Title game a contest of similar rivals

April, 1, 2012
4/01/12
9:02
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John Calipari and Bill SelfUS PresswireBill Self (left) and John Calipari are both good at getting their players to play as one unit.
NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky and Kansas are the two winningest programs in college basketball.

They are also two of the most similar, at least since John Calipari and Bill Self took over at the respective schools.

They have competed against each other for high-level recruits. Yes, believe it or not, Calipari isn’t the only one who seeks out players who are in college for one season. Self does it too.

“If your final schools are Kentucky and Kansas then that young man should be a very good player,’’ Calipari said.

“We’ve both had our fair share of good players and lottery picks,’’ Self said. “They’ve done the best job in recruiting in the country as far as a roster of freshmen and sophomores. They have by far the most talent, far away since he’s been there.’’

Self and Calipari recruited Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Kyle Wiltjer.

In previous years, Marcus and Markieff Morris were wanted by both coaches. The same is true for Xavier Henry.

“They both like athletic, fast guys who can run,’’ Robinson said.

Self and Calipari competed for the national title in 2008 when Calipari was coaching Memphis. Self won.

They are both incredibly competitive. Yet they are friendly rivals.

They want the best players, regardless of whether they are going to stay for one or four seasons.

They seek out similar talent: players who are going to defend, aren’t going to wilt one bit and must be able to check the ego at the door. Both coaches have succeeded at massaging the talent into one cohesive unit.

“Bill Self looks at his team and creates roles for his players,’’ Calipari said. “He gets guys to play their roles. He uses a lot of pick-and-rolls and they defend. His teams play hard and he essentially has a totally new team."

“Everybody talks about my team being new, but he lost his freshman class,’’ said Calipari, referring to freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor being ineligible this season. “Everybody thought they’d be an NIT team and they’re not in the NIT, he’s in the final game.’’

Self said the two coaches are similar in their philosophy of coaching. Of course, he put in that Calipari always has “guys,’’ a term used to essentially describe the immense talent Calipari has amassed.

“We want to recruit the best players in the country, and we go against Duke, Carolina and Michigan State and Texas, but at some point, you’re going to have to beat Kentucky,’’ Self said. “He’s much more animated than I am on the sidelines. But we both get after our guys.’’

They win under intense pressure and don’t mind all the attention that comes with it.

There are programs that feel pressure, some more than others. Winning at places like North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA is expected, and when it doesn’t happen, as has occurred in the past decade for all those schools, the pressure increases. Yet the scrutiny frazzles neither Self nor Calipari.

And their teams play in two of the most hallowed halls in the game: Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena. The fan bases travel as well as any in the country. They expect success. And both coaches have delivered.

Now they’ve got a chance to send their faithful home with a national championship, either Self’s second -- and second against Calipari -- or Calipari’s first.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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