HOUSTON ——UConn has never had a player leave for the NBA after just one season in Storrs. John Calipari has had many one-and-done players at Memphis and Kentucky.
Calipari spoke Friday about going after the best players and, if it came down to it, preferring talent over experience. The coaches have different views on this.
Kentucky has 13 players in the NBA, tied with Duke for the second most behind UCLA's 14. UConn, sixth on the list, has 11. The Huskies are led by Kemba Walker, who Saturday was named to his fifth All-American first team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
"If it's so involved that you bring us to a Final Four, we're that good a team, you're that good a player, we'll encourage you [to leave]," Calhoun said. "Like right now Kemba Walker, I know where he is in the draft — top-10 someplace. He probably needs, if the opportunity presents itself, to go. That should be determined by our success, your success, your growth, how you mature as a player and a person."
Walker was attempting to atone for a dismal performance in his only other Final Four appearance. He had four points (1-for-5 from the field, 3-for-9 from the line) in UConn's 82-73 loss to Michigan State in a 2009 national semifinal in Detroit. That year, Walker had scored a then-career-high 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the Huskies' Elite Eight victory over Missouri.
Young Coaches Impress Calhoun
Toward the end of VCU's practice Friday, coach Shaka Smart took one for the team by taking part in a drill he has long made players endure. Smart took a charge, hit the floor and then dove to try to save a ball from going out of bounds.
Count this among the things you'll never see done in practice by Jim Calhoun, who at 68 would be the oldest coach to win a national championship, do in practice. Smart, 33, and Butler coach Brad Stevens, 34, a combined one year younger than Calhoun, who continued a charity bike ride in 2009 after breaking several ribs in a fall.
"I like watching them," Calhoun said. "If those are two of the guys that are coming up to fill in the coaching ranks, I feel pretty good. I feel they're both terrific guys and obviously they're both terrific coaches."
Calhoun did joke about getting physical with Kentucky coach John Calipari, 52. Asked if all the hype surrounding Calhoun-Calipari and Brandon Knight-Kemba Walker overshadowed the teams, Calhoun said, "Yeah, it's Kentucky vs. Connecticut. … As far as John and I playing, I'd take him into the low post, but we're not playing the game. My point being, simply, it's about two schools." … Monday's final will be the 2,900th game in NCAA Tournament history. … Entering Saturday, the tournament had 19 games decided by three or fewer points or overtime, tying the 1998 and 2010 tournaments for the second-most all-time. In 1990, there were 24 games decided by three or fewer or overtime. … UConn and VCU tied a modern record (since 1948) by playing their 40th games of the season Saturday. It's had been done seven times previously. … Houston is the 13th city to host multiple Final Fours (1971 in the Astrodome), and the sixth to host multiple Final Fours in different venues. … Calhoun is the 17th coach to reach four Final Fours. John Wooden coached in 12, Mike Krzyzewski 11. … The Huskies entered with a 12-0 record in tournament play (3-0 in the Maui Invitational, 5-0 in the Big East, 4-0 in the NCAA). "Hopefully it's going to hold us in good stead," Calhoun said. "I always get worried about everybody when you jump on the big stage with 80,000 people because it is a little bit different. When you're here in the Final Four, it is different."