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Sunday, June 20, 2021


Conference USA up for grabs

When Kentucky officially announced John Calipari as its head coach Wednesday, every other basketball team in Conference USA stopped holding its breath and exhaled a sigh of relief.

The big kid on the block had moved away to a bigger, tougher neighborhood in search for more notoriety and a bigger challenge. His knuckles, blistered and bloodied from the constant beatings administered to the defenseless teams in his old stomping grounds, will have a chance to scab over and heal because things are a little different in his new neighborhood.

In the neck of the woods known as the Southeastern Conference, Calipari still might be the biggest kid on the block, but only by a couple of inches. The other kids, whose muscles are just as developed, don’t take kindly to bullies. They will definitely look to test the new guy, just to see if he’s as tough as all of the rumors suggest.’

In lieu of slugging away at teams with lesser budgets and recruiting classes, Calipari will have to bob, weave and counter in order to stay on top – strategy will be more important than ever. Early success for domination of the new territory will rest on Calipari’s ability to recruit cronies, or to be more precise, get a couple of followers from the old neighborhood to make the trip to assist in the building of a new posse.

Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins, McDonald’s High School All-Americans and two of the top five players in the country, both committed to Memphis when Calipari was the coach. Now that he’s moved on, both said they will reopen talks with other schools and neither has ruled out Kentucky.

The teams in C-USA, Calipari’s punching bags for the last four seasons, would love nothing more than to see Henry and Cousins follow the leader and make their homes in the SEC.

If that happens, then the field of competition is suddenly leveled. Considering Memphis could lose Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, Sean Taggart and Willie Kemp, all of whom were either stars or integral parts of the Memphis system, to graduation or the NBA draft, Memphis could be just another team in a mid-major conference looking for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next season.

This leaves the door open for UH, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-El Paso to step up grab the reigns of C-USA. It still may turn out to be a one-bid league next season, but there is also the possibility that the team that gets that bid will not be the Memphis Tigers.’

If there was one thing Calipari proved to be able to do at Memphis, it was recruit players with NBA-ready games and bodies.’

Now those types of players will present problems for teams such as LSU, Tennessee and Florida, all of which are more equipped to neutralize and contain them.

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