Orlando Antigua’s journey to becoming one of the most well-respected, successful assistant coaches in men’s college basketball has been interesting to say the least. Following a collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, Antigua opted to sign a contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. Antigua became the first hispanic player to make the Globetrotters roster, adopting the nickname “Hurricane.” After seven years of representing the Globetrotters, Antigua retired in 2002 before beginning his climb in the coaching ranks.
Antigua had a few stops along the way, including a stint with Jamie Dixon at his alma mater before joining John Calipari at Memphis as an assistant 2008. The two have been side by side ever since. If John Calipari is the perfect fit for the University of Kentucky, then the combination of Orlando Antigua and John Calipari, especially on the recruiting trail, is equally as important to the overall success.
Antigua has made a name for himself in recruiting circles by building meaningful relationships with the players that Calipari and the rest of his staff target. When high school prospects are interviewed and asked to share their thoughts on Kentucky or the relationship with the coaching staff, Antigua’s name comes up just as often–if not more than Calipari’s. The players are quick to mention Calipari’s success and track record of putting players in the NBA, as well as the style of play at Kentucky. Calipari is a busy guy though. Orlando Antigua is the guy putting in much of the time and groundwork in building strong bonds with these players. The players almost always make a comment about how personable or how close they feel with Antigua.
Antigua, who often focuses on the big men in the recruiting process, helping to land the likes of Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Nerlens Noel, etc. has proved himself well in that aspect of the job. And now, Calipari is finding ways to deal out more responsibility to Antigua. Antigua also assists Calipari with the Dominican National Team. Calipari has noted a lot of reasons for taking on the extra challenge and time commitment of coaching the Dominican Team. One reason that might not get enough credit is to help groom and give experience to Orlando Antigua, who was also born in the Dominican. With Calipari’s time and presence being spread and pulled in a number of directions, especially in the summer, Antigua is able to step in to take the lead in his absence. Just this week Antigua has been full-time with the Dominican National team as they compete in the Centrobasket tournament. Calipari made certain to give credit to Antigua on a radio show yesterday for his first win as a head coach on his own for the Dominican Team.
Between the experience gained working with the Dominican Team, his experience in the system at Memphis and now Kentucky, and his track record with recruiting, Antigua’s name is often tossed into the mix when a coaching job opens up around the country. Calipari and Mitch Barnhart worked together to ensure that the assistant coaching staff received multi-year contract extensions this season, which is somewhat of a rarity. The extension/raise for Antigua was in all likelihood given as a reward for his work, but also as a buffer so he could have job security and not be tempted to jump for a head coaching job until the right one comes along. The opportunities have knocked for Antigua–and will continue to knock– but with his new contract, he can afford to be a bit picky.
Chances are that at some point in the next 3-4 years, a position will open up and it will be the right situation for Antigua. Calipari has expressed that he would be supportive of Antigua becoming a head coach–even saying he is ready for the challenge. But Calipari also believes Antigua can wait for the best possible opportunity to come along.
The real question then becomes whether or not Antigua may be getting groomed for something bigger. In fact, it’s not completely out of the question to think that Orlando Antigua could someday sit atop the throne at the University of Kentucky. To step into the Kentucky job as a first head coaching job would be daunting, perhaps even impossible to ask of someone. But if Antigua lands a head coaching job at another school, finds success and shows promise and aptitude, likely molding at least some aspects of his coaching after Calipari– is it not possible that we could see his name pop up down the line if/when the Kentucky job opens up again?
We may not know yet where Orlando Antigua’s coaching journey will go next, but this much is certain– we are witnessing the grooming of a future head coach in men’s college basketball. I’d be willing to bet that we are watching the grooming of a future successful head coach in men’s basketball.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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