Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Self, Calipari spin it before KU-UK game

By Andy Katz


NEW YORK -- The spin has begun.

Kansas coach Bill Self smirked a bit about his squad and conceded Monday night that his team isn’t as short on depth as he thought and could be just fine.

“We’re deep,’’ he said at a State Farm joint event with Kentucky coach John Calipari. “We’re going to be all right.’’

Calipari said his team isn’t very good right now. The Wildcats practiced poorly Monday, and Calipari said he essentially has no idea what to expect.

“We could be like deer in headlights [Tuesday],’’ he said. “We had an awful practice. We’re anxious about the game. We’ll see.’’

Both teams opened with wins of 40 points or more, but when they meet in the nightcap of the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET), they will certainly get a feel for where their teams are at this early stage of the season.

The Wildcats already have had a hiccup. Star Terrence Jones and fellow sophomore Stacey Poole Jr. were in a car accident last week after being out past 2 a.m. the night before the season opener. Neither sustained any major injuries when the car they were passengers in was hit by what was reportedly a drunk driver.

Jones came off the bench and scored eight points in the rout over Marist, whereas Poole didn’t play and announced he would transfer. Calipari said he would help Poole land wherever he wants to go.

Meanwhile, Kansas has weathered the loss of key recruits Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who were declared academically ineligible by the NCAA. Kansas players who played in pickup games with McLemore told coaches they thought he was an NBA talent.

But Self said Monday night he was pleasantly surprised with the season-opening play of freshman Naadir Tharpe (six points, four rebounds), senior Conner Teahan (11 points, four rebounds) and transfer Kevin Young (13 points, three rebounds). He’s also anticipating that Thomas Robinson will have plenty of help inside from Jeff Withey and Justin Wesley against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

“Anthony Davis is a hard matchup for us,’’ Self said. “But we’ve got some bodies to throw at him. I’m excited about this game.’’

Self said North Carolina has more experience than Kentucky (and hinted that the Tar Heels are rightfully the top team in the country), but he anticipates that UK will be the most talented team the Jayhawks face this season.

And Calipari heaped nothing but praise on Self and the KU program. Calipari said that he viewed the defensive effort of the Kansas team that beat his Memphis squad in the 2008 national title game as one of the best he’s seen. He talked at length about how much he loves Kansas, getting his start in coaching under Larry Brown and meeting his wife in the state. His reverence for the program was clear.

But he also spoke glowingly about how he is in awe every day during practice that he’s coaching at Kentucky. He still can’t get over his million-plus followers on Twitter and his hundreds of thousands of friends on Facebook.

But give the two credit for agreeing to participate in this three-year event. The four programs -- Duke and Michigan State being the other two -- will rotate opponents over the next two years, next season in Atlanta and then in Year 3 in Chicago. Self said he hopes the series goes beyond three years, because getting these teams to lock in on a true home-and-home is nearly impossible.

And with the NBA lockout looking like it will continue deep into the winter, the timing couldn’t be better.

“The NBA lockout is bad for everybody [in basketball], but the interest level will be high in college basketball,’’ Self said. “I think college basketball has a unique opportunity.’’