Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

Star-powered Kentucky faces less flashy Wisconsin

ARLINGTON, Texas — They play the same game, though they come at it from opposite sides of the court.

Kentucky has a coach labeled a renegade, a rotating stable of McDonald's All-Americans and sky-high expectations every year. Wisconsin has a coach who has stayed in one state for three decades, a lineup filled with juniors and seniors and an aw-shucks attitude about its first trip to the Final Four in more than a decade.

They meet tonight in the national semifinals — the one-and-done Wildcats (28-10), two wins from the program's ninth national title, and the Badgers (30-7), making their first trip this far since 2000.

"Frank Sinatra, wasn't that the song? We did it our way?" Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, 67, said. "Everybody's doing it their way. If you're a coach and here's the landscape, you do it the best way you can."

Led by lottery pick-to-be Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, Kentucky coach John Calipari recruited six McDonald's All-Americans to the bluegrass this season. The national title and an undefeated season were expected to be mere stopping points for these players on the way to bigger things.

But it was way more complicated than that as recently as March 1, after the team had lost ugly in back-to-back games against Arkansas and South Carolina to fall to 21-8.

Calipari tweaked something — he said he will reveal exactly what when the season is over — and the march to the Final Four began. Never in the recruiting process or the season has the NBA been brought up, he insists.

"It's the elephant in the room that we don't need to talk about," he said.

Calipari attempted Friday to put a different spin on his program's "One and Done" label. "Succeed and Proceed," he called it, adding that the T-shirts with said slogan are at the printer.

It's a different story at Wisconsin, where the talent doesn't always jump out to NBA scouts, and Ryan's swing-offense system gets credit for getting the most out of his players, even in a season like this, when the Badgers are playing more up-tempo and making more shots. Their 73.5 points are the most Wisconsin has averaged in 20 seasons.

"Sometimes, we kind of fail the eye test," said 7-foot, 234-pound center Frank Kaminsky, he of the scraggly beard and sweat jacket.

"I know that, me, personally, I've heard comments about how I look, like I'm asleep all the time. I don't know where that came from," the center said, drawing laughs as he looked over at Ryan.

Yes, they are having fun on this trip to the Final Four, where the chance awaits to see how they stack up against the "One and Dones" — the likes of which don't walk through Ryan's door all that often.

"I had a 'Three and Done,' " he said of Devin Harris, a lottery pick in the 2004 draft. "He came into my office and said, 'Coach, what do you think?' I told him that I would get back to him after I found out what the NBA people really felt. And when I did find out and sat down and talked to him, he was just so relieved that I would allow him to go make a lot of money."

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