997-98. Antigua then served as an assistant coach with Calipari and helped lead the Dominicans to the finals of an Olympic qualifying tournament before losing to Nigeria. The loss prevented the Dominican Republic from reaching its first Olympic games.

Antigua will remain as an assistant at UK after having helped lead Kentucky to a national championship in 2012. Since arriving at UK, the Wildcats have advanced to a pair of Final Fours and reached the Elite Eight three of four years. Antigua serves as Kentucky's lead recruiter and he has helped UK haul in five-straight No. 1 rated recruiting classes.

"I'm happy for Orlando and this opportunity to lead the Dominican Republic national team," Calipari said. "I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish over the past two years, getting this country to the brink of its first-ever Olympic appearance. I'm confident with the experience he has that Orlando will build on the team's success and take it to new heights."

CALIPARI ANNOUNCES DETAILS FOR DRIBBLE DRIVE SHOOTING AND SKILLS  ACADEMY

UK last week announced the dates and information for the inaugural John Calipari Dribble Drive, Shooting and Skills Academy.

The school bills the Shooting and Skills Academy as the first of its kind and says it will offer detailed skill work designed for players off all ages. All of the drills taught are geared exclusively toward the skills needed to succeed in the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. The Academy will focus primarily on the offensive skills that campers can take home and continue using to improve their offensive skill set.

The inaugural academy is scheduled to take place Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Joe Craft Center, and will offer two separate sessions available for registration. Both sessions are open to both boys and girls from kindergarten through 12th grade, with a limited number of spots available in each session. Each academy will provide campers will extensive interaction with current Kentucky coaches and players as they teach offensive skills stations, demonstrate drills used by the Kentucky players, and speak about what it takes to become a champion. Campers will enjoy all of this in the comfort of the greatest facilities in all of college basketball.

An online registration option, with more info on the academy, is available at the UKathletics.com website. Online registration is available by clicking here.

A camper's grade level is based on the grade in which the camper will be enrolled during the fall of the 2013 school year. Any camp-related questions can be called into the men's basketball camp line at 859-257-9457.

TOM CREAN CONFRONTS COOKIE MONSTER AT TOUR STOP

When Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean made his annual trek to Huber Winery and Orchard in Starlight Indiana as part of the Hoosiers' Tailgate Tour recently, fans welcomed him with a large tray of cookies, and each cookie featured the roster number of a player from next season's team. As he opened his remarks, Crean took the cookies and ran with them.

"People bring up, how are you going to deal with what you lost. How are you going to deal with losing four thousand-point scorers. . . . There are always watershed moments in life. . . . You get those watershed moment that define reality for you. And it's not the fact that we lost 74 percent of our scoring. It's not the fact that we lost 77 percent of our three-pointers. It's not that we lost 67 percent of our minutes and 67 percent of our rebounds. That hadn't hit me yet -- (until) I picked up these cookies."

He held up the tray and went on: "We got a zero. We've got an 11. And I'm not even sure who 35 is, I guess that's Noah Vonleh. We've only got three players on here. Now reality has hit. Where's 40? Where's 2? Where's 4? Where are all these guys?  It's like, wow. It feels like six years ago, except those numbers were walk-ons. So I looked at that, and maybe it's an inside joke to me, but it's like, this thing's different now."

HARPER EXCITED ABOUT WKU NEWCOMERS

When we last checked in on Western Kentucky University basketball, it was scaring the living daylights out of Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.

At a Toppers on Tour event in Shepherdsville, Ky., earlier this week, WKU coach Ray Harper said confidence from that run is a good thing, but an infusion of new talent and depth is even better.

"We're moving in the right direction," he said. "This summer we added some pieces to the puzzle that we needed. I think we're gong to be more athletic and our depth is about where we need i tho be. A couple of kids who sat out are really going to help us. Chris Harrison-Docs (a transfer from Butler) brings us toughness and Trency Jackson is undoubtedly the best athlete on the team so those two are going to be keys."

Given the way the program got its footing late and made another late run to the NCAA Tournament, Harper acknowledged that the expectations for a big regular-season have ramped up. But he said competition more than confidence will be key to meeting those.

"You want expectations," he said. "Fortunately we were able to finish last season in a very positive meaner. We had some injures that were hard to overcome, and it was great to see the kids persevere through all that and stay together at the end. Our kids have a lot of confidence in themselves and what we're trying to build. But we've also added six new guys who are going to challenge guys who had major minutes last year. . . . We're going to be able to extend the court and play more full-court defense, and those are things we just couldn't do last season. Hopefully we'll stay injury-free and have more options.

"We think we have a chance to have good basketball team. We know the history and tradition of this program and we want to get it back to being a Top 10, Top 20 program year-in and year-out."

THE LIST

RANKING THE TEN MOST ATHLETIC TEAMS FOR 2013-14

Bleacher Report took on the task of ranking the teams they expect to be the nation's most athletic for next season. Here's what they came up with:

1. Kentucky
2. Michigan State
3. Louisville
4. Oklahoma State
5. Syracuse
6. Arizona
7. Kansas
8. VCU
9. Florida
10. Memphis

Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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