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Antigua named Calipari’s successor of Dominican Republic national team

John Calipari will no longer coach the Dominican Republic national team after taking the country to new heights over the last two seasons, but he’s leaving the program in good hands.

Orlando Antigua, an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky and an assistant on the Dominican Republic national team for the last two seasons, will take over the reins from Calipari and lead the Caribbean nation as its next head coach. Antigua was officially announced as the new head coach Thursday morning.

“I’m extremely excited to have this opportunity,” Antigua said. “Anytime you can coach and be a participant of a national team, it’s very special. For Coach (John) Calipari and (UK Athletics Director) Mitch Barnhart to allow me to take part in this opportunity means a lot, on a personal level as well as professionally.

“I’m also thankful to the Dominican Federation, (Federation GM) Eduardo Najri and (Federation President) Rafael Uribe for their confidence in entrusting this program and team to me. It is my goal to build upon the recent success we’ve enjoyed and continue to make this a program the Dominican Republic can be proud of.”

The Dominicans came within inches of reaching their first-ever Olympic appearance in men’s basketball under Calipari and Antigua, falling to Nigeria least season in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

It was the closest the Dominican Republic had ever come to qualifying for the Olympics.

Despite the heartbreak of last year’s defeat, the program has flourished in its short time under Calipari and Antigua to where it is now capable of competing with the best teams in the world. Over the last two seasons, the Dominican Republic finished third in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship as well as winning earning a gold medal at the 2012 Centrobasket championships, its first since 2004 and third in program history.

Unlike many of Calipari’s and Antigua’s teams at Kentucky, where Antigua will remain Calipari’s assistant, many players from the Dominican Republic’s historic run will be returning, especially the core group of players who have served as the building blocks to the nation’s success. NBA players Al Horford and Francisco Garcia along with Jack Michael Martinez have served as the foundation since Calipari’s arrival, and now will look to continue to that development under Antigua’s watch with a bit of assistance from Coach Cal from afar.

“I’m happy for Orlando and this opportunity to lead the Dominican Republic national team,” Calipari said. “I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish over the past two years, getting this country to the brink of its first-ever Olympic appearance. I’m confident with the experience he has that Orlando will build on the team’s success and take it to new heights.”

Antigua, a native of the Dominican Republic and a former player for its national team, will get his first chance to work with his team when training camp begins the first week of August. The Dominican Republic will then play in two exhibition bouts against Puerto Rico on Aug. 14 and 16 before competing in the Jenaro “Tuto” Marchand Continental Cup beginning Aug. 22.