Who's had the better off-season -- Rick Pitino (left) or John Calipari?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The scoreboard never sleeps.
The 2014 NCAA Tournament ended one month ago in Texas. Don’t ask me to explain how Connecticut won the trophy. Billy Donovan can’t do it. John Calipari can’t do it. Kevin Ollie can’t do it. I can’t do it.
But, like I said, the scoreboard never sleeps. Both Calipari and Rick Pitino are winning this offseason.
Who has the edge?
Let’s go to the videotape.
Advantage Calipari – Returning Talent.
You know the numbers. I shared them several weeks ago. Kentucky and Duke will become only the second and third teams with nine McDonald’s all-Americans on one roster in college basketball history.
Think about this: Kentucky will have at least four McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench. You’ll only find four other McDonald’s All-Americans on the rosters of the 13 other teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress will become only the first recruits since Jon Hood to stay for three seasons. Calipari won’t be able to talk about the youth of his team next season. He won’t have to.
Advantage Pitino – Montrezl Harrell.
Pitino doesn’t have as many critical underclassmen returning as Calipari, but he kept the one that matters – Harrell, who should average a double-double.
Like the Harrison twins, Harrell made the sensible move by returning to college for another season. He’ll be an enforcer on the court and in the locker room, demanding effort and attention to detail from his teammates. He’s got the motor to become a first-team All-American.
Advantage Calipari – Kenny Payne.
Orlando Antigua has taken his talents to Tampa to try to achieve something Lee Rose, Stan Heath and other coaches could not do – win at South Florida.
But Calipari kept an essential voice – Payne.
The next time you’re in Rupp Arena, follows the dynamics on the UK bench. After Calipari makes one of his dramatic in-game corrections, the player leaving the court generally sits next to Payne, who patiently explains what the head coach wants. Payne is the guy the players trust.
Several weeks ago I asked one of Payne’s friends if he was interested in the job at Southern Mississippi, a job that opened when Donnie Tyndall jumped to Tennessee. Payne grew up about 30 miles from the USM.
The answer was no.
The friend said that the USM job didn’t pay enough – about $500,000 per season. On Wednesday, UK announced that Payne had signed a two-year deal worth $500,000 per season, plus incentives.
This is the perfect time to remind everybody that John Wooden never made more than $35,000 per season at UCLA.
Advantage Pitino – Kenny Johnson.
Pitino needed somebody who could recruit, recruit and recruit after Kevin Keatts left for North Carolina-Wilmington. Johnson is that guy. He proved it at Indiana.
He’s smart, relentless and connected in the challenging world of AAU basketball, especially in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. That’s a perfect place to be connected when you’re coaching in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Johnson’s salary number has not been released yet, but the word about Payne’s lucrative deal should get him a few more dollars.
Advantage Calipari – Players First.
Check the May 11 issue of the New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction hardcover books. “Players First,” the book that Calipari wrote with Michael Sokolove appears for the second consecutive week, sitting at No. 12 after opening at No. 3.
Advantage Pitino – The Schedule.
Even Pitino confessed that the Cardinals’ schedule, especially at home, was blah last season.
Not any more. Three Top 15 ACC teams – North Carolina, Virginia and Duke – are coming to town. Syracuse and Notre Dame return to the schedule.
And the Cardinals will compete for a share of the Big Ten title by playing Minnesota (Puerto Rico), Ohio State (KFC Yum! Center) and Indiana (Madison Square Garden). That’s more like it.
Advantage Calipari – The Schedule
Kentucky announced the names of two more opponents Wednesday – UCLA and Texas.
Add those two to a list that already includes Kansas (in Indianapolis), North Carolina (Rupp Arena) and Louisville (KFC Yum! Center), and it will be the most entertaining non-league schedule in Calipari’s six seasons.