February 2, 2010 9:22:00 AM
When Anthony Grant and Billy Donovan take the court Thursday night, it will complete one of the greater coaching circles in the Southeastern Conference.
Grant, a former assistant coach to Donovan at the University of Florida and Marshall, has steered the University of Alabama men''s basketball team to a 13-8 record and 3-4 mark in the league. It''s no surprise to Donovan, who has seen another one of his protégés -- former Kentucky player and Arkansas coach John Pelphrey -- land a job in the SEC.
"I always admired there was a lot of people getting head coaching jobs and he never networked to try and get a job," Donovan said Monday during the SEC teleconference. "I told the athletic director at VCU when they were getting ready to hire him I was shocked with some of the success we had that some people really did not go after him in a big time way. Of all the coaches that had been hired, that was the best get to have him at VCU. The job he''ll do at Alabama will show itself in time."
Thursday''s matchup in Tuscaloosa, Ala., comes at critical junctures for both teams. Alabama is coming off a tough 58-57 loss to rival Auburn on Saturday, while Florida had the heartbreak of watching Alex Tyus'' close-range shot draw iron at the horn in a 61-60 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.
Both teams are fourth in their divisions, and Donovan expects Grant''s best because he knows him better than anyone else in the league besides Pelphrey.
"There''s a lot of mirroring of both teams," Donovan said. "I think, like anything else, the core values and things you''re going try to implement to a team as far as the shell of it''s concerned, there''s going to be a lot of similarities. The style in terms of trying to play 94 feet, trying to create turnovers, pressing, different concepts offensively, I think there''s a lot of similarities."
The other branch to the tree, at least on the Alabama end, is assistant coach Dan Hipsher, who recruited and coached Grant at Dayton before giving him his first college coaching shot at Stetson.
The former Arkansas assistant, speaking in Grant''s place Monday, believes Grant takes pride in the success he and Donovan achieved (two national titles) at Florida and wants to build that tradition at Alabama.
"I think it''s influenced Anthony a ton," Hipsher said. "As with any coach, Billy''s influenced a lot of coaches. Anthony being with him for 10 years, he''s really taken a lot from him. I think like all us coaches do, you learn from the people you''re around."
Calipari knew it wouldn''t be easy
At 20-1, the Kentucky Wildcats have made it look simple at times this season.
For all the light shining out of Lexington, Ken., these days, thoughts of John Calipari''s old Memphis squads are evoked when analyzing the potential for this year''s Wildcats and beyond.
In reality, however, the Southeastern Conference and Conference USA are on different echelons based on the number of quality players, Calipari said Monday.
"The level, overall is kind of like they''re seven, eight deep (in the SEC)," Calipari said. "When you get into the bench in this league, you''re not getting anybody. We''re going to play Mississippi, and when they go to their bench it''s not like they''re getting worse."
the bull''s eye on his team''s chest remains the same in Calipari''s transition into the league.
He used South Carolina guard Devan Downey''s late-game heroics against in the Wildcats'' upset loss as an example of the caliber of players in the league. He said his players will have to rebound to defend their renewed status as an elite team.
"Everywhere we go it''s someone''s sellout," he said. "The difference is everything is at a level where every team in here has a player or two on their team that can break you down and score at will. Downey just went nuts at the end of the game and made two impossible shots. We hold him to 34 percent, we play poorly and if he doesn''t make those two shots we probably win the game.
"They all have that guy."
Wall-Calipari riff squashed
Kentucky freshman John Wall and Calipari disagreed with the latter''s assessment of the guard''s performance against South Carolina, but the coach said the verbal trade between them isn''t an issue.
The guard was unhappy about Calipari''s criticism of him and voiced his feelings Saturday after the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt.
"I don''t know, he said I played awful," Wall said. "I don''t think I played that bad. I don''t know what to expect. He''s probably going to say I played bad today, too. I just try not to listen to him and go out and play basketball."
Calipari attributed his freshman''s frustrations to the level of play he has reached in such a short time after being the top recruit in the country.
"You''re trying to live up to this hype that they''ve built up for you and you''re going to be unhappy if you try to live up to it," Calipari said he told Wall. "Just play, have fun and enjoy yourself. When you play bad, it''s OK to play bad. Derek Rose and Tyreke (Evans) had bad games. It''s OK."