Coaches Corner: Cal, Stoops and Mingione

UofL Coach Dan McDonnell and UK Coach Nick Mingione shake hands. (Photo by Victoria Graff)

My head spins when I hear talk of the 2019 recruiting class. The 2018 recruits have just arrived on campus, the season is one of the great imponderables of the entire John Calipari oeuvre, and yet the talk of the next group is just a reminder that Cal’s symphony is neverending.

It’s also a reminder that Calipari is approaching a decade at UK. It seems, of course, just the day before yesterday when we were hearing about the wonderment of the young John Wall. Now Wall is a veteran of the NBA, other phenoms have come and gone from Kentucky (some truly phenomenal, others less so) and Cal is off to Egypt to coach Team USA.

Even that is not without drama. Safety issues and threats of terrorism have caused not a few players to reconsider whether or not they want to go. That includes some of Kentucky’s current freshmen, already on campus. Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and P.J. Washington have not officially said yes or no, but their parents have weighed in with some concerns.

I kind of feel Cal will not be disappointed if his Kentucky freshmen choose to stay in Lexington, checking out the basketball rims and pizza joints. I think Cal took this gig, as much as anything, to get close to all those young roses still unplucked, still blossoming on the bush. That, apparently, would include Immanuel Quickley, who made Cal’s visit to his living room a social media event; Romeo Langford, the New Albany sensation (one of the few high school stars of recent years that Calipari and Rick Pitino seem to have an even shot at); and Bol Bol, the offshoot of the late Manute Bol.

Bol Bol is 7-foot-1; Manute was 7-foot-7. Does that make the youngster “Small Bol”? “Minute Manute”?

Not far from Cal’s mind, I’m sure, is how Mike Krzyzewski was able to develop relationships with so many youngsters he coached on Team USA. Or, more recently, the way Shaka Smart impressed Mohamed Bamba last year on Team USA, impressing him all the way to Austin, Texas. And then there’s the way Cal, as coach of the Dominican Republic national team in 2011 and 2012, was able to get close to the young Karl-Anthony Towns.

So Cal strides into the mysterious Middle East, Indiana Jones’ bullwhip in his hand. Does he come back with the lost ark? Or, better yet, with Romeo Langford?

On the Grid

Before we celebrate the Calipari Decade of Love, though, we have a football season in front of us – just 11 weeks until kickoff in Hattiesburg, against Southern Miss. And revenge.

Mark Stoops has several questions ahead to be answered. Does he stick with Stephen Johnson at quarterback, though Drew Barker is a more imposing classic QB type, and Gunnar Hoak has shown all kinds of potential? And what about prize freshman Danny Clark?

Has he plugged the gaping holes on his defensive line? Will Matt Elam ever be as good as expected? How big a loss will Alvonte Bell be? And what exactly did he do wrong?

Can Stoops somehow pull the unlimited potential from Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and C.J. Conrad? (I think all Conrad needs is a quarterback who can throw it somewhere near his hands.) Can he seamlessly replace Jon Toth in the middle of the offensive line from the abundance of talent he has in that group? Does he actually have a viable punter in Columbia transfer Matthew Panton, an Australian-style kicker? Or are we going to see if Grant McKinniss can provide better field positions for his defense this year?

How many times a game can Benjamin Snell Jr. carry the ball? Is A.J. Rose the next Junior Snell?

And will we hear Stoops’ same tired cliches to the same tired questions? Or will the sportswriters have better questions to ask?

Diamond Dust

It’s never fun for any Kentucky team to lose to Louisville. But in the end, Nick Mingione’s UK team was outplayed by a superior team in all aspects of the sport.

I wondered about the decision not to pitch Sean Hjelle in the first game of the series, but it turned out that didn’t matter.

Still, there was an excitement about this year’s bunch. And if Mingione can build on it, keep it from being just a one-year wonder, maybe there are more capacity crowds at the new ball field, more good times ending with more and more dog piles in the center of the infield. Maybe even, one day, in Omaha. VT