NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.14 EditionPosted by Griffin Wong on April 3rd, 2014
March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.
- In a family full of athletes, it’s about time Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky has started to dominate. After his sister was named Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year in volleyball, Frank Kaminsky Sr. noted, proudly: “I knew it was just a matter of time before he caught up.”
- Frank Kaminsky was nothing more than a role player during his first two years in Madison, but this season he has emerged as Wisconsin’s best player. To many, Kaminsky always had the skills to succeed, but needed to realize how good he was. “He became much more confident over the course of that playoff run,” Benet [Kaminsky's high school] coach Gene Heidkamp said. “That’s the big thing with Frank. He had the skill set, the size and the ability, but he was hard on himself and he wasn’t always confident. Once he started feeling good about himself after that 39-point game, he just kind of took off from there.”
- Though Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has been up north for the entirety of his college coaching career, his Philly roots are what has driven much of his coaching style. Ryan is “very tough-minded. And I think that whole thing in terms of street toughness, the understanding that there’s an appreciation for what you have. The willingness to never quit, never give up,” [Wisconsin associate head coach Greg] Gard said. “He came from a family that had limited resources financially, so you have an appreciation for what it takes; what hard work really is.”
- A Sheboygan, Wisconsin, native, sophomore Sam Dekker is especially proud to be leading his hometown team to the Final Four. “Sheboygan is a big, big Wisconsin Badger-rooting city, and I was always a big Badger fan growing up,” Dekker said Monday. “So to be in this situation, have the jersey, is really special to me and is special to a lot of people back home.”
- Frank Kaminsky may be Wisconsin’s star, but point guard Traevon Jackson has been the Badgers’ “unsung hero,” in the words of TBS analyst Steve Kerr. Kerr would go on to say that “He [Jackson] has hit a ton of big shots in his career. He was huge against Arizona. Not only offensively, but his toughness and his leadership.”
- Kentucky may be the blueblood in Saturday’s Final Four match-up, but Wisconsin struck first, winning its first National Championship in 1941, seven years before the Wildcats won its first of eight titles.
- Sometimes it’s the Harrison Twins; sometimes it’s Julius Randle; heck, last week it even was Marcus Lee. For Kentucky, it will be interesting to see who its X-factor will be on Saturday.
- Kentucky head coach John Calipari is one of the best in the business, but for some of his freshmen, what has made him great this season isn’t what he has does but rather what he hasn’t done. Calipari has been giving his guys more and more freedom, and even let freshman Julius Randle call a play last weekend. In the words of Randle’s high school coach, Chris Mayberry, “That’s how he [Randle] plays his best basketball, is to have the freedom to do some things. He’s going to make some mistakes, but he can do so many good things.”
- John Calipari doesn’t attribute his team’s postseason turnaround to the media scrutiny it faced, but rather to maturing as a team. Calipari noted, “But that really takes time when you’re playing seven freshmen in your top eight, and each of them scored 25 points a game in high school, that you must do less, and that would mean more for you. So it’s a process. What anybody said or wrote had no bearing on us.”
- A probable top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is most likely a one-and-done player. However, he’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Instead, Randle hopes to be a “One Championship and Done.”
- Kentucky is seemingly where it belongs, but this season, it didn’t reach the Final Four in traditional Kentucky fashion. The Wildcats are hoping that this unconventional path will make them a tougher out this weekend. In the words of Calipari, “But they [the Wildcats] withstood it. They were under immense fire. They never wavered. They believed in the leadership… So that is a great story of ‘How in the world did you guys overcome that?’ Well, it made us stronger. It made us tougher.”
- Much of Kentucky’s emergence over the last month can be attributed to its improved three-point shooting. Freshman James Young, one of UK’s top snipers at 35 percent from beyond the arc, credits point guard Andrew Harrison rather than the shooters themselves for the improvement. “It’s making it a lot more fun for us because he’s penetrating more and the defense is all collapsing. So we got a lot more wide-open shots and just us staying focused is really helping us,” said Young. “We’re shooting with a lot more confidence than we have been and we’re getting a lot of extra shots up, coming in each day shooting at least 30 minutes worth. And really just staying confident with all our shots.”
- UConn head coach Kevin Ollie didn’t even average four points per game in the NBA, but his leadership and knowledge of the game kept him in the league. Now, he’s on the coaching side of things, but what he learned as a player has helped him tremendously as a coach. “I always thought of myself as being a coach on the court,” Ollie said. “I really didn’t pride myself on looking over to the coach for the play. I wanted to be the extension of the coach so he didn’t even have to call the play, I knew exactly what he wanted on the court at every minute of the game.”
- Former UConn great Kemba Walker may be enjoying his NBA career, but he is still checking in to see Shabazz Napier, his “little brother,” lead his alma mater deep into the Tournament. Even though Napier is his own man, he and Walker certainly had a mentor/mentee relationship in their one year together in Storrs. “I do think he learned a lot from me. I’m happy that he did. I’m happy that he wasn’t the kind of kid that came in and stands there and thinks he knows everything. He wasn’t like that. He was always willing to learn and he was always trying to get better. So that’s why he’s the great player that he is today.”
- With both the men’s and the women’s basketball teams in the Final Four, UConn is the gold standard for overall basketball success right now.
- Kevin Ollie has proven to be the perfect guy to lead the Huskies out of their NCAA-sanctioned postseason ban. Ollie attributes his team’s resiliency to toughness. “It’s toughness,” Ollie said. “We don’t back down. We all have the common strength that bred in our heart, the toughness, the tradition, the respect for putting that jersey on.”
Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun wasn’t surprised to see how tough the Huskies have been this season. “Connecticut wasn’t going any place,” Calhoun said this week. “It’s not the first time we’ve had bumps in the road. They come in all different ways.”
- UConn forward Niels Giffey is usually not the Huskies’ go-to guy, but he’s an outstanding team player. The senior from Germany can knock down the three, play defense, or anything else you would need out of a utility guy. “He continues to understand there’s a new role in every game,” [teammate] Shabazz Napier said. “We want him to shoot threes, but sometimes he’s doing different things, playing defense, getting guys going. He’s been one of the best shooters in the world, in college basketball. But, whatever it takes. Coach Ollie could tell him to jump off the building and he would jump off the building.”
- Florida’s last second loss at the hands of UConn was 30 wins ago, but the Gators still have the image of Shabazz Napier celebrating his shot fresh in their minds. The loss hurt even more because Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin was injured in the final minute, and could not guard Napier as he hit the buzzer-beater. “Both teams played well and it was a close game the whole time,” Wilbekin said, turning his attention toward the the rematch. “I think it’s a good match-up. I think it’s a game we can win. It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to be tough to match up with them and all their shooters, but I think we have a good chance.”
- Florida relies heavily on its frontcourt for its stout defense. In particular, senior Patric Young anchors the Gators down low, but it isn’t just with his 6’9”, 240-lb frame. “He’s as good of a post defender, guarding pick-and-roll, playing low-post defenses, as I’ve had,” Donovan said. “His intelligence level has got a lot to do with it, too. He’s a really smart defensive player. He can see things happening before they happen. That’s really impressive.”
- Notably missing from the court during the first UConn/Florida game was freshman point guard Kasey Hill. Just a freshman, Hill gives the Gators a huge spark off the bench, especially because of his speed and quickness. “As fast as he is, unless you have somebody like that in practice, you can’t really simulate him,” guard Michael Frazier II said. “We need him to get his speed into the game. When he gets into the game, just [raise] the temperature.”
- Florida isn’t usually considered a college basketball blueblood, but after three straight Elite Eights and a chance for even more this season, the Gators are becoming more and more of a basketball “powerhouse.” What makes Florida’s run even more intriguing is that it did so unconventionally.
- Florida’s players credit head coach Billy Donovan for this outstanding season, particularly lauding his “Billyisms.” Through sayings like “stay in the moment” and “play to their identity,” Donovan has his team playing with his mentality. “We try to have the same mindset as him, so we end up saying the same things as him,” senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
- Though he’s torched nearly every team he has faced in this NCAA Tournament, Florida hopes to be the team that finally shuts down UConn All-American Shabazz Napier. Even though the Gators have one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in Scottie Wilbekin, Donovan believes that it will take a team effort to keep Napier in check. Donovan noted, “I always believe that great offense beats great defense. So this is not necessarily going to be a situation where Scottie is going to be playing Napier by himself. We’ve been a team, a defensive team, and we’ve got to try to do as good of a job as we can collectively helping Scottie in whatever situation he may be in during the game.”