BY GARY PARRISH
March 24, 2017
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- John Calipari was at The Peabody late Wednesday. On the top floor. Surrounded by about 100 old friends. In the Skyway that overlooks downtown Memphis -- a place where he went 137-14 in his final four years coaching the Tigers while making four consecutive Sweet 16s, three straight Elite Eights and the national title game of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
He was a king here once. That’s not an overstatement.
Calipari, for years, was the most popular person in the city by a wide margin. And anybody who dared question him -- for enrolling a known gang member, for pulling a scholarship from a signed prospect, for barely suspending a player charged with domestic violence -- was labeled a “miserable.” He was the man pointing and essentially saying “fake news” before that other man started pointing and saying “fake news.” And Memphians ate it up. In Cal We Trust, the diehards insisted. Those were fun and weird times.
But everything changed the moment Calipari changed addresses.
When he left Memphis for Kentucky on April 1, 2009, while the NCAA was investigating Derrick Rose’s fraudulent standardized test score that ultimately caused the 2008 season to be vacated, UK fans who previously called Calipari a slimy cheater embraced him with open arms while Memphis fans who treated him like a god decided he was the devil. It’s all ridiculous, of course, because Calipari’s not much different in 2017 than he was in 2007. His zip code changed. But he didn’t. And I’ve never understood how hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions, can have their view of a human flip so drastically based on where that human works.
But that’s sports, right?
In any other world, it makes no sense for Oklahoma City fans to despise Kevin Durant for spending nine great years with the franchise and then deciding, accurately, that he would have a better chance to achieve his dreams with Golden State. But in the sports world, it feels mostly normal.
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 23, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.
“Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”
With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.
This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.
He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.
He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.
Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.
BY JONATHAN WASSERMAN
NBA lead writer
March 21, 2017
NBA scouts have plenty of reasons to continue watching the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament.
Seven prospects left in the field could potentially land in this year's lottery, including two players who'll be competing for No. 1 overall consideration.
But every year, March Madness also brings out talent that's gone overlooked during the course of the regular season. Through the first weekend, we've already seen several under-the-radar prospects break through into the 2017 draft discussion for the first time all year.
We ranked the top names still playing based on long-term NBA potential—not their current college impact.
BY MOKE HAMILTON
March 19, 2017
With the amazing feats of OKC's Russell Westbrook and Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard’s emergence as perhaps the best two-way player in the league and Cleveland's LeBron James as the only other person that could challenge him for that title, the competition for this year's NBA Most Valuable Player Award is a four-horse race.
Legitimate arguments can be made for each of the four, with Harden and Westbrook likely ending up first and second, in some order.
Traditionally, the coach of the year Award has been much more difficult to predict. But this season, with NBA teams having less than 15 games remaining, a few names probably deserve more mention than others.
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 18, 2017
TULSA -- Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges grew up roughly an hour apart in Michigan, but they will showcase their talents at the BOK Center in Tulsa at 4:15 p.m. CT on Sunday when Kansas (29-4) and Michigan State (20-14) meet in a Midwest Regional second-round game.
Jackson and Bridges nearly wound up as teammates in East Lansing, Mich. Kansas won last year's recruiting battle for Jackson, but Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game will determine who won the war to advance to this year's Sweet 16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
MSU coach Tom Izzo and KU coach Bill Self have crossed paths on the recruiting trail multiple times through the years. They co-existed in the Big Ten Conference for three seasons when Self coached at Illinois (2000-03) before heading to Kansas.
Izzo recalled how he made his sales pitch to Jackson, deemed the country’s No. 1 college prospect last year according to Rivals.com.
“I just got on my hands and knees and begged him. That’s what I did, and that wasn’t as good as Bill’s,” Izzo said.
Self’s secret to winning the recruiting battle? “Well, it’s just so much warmer in Kansas than Michigan, I guess,” Self said with a laugh. “I don’t know. He would have been an unbelievable impact player wherever he went, and I do know that it was not an easy decision for him. But hey, we’ve lost enough guys to Michigan State, we should win one every now and then.”
The reason Jackson chose KU? “I grew up a State fan,” Jackson explained, “but I believed I had a better chance of winning a national championship at Kansas.”
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 18, 2017
Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.
There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.
Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.
According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.
If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)