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Snagging Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman is one of John Calipari’s all-time power moves

If there is one appropriate way to characterize Kentucky’s 2020-2021 season it’d be this way: “Just about everything that could go wrong, did.” There were player misevaluations, an antiquated style of play, assistant coaches that just didn’t fit.

Once the season did finally come to an end, it was clear that major change would be needed.

Well, we now officially have the first glimpse of what that “major change” looks like.

That’s because a story that has long been reported is now official: Orlando Antigua – a former Illinois assistant, who was the recruiting architect of the best teams of the John Calipari era – is headed back to Lexington. He’ll be joined by fellow Illinois assistant Ron “Chin” Coleman, a plugged in Chicago-area recruiter, who along with Antigua helped construct one of the most talented rosters in college basketball last season in Champaign.

To be clear, these moves don’t alone take away the nasty taste of what happened last season. Nor does it guarantee more championships going forward. But at the same time, what I’ll say is this: This move – swiping the top two assistants and recruiters off one of the five best teams in college basketball last year – isn’t just a major flex. It is one of the most impressive things John Calipari has done since he’s gotten to Kentucky.

Now look, I know that for some of you, the idea of snagging a few assistant coaches isn’t all that big of deal. It’s certainly not bigger than Kentucky winning the 2012 national title, making four Final Fours or even signing a player the caliber of Anthony Davis’ talent.

At the same time, basketball is about talent, plain and simple. It’s what Kentucky had an abundance of in previous years, and something that has seemed to slow to a trickle since shortly after the 2014-2015 season (un-ironically, the last year Antigua was on the roster). Things were low-lighted this past winter when Kentucky went 9-16 overall.

Well, all I can say is, with Antigua and Coleman now in place alongside Lucas, talent should no longer be an issue with Kentucky.

Let’s start with Antigua, because to me, it’s hard to fully express just how big this is for Kentucky. After the debacle that was the 2020-2021 season, it felt like there was only one move that Calipari could make that would truly calm the frustration of Big Blue Nation. That was “go out and get Orlando Antigua.” Everyone knew the role Antigua played in building Kentucky’s great teams of the early to mid-2010’s and it’s not like he’s slowed down since getting to Illinois either. He was the point person on two of the key cogs to the Illini’s Big Ten tournament championship team this year, Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo.

But beyond just the recruiting chops – which we all know about – is a familiarity with Calipari that I think can’t be undersold. Yes, there was a clear talent void on the roster last year, but as I pointed out many times during the season, I was also disappointed in the actual “coaching” going on as well. How often did a player trudge to the sidelines while getting screamed at by Calipari, only to go to the bench and have… no one come over, wrap an around the player and let him know things were going to be OK?

Below is what I tweeted after the Georgia Tech loss in early December:

Among many factors, that is one that I believe wasn’t talked about enough: There was no “good cop” to Calipari’s “bad cop” last season. It wasn’t going to be Jai Lucas (who just arrived last summer, and frankly, probably never got to know the players well during a strange off-season), and it never felt like Tony Barbee or Joel Justus got comfortable taking over that role after Kenny Payne left (I’m not blaming them, it’s just reality). It probably should have been Bruiser Flint, but he too was new last season as well.

In time, I expect it to be Antigua. Yes he is new. And yes, there will be a learning curve with his new players. But it is a role he has seemingly always been comfortable in, dating back to the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins days. And whether it’s intentional or not, one I expect him to take over as he re-associates himself with the lay of the land in Lexington.

Oh, and that’s on top of being one of the most dogged recruiters in the country. He is the exact guy Kentucky needed this off-season.

Then there is Chin Coleman, and while I personally – much like most of Big Blue Nation – don’t know nearly as much about him as Antigua, what I do know are a few things. One, he is a respected recruiter in Chicago, a notoriously tough place to recruit if you don’t know the lay of the land (there is a reason why a laundry list of DePaul and Illinois coaches have failed in those jobs over the last few decades, prior to Illinois’ success this season). And two, that he was very in-demand as well. I had heard rumors that Kansas was trying to hire him to replace Jerrance Howard (who joined Chris Beard’s Texas staff this off-season) and it’s clear Illinois did whatever it could to keep him as well. While Antigua’s arrival is huge, we shouldn’t undersell the fact that Calipari was able to snag Coleman as well, especially from his home state and home state school.

Beyond their individual arrivals however, to me, the bigger picture is much more intriguing: Think about what recruiting can and should look like under the new staff.

Antigua has obviously recruited all over the country, but has a specialty in the New York area, bringing guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson to Lexington and Cockburn and Curbelo to Illinois. Coleman’s area of expertise is Chicago, where he landed arguably college basketball’s best player last year (Ayo Dosunmu) and one of its top freshmen (Adam Miller). And Jai Lucas is well-respected in the state of Texas, which might be the hottest hot spot for basketball talent in America right now. He’ll have major competition, especially with the loaded staff Chris Beard just put together in Austin. But Lucas will still get his share of guys.

So from that perspective, just think about what it means for Kentucky: You now have the New York, Chicago and Texas footprints all covered, by arguably the most well-respected recruiter in each, individual area.

Admittedly that doesn’t mean that Kentucky will get every recruit in those three areas specifically (even in Antigua’s heyday at Kentucky he didn’t land every guy UK wanted). And with elite high school players now looking for alternate routes to the pros and the transfer portal now a huge, huge deal, the landscape is certainly changing. But elite high school players will still play college basketball (at least as long as the one and done rule exists) and portal recruiting is no different than any other recruiting. It’s about relationships, trust and keeping your ear to the ground. And Kentucky has three great ones at that.

In the end, there is still work to be done on the actual court to ensure what happened in 2020-2021 never happens again. So if a fan wants to be hesitant about two assistant coaching hires, I get it.

Still, it was clear that last season, among a million things that went wrong, one of them was “Kentucky’s players just weren’t good enough.”

While no one can guarantee anything, I can pretty much promise you that with the new staff in place, that won’t be an issue going forward.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

16 Comments for Snagging Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman is one of John Calipari’s all-time power moves

  1. Megan
    11:44 am May 6, 2021 Permalink

    Antiquated style of play? You have to play to your team’s capabilities. That’s smart. If they can’t shoot from the outside, you have to limit their outside shots. That doesn’t mean Cal’s opposed to outside shooting in principle! Like all good coaches, Cal adapts the style of play to his team’s strengths. But some make it sound like he tries to force his players to play some predetermined way. That’s never been the case. He spends a good part of the year trying to figure out what he has. Sometimes it takes until February. The one thing he doesn’t do is stick with one style or system over the years regardless of personnel. That’s because he doesn’t recruit to one style or system the way Boeheim does, for example. He’s one of the most adaptable coaches in the game.

    • 4everUKBlue
      1:27 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      Thank you.

      2:45 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      Agree 100%. I hate when ppl say Cal can’t coach. So they just hand anybody HOF inductee to coaches who can’t coach? All that happened is the game changed on Cal and usually he is ahead of the curve, but he missed on this (game becoming a shooters game with 4 out 1 in) along with misevaluation of players/striking out on top priorities. We also every team from here on out need top dogs at pg that are fast, penetrating guards who can score all 3 levels and distribute very well. Tyty can be that with Collins, Grady and Tsiebwe as your top 4, I’ll take that with another PG and return of Brooks. Mintz come back is a bonus to me. Don’t let Hardy come (I know longshot) but if so, everyone that called for Cals job will try to slither back to the top of the Mountain. Na go cheer for Puke or U of Fail

    • millertim
      3:40 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      Ah there’s Coach Cal’s chief defender, his daughter Megan… Who recruited last year’s team? CAL. Who put the starting line-up together? CAL. Who stubbornly clung to a high school senior to run the program when it was obvious from the start he wasn’t ready? CAL. Who continues to run a dribble/ drive offense with players who couldn’t beat anyone off the dribble? CAL. Who continued to play Sarr in the post when he’s really a perimeter player? CAL. Who angered and alienated a large portion of BBN with a social agenda during the season? CAL. Who refuses to scout or watch opponents tape to prepare for an upcoming game? CAL. He has refused to create a modern motion offense that focuses outside to inside— the current trend of the NBA which focuses heavily on OUTSIDE SHOOTING!! Who stubbornly clings to man-man defense and rarely switches to match-up zones? CAL. Who can never seem to make game time adjustments to what opponents are doing to beat us? CAL… Yeah Cal is adaptable—- what a JOKE!!

  2. Aar
    12:30 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    Megan, thank you for wtiting many of my thoughts. Well stated

  3. rosquirto
    12:33 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    Couldn’t agree more. Do think though that he was recruiting to a certain style of play that’s not the most efficient way to play offensively. The game has changed and to his credit I think you will see his recruiting change also. The days of a lumbering big man who is one dimensional offensively are over and trying to out play someone by simply having better athletes won’t work either. Excited to see what happens going forward now that orlando is back. Haing Ty Ty commit to add to the shooting we have now could mean a big bounce back next season. Go Cats

    12:41 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    I can see us Landing TYTY AND JADEN now and snagging the #1 class again. You ad those 2 along with this class and our transfers .It’s safe to say we will be back on top. The next order of business IMO will be to add on of the BIG transfers cause I do not see Jackson coming back unless they can talk him I to the Washington and quickly route. 2 and done. JACKSON, Oscar in the paint will be a force. Then let Collins have a Durant/Knox roll at 3 then the rotation of guards . Then if we land TYTY and Jaden WOW that will be huge fix. A team that can be a force. All hands on deck land those 2 guards.

  5. millertim
    2:04 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    Sorry but recruiting assistant coaches doesn’t get me excited! Some could see it as an admission that Cal’s own “coaching” is extremely limited and must resort to bringing in better assistants to augment his glaring deficiencies. If it turns around the horrific 2020-21 season then obviously I’m all for it. Maybe Coach O would have advised Cal to start Mintz at PG from the very start of the season or suggested that Allen should have been getting more minutes, or Askew’s role should be reduced, or maybe we should watch more scouting tape of our opponents since we are not a good team, or…

      2:56 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      I mean he suppose to adjust and yes, that includes getting better assistants to strengthen your weaknesses. A lil ying to his yang. Isn’t that part of what you want in a fan is your coach to upgrade the program? Both coaching staff, style of play, player evaluations, and transcending the program with what the basketball landscape is now and for the future? He’s doing everything us real fans can aak for. No one is perfect and he deserves a chance to correct it. And seems like he’s acting promptly, which I like and I still give him a couple years. But still have to see improvement from hear on out. I’m still a demanding fan lol

      3:01 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      Ask* Here* before grammar and typo police come

  6. CahillsCrossingNT
    5:38 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    They’ll gain nothing from all of this. The same person is now and will be in charge then.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      6:13 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

      Ah freshly back from Coach K sucking your virgin blood again I see.

    • Johnnyringo11
      6:26 am May 7, 2021 Permalink

      He is sucking something and I dont think its blood.

  7. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    6:15 pm May 6, 2021 Permalink

    We’ve struggled with the 2nd most important part in Cal’s machine the last few years….bigs, which is exactly where OA’s strengths are.