BOZICH | Kentucky's Calipari keeps the heat on North Carolina's Williams
North Carolina used to be the team that had the most talented roster in college basketball. John Calipari is one guy who has helped change that at Kentucky.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WDRB) – The time was when North Carolina came to every NCAA Tournament game with the most dazzling players in the bracket.
James Worthy. Sam Perkins. Michael Jordan. Rasheed Wallace. Jerry Stackhouse. Vince Carter. Antwan Jamison. On and on. You know the list.
Those times have disappeared. Credit (or blame) John Calipari. But understand that North Carolina coach Roy Williams hears about it on Tobacco Road.
Kentucky and North Carolina play Sunday at 5:05 p.m. (EDT) in the South Regional final at the FedEx Forum. The winner proceeds to the NCAA Final Four in Phoenix next Saturday.
You can say that. So I will.
A North Carolina team that starts nothing but seniors (two) and juniors (three) will try to eliminate a Kentucky team that starts primarily freshmen (three) and a sophomore.
The time was when North Carolina consistently had better players with sharper recruiting resumes than the Wildcats. Those times have changed. Calipari changed them.
Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, confirmed that Saturday during a press conference to preview the game. Williams said he whiffed trying to recruit De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, Kentucky’s three most talented freshmen – and Adebayo grew up in North Carolina.
“Yeah, there’s a difference,” Williams said. “He (Calipari) got them and I didn’t. I recruit the same guys … That’s the only difference -- they got them and we didn’t. We’ve got to try to figure out a way to compete with them and go from there.”
Win this game (and Carolina is favored by 2 ½ points) and Williams will have time to figure it out. Or he might not worry another second about it. Lose this game (and UK beat UNC, 103-100, in mid-December) and Williams will be reminded that he needs to figure it out.
Calipari’s three guys are likely bound directly to the NBA as soon as the Wildcats’ season ends. When that occurs, they will be Kentucky’s 18th, 19th and 20th one-and-done players since 2010.
North Carolina has not had any.
Not since 2007.
That was Brendan Wright, a player who picked the Tar Heels and Williams over Kentucky and Tubby Smith, one of several recruiting decisions that ignited a sustained howl across the Bluegrass.
Smith’s inability to sign Wright (and Tyler Hansbrough and others that picked UNC) soured some on the veteran Kentucky coach. That led to Billy Gillispie, which led to Calipari, which led to a considerable transformation in the talent gap between the programs.
Calipari was asked if the programs employed different recruiting strategies. As he often does, Calipari found a way to answer the question – and turn the spotlight back on the opposing coach.
“You’d have to ask (Williams) that,” he said. “But what I do is by design from coach Smith.”
That would not be Tubby Smith. That would be Dean Smith, the guy who trained Williams, recruited and developed Jordan, Worthy and many of the others and won two NCAA titles on his way to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
“When coach Smith was at North Carolina during the season, he said, ‘It’s all about the team,’ “ Calipari said.
“The minute this season ends it’s going to be all about each individual player and what’s best for them. That’s what Coach Smith did, and that’s what I do.
“Now, if he were coaching now, would he do what I’m doing? I bet you he would.”
Remarkable fact: Wright and Marvin Williams, a reserve on Carolina’s 2005 championship team, are the only one-and-done guys from UNC.
The recruiting world has tilted toward Kentucky, Duke, Arizona and away from the Tar Heels.
The Wildcats won the 2012 national title and are trying to surge into their fifth Final Four in the last seven seasons.
The Tar Heels won their last national title in 2009. Last season was the first time Williams has guided UNC back to the Final Four since that 2009 season.
North Carolina was 4.7 seconds from winning its sixth national title – and third for Williams – at the Final Four in Houston last year. Villanova ruined the narrative but supplied the motivation for this post-season UNC run.
Get this: North Carolina has two representatives of the rarest species in college basketball – former McDonald’s all-Americans who are playing their fourth and final season of college basketball.
That would be Carolina’s beefy inside guys. The Tar Heels list seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks as forwards, but both guys do their most productive work around the rim. Here is the reason: Meeks, who is 6 feet 10, carries 260 pounds. Hicks, only 6-9, is 242.
Both have played at least 140 college basketball games, 103 more than Adebayo. Their ability to succeed against the Kentucky freshmen will be critical because Fox and Monk, the Wildcats’ dynamic guards, have shown the ability to dominate any game at any time.
“I recruited Bam for a long time,” Williams said. “I just thought he was great."
“I went in to see Malik. De’Aaron, we tried to recruit him early but didn’t think we were getting there.”
North Carolina got to this Elite Eight game against Kentucky without getting them. Williams will only hear about it if North Carolina does not win one more.
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