As the University of South Florida gained a new head coach in Orlando Antigua this week, Kentucky lost a lovable assistant and one of the game’s best recruiters.
Antigua, who has been with the Wildcats since the start of the Calipari era, has built an impressive résumé during his coaching career — 10 NCAA tournament appearances, seven trips to the Sweet 16, four Final Fours, one national championship — and was hired as head coach of the Bulls on Monday.
Even though Antigua is moving forward in his career and UK is losing a valued assistant in the process, John Calipari and the players are happy for Antigua and his long overdue opportunity.
“The guys were ecstatic for him,” Calipari said. “They were happy. Willie (Cauley-Stein) got on the phone with him and said ‘You know you owe me now. I helped you get that job.’ It’s just funny. This is a little different deal here. The guys aren’t separated from the players, they create relationships with them and these guys are happy for them. … It is the right job for him.”
The basicsWhat: No. 8 seed Kentucky (28-10) vs. No. 2 seed Wisconsin (30-7)
When: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (77,122) in Arlington, Texas
TV/Radio coverageTV: TBS
Radio: UK IMG
Satellite radio: Sirius TBD; XM TBD
Live stream: NCAA.com
Live stats: Gametracker
Live audio: Westwood One
Live blog: CoachCal.com
Head coach: Bo Ryan (320-120 at Wisconsin)
Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky (14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game)
Series history: UK leads 3-1
Last meeting: UK won 63-57 on March 27, 2003
Calipari believes the University of South Florida is the perfect match for Antigua because of his heritage and position as the head coach of the Dominican Republic National Team.
“Being South Florida, one of his home bases is going to be the Dominican Republic, which he will be able to recruit,” Calipari said. “So now you’re talking South Florida, a little Latin flavor. They also need someone to excite their fans, their campus. Well, that’s him. That’s who he is. That’s why I say it’s a perfect fit, in my opinion.”
But Cal isn’t the only one cheering about Antigua’s new coaching job; the Kentucky players are happy for him as well.
“We’re extremely proud of him,” Marcus Lee said. “He’s a really great guy. If I can think of someone who has more energy than I do going through practice, it’s him. He’s the most energetic person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. So I’m real proud of him. He’s done a lot for me and the team, so I’m loving what he’s doing.”
Antigua will stay with Kentucky to finish out the Wildcats’ tournament run.
“I’m excited for him,” Andrew Harrison said. “We’re going to miss him around here, but he was a great coach and they’re lucky to have him.”
Cal’s friendship with Bo Ryan
Saturday’s Final Four showdown with Kentucky and Wisconsin is more than just a game for Coach Cal and Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.
The two head coaches have a close friendship and connected over the relationship Coach Ryan had with his father. Calipari and Ryan spoke Monday, and according to Cal, he was the only person Ryan answered the phone for.
“Well, let me tell you, he and I talked yesterday for about 15 minutes and what I told him was I watched the end of your game and I watched the interview and I got emotional because he talked about his father,” Calipari said. “The reason we got to know each other was because I got to see how he was with his father. His father would go everywhere with him. Every year. And I’d see his dad, and we’d talk. It’s like Billy (Donovan). I like Billy, but what I respect the most is what he is with his dad. His dad sits on the bench. So are you coaching tonight? I grab him – ‘What are you coaching tonight? Rebounding? Defense?’ But, the same with Bo and his father. Coaching and all that – I don’t care. Wins, national championships, that doesn’t matter.”
Calipari plans to honor Ryan’s father, who died in August, at the Final Four banquet before the games.
“To see him and how he was and then know that and watch that postgame, he and I have planned a toast to his father at the function that they do for all of the teams,” Calipari said. “So, we’re both going to have a beer and toast to his dad. I said we’re going to toast him yesterday and he said great. I told him I wish we weren’t playing each other because one of us has to lose. I’m happy for him. He’s a good man. He’s a good guy.”
AT&T Stadium take two
Playing in AT&T Stadium on Saturday for the Final Four isn’t the Wildcats’ first rodeo with the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Back in December, Kentucky dropped a 67-62 decision to the Baylor Bears in Arlington, Texas. Heading into Final Four action, the Wildcats are hoping to block that loss out of their mind and this time around, produce a different outcome.
“It’s a huge place, very nice place,” Andrew Harrison said. “We did play there earlier this year, but we want to forget that game and just go in there with a new life, a new team, a different team.”
Aaron Harrison said they had no idea if they would make a return trip after that Baylor game. Their thoughts were focused simply on the heartbreak of the loss.
“After a loss you always have to have some negative thoughts,” he said. “But it was just another game really, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Capacity for the Final Four will be 77,122. Having played there once already, the Cats aren’t worried about shooting sight lines or playing on a stage, especially after their experience there the first time and this past week at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“It’s huge and it’s just going to be fun,” said Julius Randle, who is returning to his hometown for the Final Four. “The atmosphere, the environment, so many people there. The last time it was an ice storm, so it was a big arena but it wasn’t too many people. I’m just looking forward to this time playing in front of a big crowd and competing again.”
Viewers of the Final Four will have two options for watching the game on TV.
They can stick with the usual national broadcast on TBS, which will feature Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr, or they can watch an alternate, UK-specific version on TNT that will be called by local broadcasters Rob Bromley (play-by-play), Rex Chapman (analyst) and Dave Baker (sideline reporter).
Turner Sports and CBS are experimenting with team-specific broadcast during the Final Four to give fans the option of watching the game through the view of one team. Each team in the Final Four will have a team-specific broadcast.
To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you’ll enjoy even more coverage than normal.
Cats back to business as Final Four week begins