“Butter-side up!” “You’re crazy! Butter-side down! We’ll never get along!”
I apologized the other day for taking Sofia Vergara off the top spot; now that I’m doing the same to Vin Diesel, I’ll say “You’re welcome.” His only good movies were The Iron Giant and Saving Private Ryan, and that’s only because you didn’t see him in one, and he didn’t spend a lot of time on screen in the other.
But as we focus more on the impending basketball season, and less on one-dimensional actors, we turn to the Nike Global Challenge, where the top coaches in the country head to watch recruits and chit-chat. As fate would have it, Bill Self and Coach Cal, opponents in last year’s title game, got a chance to rub shoulders and talk about whatever it is college coaches talk about when they’re not wearing ties and yelling.
But as conversation between championship Coaches is wont to be, Self and Cal’s recent exchange at the Challenge turned into something of a competition, with Self, uh, “winning,” if you want to call it that. No, it wasn’t about who’s hung the most title banners; that’d be a short conversation, since they’re tied at one apiece. It wasn’t about who’s got the better program tradition, either. That’d be a short conversation, too, but for different reasons.
The talk this time focused on the incoming classes. The two coaches discussed their new players like a couple of kids counting the gold stars they got at school that day, with Self asking Cal how just how many freshmen he’d have this next year. According to CBSSports.com:
“I’ve got four,” Calipari said.
“I’ve got eight,” Self countered.
“You have eight!?!” Calipari asked, and I think this is probably a fact that’s been lost on those outside of the state of Kansas — that the Jayhawks will have eight freshmen this season.
“Eight freshmen,” Self said. “And [four] seniors.”
That number includes six true freshmen, highlighted by five-star PF Perry Ellis out of Wichita, and two red-shirt freshmen, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor. McLemore is one of the more talented guards around, and should be more than capable, and Ellis is expected to be a force inside as Kansas goes after its 827th consecutive Big 12 championship. So even with the turnover, Self is looking at a top ten, possibly a top five preseason ranking.
But still, eight freshmen is a little ridiculous. It’s hard to say whether this intentional on the part of the Jayhawk coaching staff, or a necessary hassle to combat the massive roster turnover from last year. One thing’s for sure, though: Self is going younger. Much younger. Is that a result of last year’s tournament, where he saw a team of first- and second-year players win a championship? Probably not, because there wouldn’t be enough time between then and now to arrange a roster like this. But it will be interesting to see how his team does this coming year, and whether they’re able to make some noise. If they do, and Self joins Calipari as an uber-successful “freshman” coach, look out. Other coaches will jump on the bandwagon faster than you can say “one-and-done.”
So congratulations Coach Self: you’ve matched Cal’s proclivity for hauling in a bunch of freshmen. Now let’s see if you can match his ability to get them to play as a team, and win with them. Self’s a very smart guy, and a great coach, so the safe bet is to assume he’ll be able to win sooner rather than later. It’s interesting though to think that maybe, just maybe, Cal’s mindset has begun pervading the collective college basketball consciousness. Is it a coincidence that the two national title contenders from last year are two of the youngest teams in the nation this year? No one knows better than Self that a team of talented freshmen can beat a team of experienced upperclassmen. He saw it first hand, and it’s possible he’s already started to adapt. How long before the rest of the country start to catch on?