Calipari dishes out stories about days at Kansas

A good story is worth re-telling.

With Kentucky coach John Calipari facing Kansas for the NCAA

title just as he did in 2008 when he was at Memphis, he fondly

recalled his days as a volunteer assistant in Lawrence, Kan. He

talked about being able to eat steak, which he never did growing

up, and putting on weight.

He even re-told the story about being the man with the ladle at

the training table.

And not in a ”Boy, this sounds familiar,” way.

Word for word.

”I would serve peas or corn. `What would you like? I’ll be

there early for practice if you want to do some extra shooting.

What would you like, peas or corn?’ That’s what I did,” Calipari

said in 2008.

”I would be in the line. `Would you like peas or corn? Peas?

Great,”’ Calipari said Sunday, even dropping in the laugh-getter

about the extra shooting.

Even if the stories are canned, the affection Calipari feels for

his days at Kansas is genuine. It’s where he met his wife, Ellen,

who worked in the school’s business office. And it’s where he got

his start in basketball.

Calipari has come a long way since then.

He has taken the Wildcats to the Final Four twice in his first

three seasons at Kentucky and will make his second appearance in

the NCAA championship Monday night. He’s got kids recruiting him as

much as the other way around, and he is among the highest-paid

coaches in the country, making more than $4 million this season

alone.

Quite a change from that first job.

”When Ted Owens asked me to join his staff, I said, `What

position?”’ Calipari recalled Sunday. ”He said, `Volunteer.’ I

said, `How much does that guy make?”’

BLOCK PARTY: Kansas coach Bill Self is willing to anoint

Kentucky star Anthony Davis as the nation’s best shot blocker. Self

also believes the Jayhawks have a close second.

Jeff Withey, the former volleyball player from the beaches of

San Diego, has emerged in the NCAA tournament as one of the premier

defensive players in the game. He blocked 10 shots in a win over

N.C. State, and then caused all kinds of trouble for Ohio State

star Jared Sullinger.

The 7-footer swatted seven shots, altering half a dozen

more.

”Guys like Anthony and guys like Jeff cover up mistakes,” Self

said. ”That’s a big advantage.”

Withey already has set the school record with 137 blocks and has

at least five in a game 11 times, while Davis has set an NCAA

freshman record with 180 this season.

The way the two go about things is slightly different.

Withey uses his height and wingspan to overwhelm opponents,

whether it’s a guard trying to get to the rim – such as the

Buckeyes’ William Buford – or a big guy like Sullinger. Meanwhile,

Davis uses his uncanny quickness to close come across the lane and

block shots seemingly out of nowhere.

”He was 6-3, he grew to 6-10 – he’s nimble like a guard. He

doesn’t try to block it in your hands. He lets you release it.

That’s what great shot-blockers do,” Kentucky coach John Calipari

said. ”He’s nimble. He’s quick to the ball. He’s got a quick

twitch.”

GUEST APPEARANCE: You never know who’s going to show up at a

practice these days.

Hall of Famer Larry Brown, the only coach to win NCAA and NBA

titles, has been hanging around Allen Fieldhouse the last few weeks

and was front-and-center in the Kansas section when the Jayhawks

upset North Carolina to win the Midwest Regional last weekend. He’s

also dropped in at Villanova, Maryland and Kentucky.

”He’s unemployed,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, drawing

laughs, when asked what his mentor is doing. ”He’s got to be

around ball. … He comes to practice, watches. He doesn’t come to

all practices, but he’ll sit around in a film session with us, that

kind of stuff.

”It’s just kind of cool to have him around. I think the players

like seeing him, too,” Self added. ”That respect factor is always

there when Coach Brown is around.”

With Self and Kentucky coach John Calipari both among his long

list of proteges, the 71-year-old Brown isn’t playing favorites at

the Final Four in New Orleans. He watched Saturday night’s

semifinals in the same section as other famous coaches, including

Roy Williams, Denny Crum, Tom Izzo and Eddie Sutton.

COACHING AWARD: Kansas is guaranteed to leave New Orleans with

at least one trophy.

Bill Self was selected the Naismith Coach of the Year on Sunday,

beating out his opponent in Monday night’s NCAA title game,

Kentucky’s John Calipari. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and Missouri’s

Frank Haith also were finalists for the award, given by the Atlanta

Tipoff Club.

”He’s a great teacher,” Tyshawn Taylor said. ”He helps us all

understand the game, understand how he wants us to play for us to

be successful. His system works. What made this team so good all

year is that, most of the time, we bought in and we listened and we

actually paid attention to what he said, wanted to come out there

and play.

”I agree with him being the Coach of the Year,” Taylor added.

”I said it all year.”

Kansas (32-6) has made an improbable run to the title game, its

first appearance since winning its third NCAA championship in 2008.

The Jayhawks trailed for all but the final minutes of their

round-of-32 game against Purdue and eked out a similar-looking win

against Ohio State in the Final Four.

Kansas also beat top-seeded North Carolina to win the Midwest

Regional.

”It’s a cool award,” Self said. ”But there’s a lot of coaches

out there deserving of winning awards. All that is is a reflection

of your team playing well. I appreciate it, but I don’t put a lot

of stock into thinking that I’ve done something that other coaches

haven’t.”

Kansas is the first school to have three different Naismith

winners, with Self joining Larry Brown (1988) and Roy Williams

(1997).

TUNING UP: The Fray is scheduled to sing the national anthem

before the NCAA title game Monday night.

The Grammy-nominated band released its third full-length album,

”Scars and Stories,” in February. Its first album, ”How to Save

a Life,” went double platinum and produced the top-10 single,

”Over My Head.” Its second album, the self-titled ”The Fray,”

debuted at No. 1 after it was released in 2009, and went gold.

R&B recording artist Monica performed the national anthem

before Saturday night’s semifinal games.