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    • SEC "Fast Break": February 26

      Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.
    • SEC Fast Break with Chris Dortch

      The first month of the season was largely forgettable for the Southeastern Conference by almost any barometer. Where to start?
    • November Offers Challenges for SEC Teams

      It seems like only yesterday Kentucky players were cutting down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome after winning the Southeastern Conference’s third national championship in a seven-year span. But that was more than seven months ago, and now it’s time for college basketball to crank up again.
    • One on One with Chris Dortch: Marquis Teague

      Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari? We profile Teague, a likely first round pick in this week's NBA Draft.
    • Instant Reaction: Kentucky Claims Title

      About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.

    SEC Fast Break With Chris Dortch: Final Four Edition

    HOUSTON - They may be old adversaries, but Kentucky coach John Calipari and Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun have done their best to downplay their history in the run-up to Saturday’s Final Four matchup between the Wildcats and Huskies.

    “It’s Kentucky versus Connecticut,” Calhoun said. “As far as John and I playing, I’d take him into the low post. But we’re not playing the game. My point being, it’s about two schools.”

    “We’re fine,” Calipari said when asked about his relationship with Calhoun. “I mean, the Northeast [Calipari’s first head-coaching job was at UMass], you’re so tight. You’re right on top of each other. That’s a competitive environment. Our radio shows and television shows were in each other’s states, in our cities. That’s how it is there.”

    KNIGHT MOVES: Brandon Knight
    has come a long way since the first time Kentucky played Connecticut. It was Nov. 24 in the championship game of Maui Classic, and the Huskies laid an 84-67 beat down on the Wildcats. Knight, in just the fifth game of his college career, was 3-for-15 from the field, 0-for-8 from three-point range and committed almost as many turnovers (five) as he scored points (six).

    Even then, anyone who was familiar with Knight’s game knew that performance was an aberration. And it was. Knight went on to earn first-team All-SEC honors. And since Maui, he’s has developed a John Wall-like ability to take—and make—clutch shots—a skill that has been showcased in the NCAA Tournament. When CBS airs its One Shining Moment video montage after Monday night’s championship game, Knight’s fingerprints will be all over it. Surely CBS editors will see fit to include Knight’s driving layup that beat Princeton, or his pull-up jump shot with five seconds to play that sent overall No. 1 seed Ohio State packing.

    “To make big shots, it’s not that you’re afraid to take the shot, it’s that you’re not afraid to miss the shot,” Calipari said. “Missing the shot is okay; the sun will come up tomorrow. That’s how Brandon’s mentality is, because he works so hard.”

    “Coach trusts in me, and my teammates trust in me to put the ball in my hands in that situation,” Knight said. “I have the confidence to know I can make the shot, but if I miss it, I know I’ll make the next one.”

    Kentucky’s season would have been drastically different— and so would UConn’s—had Knight chosen to play for the Huskies. He almost did.

    “It was a tough decision,” Knight said. “I liked UConn, but I just felt better off going to Kentucky. A decision like that is going to affect the rest of your life.”

    WILDCAT BOMBERS: The Fast Break has said all season long that Kentucky was capable of an even deeper NCAA Tournament run than last year’s talent-rich team because of its ability to shoot from three-point range.

    Kentucky teams of recent vintage have struggled from behind the arc, but not these Wildcats. They led the SEC in three-point percentage (.400) during the regular season and have surpassed that percentage in the NCAA Tournament. In four games, the Wildcats are shooting .426 from three.

    Recall that Calipari told Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook that he’d perform two back flips if freshman Doron Lamb shot 35 percent from behind the arc for the season. Well, Lamb wound up leading the SEC at 48 percent, and he’s been even better in the NCAAs (.625, 5-of-8). Jones has made 5-of-7 (.571) and Deandre Liggins 5-of-11 (.455). Darius Miller (.375) and Knight (.346) have combined for 15 threes-pointers.

    ONE AND DONE AGAIN?: After the season Knight and fellow UK freshman Terrence Jones could well follow the path Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe chose last year and head to the NBA after just one season. But Kentucky will reload again next season with a recruiting class includes three of the top six players in the country as rated by Rivals.com.

    Calipari has no problem with breaking in several rookies every year, as long as they’re the equal of Wall, Cousins, Knight and Jones.

    “If I had a choice between a talented team and an experienced team, I’m taking talent every time,” Calipari said. “I can try to figure out how to get them to defend, how to play together, all those things.

    “… I don’t like the one-and-done rule—I never have—but my choice isn’t to recruit players who aren’t good enough. My choice is to recruit the best players we can get, and then coach them and get them to believe in themselves.”

    Though Kentucky has shown a consistent ability to recruit upper-echelon players in Calipari’s tenure, there are some players he wouldn’t mind holding on to for as long as he can.

    “I would coach Brandon Knight for the next 15 years,” Calipari said. “I don’t want Brandon Knight to leave. I want him here. But at the end of the day, these guys will have their decisions they have to make. If we’ve all done our jobs, they’ll do what they think is right for themselves and their family.”
     



     
     

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    Chris Dortch Bio

    Chris Dortch estimates he’s covered close to 1,500 college basketball games since he was sports editor of his college student newspaper back in the late ’70s. “And it never gets old,” he says. “I always get pumped up to watch college hoops.”

    Dortch came to love basketball growing up in the basketball crazy state of Illinois, watching Missouri Valley Conference and Big Ten games every Saturday and pouring over the sports section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think I learned how to read a box score before I learned how to read,” he says.

    In college, first at George Mason and later at East Tennessee State, he came under the influence of two coaches that gave him a behind-the-scenes look at basketball from a coaching perspective. “After that I was hooked,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cover college basketball for a living.”

    And so he did, focusing on the Southeastern Conference at four newspapers and then for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the famed “bible” of college basketball which Dortch began editing in 1996.

    In a 30-year career, Dortch has written for numerous publications and websites, served as a college basketball correspondent for Sports Illustrated, appeared on more than 1,000 radio shows and written five books, including String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball.

    Dortch has provided commentary for CSS, Fox Sports South, NBA TV and the Big Ten Network and also taught sports writing at East Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, where his students call him “Professor D.”