By LARRY VAUGHT
When Kentucky won the 1996 national championship, twice it had to play Massachusetts, including once in the Final Four.
UMass had a brash, young coach — John Calipari.
That popped into my head when I heard some things that Buffalo coach Nate Oats has said since his team stunned Arizona Thursday night to set up a game with Kentucky Saturday to advance to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
“Calipari’s been whining about no experience: Young, young, young,” Oats said after the win over Arizona. “We don’t have that problem.”
Brash, but true. How many times this season has Calipari said he has the youngest team in America? It’s more than I can count — and he was even asked about that at Friday’s press conference. Oats has a veteran team, including a fifth-year senior guard, while Calipari starts five freshmen.
Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News asked Calipari Friday what he thought about Oats’ whining statement. Calipari said he had not heard it before giving his opinion on the subject.
“I don’t know if it’s whining or telling the truth. I’m not whining about it,” Calipari said. “I’ve got a pretty good team. ‘He should not tell the truth. He should not even say it. Introduce them and don’t give their year.’ That’s fine. At the end of the day we’ve got to go play a basketball game. Everybody has got to get in the ring and play.
Oats followed Calipari at the press conference Friday and offered a clarification about what he said after Thursday’s win.
“It was a misuse of the word,” Oats said. “He’s a pretty dang good coach. He’s made known the fact that he’s young all year. It’s a fact. It is what it is. … Let’s say it like it is, let’s be real: I’m not going to try to disrespect anybody, but our players, they’re a little older. Wes (Clark, Buffalo senior point guard) has two kids. He’s trying to catch up to me. I’ve got three. We can trade parenting stories.”
That’s the type of thing Calipari would have said back in 1996 — or might still say today.
The Bulls start a senior, three juniors and a sophomore. That makes them a lot older than Kentucky. But Oats knows the talent UK has.
“The talent level (for Kentucky’s freshmen) is absolutely there, and when they go in the (NBA draft) lottery, I’m going to agree with NBA teams that took them. They’re that good,” Oats said. “They’re still freshmen. No disrespect to our two freshmen … they’re inexperienced. It’s not disrespect. It is what it is. It’s facts. I’m going to tell them they’re not freshmen? You are freshmen.
“Just like Cal’s been saying. Cal’s been saying it.”
And he says it year after year.