Guess who celebrates a birthday on Wednesday???
I’ll give you a hint: He’s a huge part of the reason Kentucky fans can brag about four consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes. (And that’s him in the photo.)
Yup, you guessed it, Orlando Antigua. Coach O turns a cool 40 years young Wednesday, though he doesn’t look a day past 37.
For those of you out of the loop, Antigua is in his fourth season on the Rupp Arena sideline at Kentucky; he came over with Calipari after one season on his staff at Memphis and five years under Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh. Prior to coaching, Coach O was a McDonald’s High School All-American, Parade Second Team All-American, a star at Pitt, and a seven-year Harlem Globetrotters veteran. He earned the nickname, “The Hurricane” for his dazzling moves while trotting the globe in red, white and blue.
Since arriving in Lexington, Antigua has established himself as a highly-regarded assistant coach and one of the top recruiters in the country. Sure, Coach Cal gets credit for being the best recruiter in basketball, but it’s Coach O who is out on the road or in the air on scouting trips, while building and maintaining relationships with recruits to make all the #KentuckyEffect magic possible. He really doesn’t get enough recognition for what he does on the recruiting trail at Kentucky and it won’t be long before another program swoops in and takes him away for a head coaching position. But let’s not think about that right now. It’s his birthday and he’s happy UK is having success:
Happy Birthday, Coach!
I told the managers to put a candle in your almonds.
The new-look Kentucky Wildcats will attempt to win its first basketball game Wednesday night when the Commodores come to Lexington for an 8:00 p.m. matchup on the SEC Network. Vanderbilt is currently sitting at 4-8 in conference play and looking to win back-to-back games after losing five of six from Jan 26 – Feb 13. The ‘Dores lost the first meeting between the two teams in a close one at home with a controversial late bucket from Nerlens Noel. But, despite Noel’s shot-clock-beating two that confused Bob Knight all to hell, Vanderbilt still had shot to win it at the buzzer but Kedren Johnson’s three-pointer was off the mark. Johnson led all scorers with 18 points against the UK backcourt.
For Kentucky, this is the ultimate must-win of must-win games. We’ve said it time and time again, but losing isn’t an option Wednesday night. Vanderbilt at home is one of the two easiest remaining games on the schedule — along with Mississippi State at home (2/27) — and a loss will almost certainly remove the Wildcats from NCAA tournament consideration. Kentucky needs to go 5-1 during this final stretch with wins over Vanderbilt, Missouri, Mississippi State, at Georgia, and at Arkansas, and then play Florida reasonably close at home on Senior Day. Anything else, without a win over Florida, and we’re likely rooting for the Cats to run the table in Nashville to receive an automatic bid. This is life right now, UK fans.
While most of us are confident Kentucky will rebound from Saturday’s appalling loss in Knoxville and get the job done against Vanderbilt, the college basketball odds makers out in Las Vegas are extremely confident, apparently. Kentucky opened up as a 12-point favorite over Vanderbilt when the lines were released Tuesday afternoon. The line has since dropped down to 10.5 on most offshore sites. Before you go betting your life savings on Vandy to cover, I’ll advise you to be careful because this line screams “free money” and “too good to be true.” It’s lines like these that Vegas rakes in the cash.
John Calipari was available to the media Tuesday to discuss his team’s second game in the A.N. era, and he used a question about his smaller lineup to remind everyone that things are different at Kentucky. “It’s late, but this is a new team,” he told reporters before practice. “What we’re doing here has never been done with young guys. It’s not what we want to do; it’s just how it’s all played out. The second thing is there’s not been a team that’s been one of those teams that’s lost their best player the last six or seven games and have the guy be the kind of player that you have to change a little bit and tweak how you play. The only way you can learn what’s working and not working is in the games. Then you have some time to adjust, a day or two. Then you’ve got to throw it in the next game. That’s where we are. You can’t just skip steps. But I’m accepting it and saying to these guys, ‘Let’s go.’ We’re still getting after it.”
Cal also said he believes this team can still be special, so long as the defensive, guard play — which he called “shaky at best” — and toughness improves. He said, “We can make what we want of this season. Whatever we want to make of this season we can do. We could be the story of the year of recovery and all that. We can do that, if they choose to do that. We don’t have to win every game. We just have to know that we’ve got to keep getting better and figure out how this team has to play, and then see how we can do it and how we march on.”
We, the fans, want to believe with Calipari that this team can still be special, but it’ll take some obvious progress Wednesday night. We’ve been seeing the same mistakes and lack of effort from the same people for too long. If we’re to believe the potential for greatness is still there, there needs to be signs of drastic improvement across the board against Vanderbilt. The clock is ticking.
Julius Mays, the only consistent player on the roster, also knows it’s now or never. He told reporters he’s not looking back, only ahead. “We know the task in front of us and we’re ready to get started,” he added. Mays said he doesn’t think their minds were right before the Tennessee game and he agreed with what Calipari said postgame that last Friday’s practice was the worst of the season. “We were just out of it mentally,” he said.
One of the things they’ve been working on recently is taking charges, according to Jarrod Polson. The team never really felt the need to take charges with Nerlens in the lane because of his ability to erase or redirect shots, but now they’re focusing on drawing charges to help limit drives from opposing players. Polson said a lot of the guys have never taken a charge in their life, but they’re learning to do it now.
Limiting Vanderbilt’s drives shouldn’t be too difficult Wednesday night; the Commodores tend to limit their own drives. Two interesting stats: 42.7% of Vanderbilt’s field goal attempts are three-pointers (ranked 16th nationally) and 38% of the team’s total point comes from three-pointers (ranked 4th nationally.) Get out on those shooters!
Brian Long is mic’d up…
It’s College GameDay week.
In basketball recruiting news, Coach O didn’t make it to Cordia High School to watch Emmanuel Owootoah on Tuesday night, but Rodrick Rhodes confirmed UK will be in the building Friday night for the second round of the district tournament. Owootoah is undersized for a high-major point guard, but Rhodes told the Herald-Leader that UK likes his court vision and feel for the game. If an offer is extended and Owootoah signs, he could be a solid contributor in three to four years after practicing with the Harrison twins and whoever else Cal brings in from the 2014 class. It also suggests that the staff has given up any and all hope on Ryan Harrow, who should be the backup next season and should compete for the starting job in his senior season.
Eric Bossi from Rivals.com caught up with 2014 power forward Trey Lyles to discuss life after trimming his list to six schools. When asked about the potential of playing at Kentucky, Lyles said, “Of course it is another great coach down there and they get guys going to the NBA every year. Of course they have a great legacy and I feel like I could be a great fit for the system.” Lyles also said he likes Pitino’s ability to put guys in the NBA, which tells me he only watches the Los Angeles Lakers when Earl Clark is in for an injured Pau Gasol. Or maybe he’s still holding out for the emergence of Samardo Samuels in Cleveland.
Dakari Johnson measured at 7’0” for the first time on Monday and then tweeted it to his followers. The big news led Karl Towns to tweet that he’s one inch taller than Dakari. Together, the two tweets make me really excited about Kentucky’s frontcourt in the future. I’m going to tweet about it.
I don’t want to leave you without any football updates, so I guess we’ll wrap things up by saying the Spring Game is 1,267 hours away. That’s 52 days.
Have a good night and Go Cats.
Our friend Josh Hopkins is on Conan tonight. Tune in to TBS to see if #BBN gets a shoutout.