The Final Week of March Madness tidbits (and baseball)…..
— After five memorable years in Lexington, Orlando Antigua’s tenure as an assistant coach at Kentucky has ended.
With UK’s national championship run now over after Monday night’s 60-54 setback to UConn, finishing as the NCAA runner-up with an overall record of 29-11, the likeable 41-year-old Antigua is moving on to South Florida as the newly-named head coach for the American Athletic Conference school, which is, in John Calipari’s terms, “a sleeping giant.”
One Florida writer wrote last week that Antigua could be the new Billy Donovan, who remarkably has guided football-oriented Florida to four Final Four appearances, including two national titles.
Ironically, he got the USF job shortly after the school withdrew its coaching offer to ex-Wildcat player (and Manhattan coach) Steve Masiello due to a discrepancy in his resume.
A former McDonald’s All-American and student council president during his high school days, Antigua played for the Pittsburgh Panthers and later for the Harlem Globetrotters.
His first coaching stop was also at Pittsburgh, then a member of the tough Big East Conference, where he spent five years as an assistant for Jamie Dixon and reached the NCAA tournament every season, including a couple of Sweet Sixteen berths. Then he joined Calipari at Memphis and Kentucky.
So if Antigua, who also attended Tuesday afternoon’s UK Season Celebration at Rupp Arena, finds success at South Florida in the next few years, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing him get the coveted UK post when Calipari decides to retire. Calipari is 55 years old and has said he’s likely to step down from coaching by the time he turns 60 or so.
Speaking of Antigua, who is fluent in Spanish and grew up in Bronx, N.Y., he would be a great choice at Kentucky in the future if he wins at USF, gaining some valuable experience as the program head.
For several years, Antigua has worked under Calipari, who is rapidly becoming a legendary figure in college basketball. For five years, he also has seen how the fanatic Big Blue Nation operates. And he can recruit. ESPN included Antigua in the top five of the most feared assistant coaches on the recruiting trail in 2013.
So the “Hurricane,” a nickname he got during his early Globetrotters days, could be back in Lexington in a few years.
In the meantime, though, he could be bringing the Bulls for a date with the Wildcats at Rupp Arena in the immediate future.
— Matthew Mitchell, the head coach of UK women’s basketball team, has two openings on his coaching staff.
I have a suggestion. How about Valerie Still, UK’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder (men’s and women’s), as an assistant coach? Many folks in the Big Blue Nation would like that.
Still, who has played and coached in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), said over the weekend she is ready to return to Kentucky and would like to be an assistant for the women’s program. And her son, Aaron, is graduating from high school in June, meaning that Still is ready to relocate and do something great for her alma mater.
For Still, who now lives in New Jersey, getting the job at Kentucky would be awesome and a great homecoming.
Hey, don’t forget there is also a job opening on Calipari’s staff, too. Having Still on the men’s team would be a fascinating choice. Remember Bernadette Locke-Mattox over 20 years ago when she became the nation’s first woman assistant coach on a prestigious men’s squad when Rick Pitino was coaching at Kentucky?
— In case you missed it, Seth Davis, who provided TV commentary during the NCAA tournament, tweeted, “My best guess: Kentucky will be John Calipari’s last coaching job.” He made that comment about 12 hours after the NCAA title game.
— On a personal note, the 2013-14 campaign has been a very enjoyable and magical ride in covering the surprising Cats, including trips to St. Louis and Indianapolis during the NCAA tourney. This team obviously deserves a good catchy name that the Wildcat fans can agree on.
On my Facebook page, I asked my friends and readers if they have any suggestions for a memorable nickname for this wildly-popular Kentucky club, which this week finished No. 2 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll . While there wasn’t a strong preference for a particular name, several folks seem to like the “Cardiac Cats.” I have other suggestions, too. How about the
“Unexpectables” or the “Wow Cats” or the “Fighting Cats?” What do you think?
— In UK’s 74-73 thrilling win over Wisconsin Saturday night, freshman center Dakari Johnson, not surprisingly, was uneasy on his team’s last possession when Aaron Harrison hit another game-winning three-pointer.
Johnson said, “I was nervous. Andrew (Harrison) drove the baseline, and I just knew he was going to pass it to me. He passed it, and I kind of bobbled it a little bit and I was like ‘Here this is you, take it!’ ” Then Andrew passed the ball to his twin brother and the rest is history.
— During the Final Four weekend, there was a nice article on Chronicle.com, the Web site for The Chronicle of Higher Education, a well-known academic publication based in Washington, D.C.
A story by Brad Wolverton discusses UK’s one-and-done players over the years and how well they have done in the classroom. For the most part, they actually excelled in the classroom, including former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Even one UK professor was impressed with Wall’s attitude on academics.
— Seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood will have a lot of great memories and stories to share with the Big Blue Nation for the rest of their lives. They have been to the Final Fours in Houston, New Orleans and North Texas.
“Down the road, if we say, ‘We’ve been to three Final Fours,’ I don’t think people will believe us,” said Polson. “It’s not very common at all, even getting to a Final Four one time. Just ending our careers on a note like this really means a lot.”
— On Calipari’s recent “tweak” to the team, Julius Randle said, “I’m not supposed to talk about it, but it has definitely changed the energy of the team and our chemistry. It’s brought us closer together. It just improved the team.”
— Looking ahead, the 2015 Final Four will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the site of Kentucky’s recent stunning victories over Louisville and Michigan in the Midwest Regional. You can now apply for the Final Four tickets online via ncaa.com/mbbtickets.
— The Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates should invite Calipari — who grew up in Moon Township, a Pittsburgh suburb — to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at one of their games this summer.
— If you still can’t get enough major league baseball, don’t forget there are 2014 baseball yearbooks — Athlon Sports (athlonsports.com), Lindy’s Sports (Lindyssports.com) and Sporting News (sportingnews.com/yearbooks) — that you can get online or at your favorite newsstands. The colorful annual publications are still very good as usual.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.