UK Basketball: Lafayette coach excited to be playing Wildcats' home opener this season
Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon knows playing Kentucky in its home opener is going to be a challenge. ¿But some games you just can¿t pass up. This is going to be great for our team,¿ he said. (AP Photo / July 13, 2012)
“Not exactly smart scheduling, is it?” said O’Hanlon. “But some games you just can’t pass up. This is going to be great for our team.”
O’Hanlon shared these other thoughts on Kentucky and coach John Calipari:
Question: How long have you known Calipari?
O’Hanlon: “One of his friends, John Strollo, was an assistant football coach here and he would come by to see him. I think they were also at UMass together at the same time. I¿remember one time walking into the gym one morning. It was dark in the hallway and I ran into John (Calipari). I was not expecting that. I asked him what he was doing here and he just laughed. But John came here a lot to see him.”
Question: What did you think of Kentucky’s team last year?
O’Hanlon: “Obviously, we saw a lot of SEC games. We also played Vanderbilt and saw them play Vandy and most SEC teams. They were on TV a lot and it was easy to see they were terrific. Heck, they were so good I guess I have to go back and watch the McDonald’s All-American game to scout Kentucky (because the top six players off last year’s team are gone).”
Question: What do you think the perception of Kentucky basketball is right now?
O’Hanlon: “Kentucky is a tremendous attraction for top basketball players right now. John has done an awesome job getting guys to the pros. His recruiting and coaching are great. He does a tremendous job with guys that are not there long at getting them to buy into his plan and playing together. I know they are going to be good again this year and every year he is there. I am not sure if they will be the No. 1 recruiting class, but they will always be two or three. They will be good every year.”
Question: What impresses you the most about Calipari?
O’Hanlon: “John is really a good coach. He does not let much go wrong. What he does is he makes his team play together. He takes great talent and meshes that talent together as well as anyone around. All good coaches adapt their team around their personnel, but he meshes them together as well as any coach in the country and is doing that every year.
“They really play well together. Last year I saw them play early and late, and they just kept coming together. That is coaching to hold them to a standard every day of getting better, especially when they were very good to start with. But they just got better and better. That doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. Instead, it is coaching day in, day out. You can see what he did what that squad over the course of the year. They played so well together as a team. It was not about who got the credit, but what they could do to help the team win. As a coach, you appreciate seeing that.”
Question: What about those who say Calipari just recruits the best talent and wins on that talent alone?
O’Hanlon: “All I can say is that a lot of teams have talent. At Kentucky’s level, the season does not really start until late. Kentucky fans are not thinking about middle of the season success, but how far is the team going (in the NCAA Tournament) and how many games are they winning. That can take away from kids enjoying each game. It’s not easy winning in Division I. But John just seems to take the approach to let his players enjoy this and get better each game and suddenly he’ll have what he had last year. He recruits great talent, but he coaches that talent, too.”
Question: Since you have seen UK¿freshman center Nerlens Noel play, how good is he?
O’Hanlon: “He is terrific. I don’t know that anybody can be a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis, but he is close. If he is not as good, he is right there. He is a little stronger than I think Anthony was at this same point. He is very aggressive. He changes the game. He can block shots on the perimeter, too. I know John has talked about his offensive game needing work, but coaches always say stuff like that. Nerlens is a very good player.”
Question: As a coach, what perspective do you take on Calipari having four straight No. 1 recruiting classes at Kentucky?
O’Hanlon: “People want to be around success. That success attracts success. Look at the careers his players are having. He goes to UMass, and it is not Kentucky, and does a phenomenal job and gets UMass to the Final Four.
That is what sells. He can go into any home in the country and tell the player and parent he will help develop them into a NBA player. Sure, his players are all talented, but every school recruits talented players. John can tell kids you are going to win, you will be successful and there’s a real good chance you will be drafted. It’s mind boggling to have the No. 1 class four straight years, but it’s easy to understand why. Success breeds more success and he’s really got it going at Kentucky right now.”