John Calipari told his Dominican Republic team to go out and have fun against Team USA in its exhibition game Thursday night in Las Vegas. Unfortunately for the Dominicans, it looked like the Americans were having the best time.
In a 113-59 final, Team USA did what everyone expected of the top team in the world and spoiled what would be Calipari’s final game as head coach of the Dominican Republic National Team. With the uncertainty of his future with the Dominican team lingering after coming up a victory short of the Olympics, Calipari cleared the air on national television – giving Kentucky basketball fans a bit of a scare in the process.
“I always said I’d retire by the age of 55,” Calipari said. “Well, I’m officially retiring after this game … from the Dominican Republic. I’m going to help them, consult and do those things, but I don’t think I’m going to be coaching them.”
The Dominicans came up five minutes short of reaching their first-ever Olympics, falling to Nigeria last weekend in the third-place/fourth-place game at the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Even so, the Dominican Republic made great strides under Calipari, coming closer to the Olympics than the country ever has.
“We’re a good team,” Calipari said before the game, “but this team we’re playing can maul you, and they have strength at every position.”
It didn’t happen immediately, but by the middle of the third quarter, the mauling was well under way.
The Dominicans kept it relatively close throughout the first half, even hopping out to a very early 4-2 lead in the first quarter. That lead did not last long as Team USA took advantage of its size and athleticism to make an 8-0 run. The Americans’ smothering defense made it nearly impossible for the Dominicans to get any good looks at the basket. Meanwhile, Team USA was getting anything it wanted on the offensive end despite cold shooting from the floor.
Late in the first quarter, the injury bug once again bit former Louisville Cardinal Edgar Sosa, who is returning from a broken right leg he suffered last year. While coming down the floor, Sosa planted and pulled up gingerly and needed help to get off the floor. He announced after the game that X-rays confirmed he broke his left foot.
The Dominicans could not get anything going offensively despite playing some solid transition defense on the backside of their misses. They shot a frigid 9 for 33 from the field and went 3 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half. Team USA led at halftime 50-21 with Kevin Durant leading all scorers with 21 first-half points.
“Team USA, wow!” Calipari said. “Their length and athleticism was impressive.”
Things never improved for the Dominicans from there. Team USA jumped out to a 79-41 lead after three quarters, and both Calipari and USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski emptied their benches to the delight of Kentucky fans.
After Team USA lost Blake Griffin to a knee injury, a decision was made to bring former Wildcat Anthony Davis back to Las Vegas after he initially did not make the team. With Griffin reportedly ruled out for the Olympic games in London, Davis was given an opportunity to come out and try to make an impression to take Griffin’s spot.
Davis entered the game and played for most of the fourth quarter. He almost immediately made an impact on defense, grabbing a steal out on the perimeter, taking it himself to the basket and drawing the foul.
This year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player followed with an offensive rebound and stick-back. Then, in one of the most entertaining moments of the game, with the 32 seconds left fourth quarter, Davis knocked down a 3 despite getting fouled to the ground. As he sat up, he held up Kentucky’s signature “3 goggles” and had a congenial exchange with his former head coach down at the other end of the floor. He would finish the game with nine points on the night in 10 minutes of play.
“I’m so proud that Anthony Davis is having this opportunity and I truly believe this experience will push him ahead in his career by years,” Calipari said. “The coaching and what he’ll learn from the players will be an enormous benefit.”
Manuel Fortuna led all Dominicans in scoring, while Jack Michael Martinez had a solid eight point, 10-rebound effort. Horford, who struggled against one of the top defenders in all of basketball in LeBron James, chipped in seven points and pulled down eight boards.
Calipari was scheduled to head to the East Coast immediately after the game to hit the recruiting trail.