Q & A with Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News

The Sporting News' basketball writer Mike DeCourcy talks college basketball and Kentucky basketball in this Q & A session.

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Darrell KSR

Q: I've read stories being uber-critical of John Calipari for the Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose daily double and some treating him much differently. My question comes in two parts--

1) What sense do you get about the national media as a whole in their view toward John Calipari? Is it changing?

DeCourcy: I think the "national media" and the "media nationally" are almost two different things. I think Calipari's relationship with those who cover college basketball regularly is fairly good, with a few exceptions.

It seems to be worse with people who have less connection to the game, who write mostly from afar based largely on perceptions.

But what I've said about Calipari lately is that there seem to be two lists the media keeps: the good guys and the bad guys. If you're on the bad guy list – and goodness knows how you end up there – there's not much you can do to get off.

b) How long will it take for John Calipari to be at Kentucky with no incidents before the "stigma" will be removed?

DeCourcy: It would seem I answered that question above. Sorry. -------------------


Based on your look at the team during its first skill workout, do you have any sense of or guesses about the lineups and rotations?

DeCourcy: Let's fill in the easy ones first: John Wall at point guard, Patrick Patterson at power forward. Those guys are All-Americans. It's good news for UK that there aren't any easy choices after that, because the competition is strong at every other position.

I'd say we can reasonably assume DeMarcus Cousins will be the center, but that's partly because of the time Daniel Orton lost last season to his knee injury. Cousins is extremely gifted. I think Orton is going to be a very good player, and he'll contribute. I'd imagine Darius Miller will start at small forward, but he'll have to hold back Ramon Harris and DeAndre Liggins. Miller is more advanced than Liggins and more skilled than Harris, but he has to allow this competition to make him better.

Shooting guard is the toughest spot. Dodson would be the ideal. He's athletic, he can score and probably can make shots. He's also got to show he can defend the position. Eric Bledsoe would have a shot to start if he were a shooter, but he's not. He'll play plenty and will be an asset. Liggins could fight his way into the lineup here, as well. In Calipari's offense, there's not much difference between the 2 and 3 spots.



1. Outside of KY and MSU, which team or teams has the best shot at contending for the regular season championship?

DeCourcy: Kansas. You didn't forget about them, did you?

2. The NCAA apparently has ignored the Myron Piggie/Corey Maggette and Duke violations, the Sam Gilbert/various UCLA players violations, and the Ornstein/Reggie Bush and USC violations. What is your opinion on why, at least on the surface, the NCAA is choosing to ignore these violations and on the other hand singling out some other schools for punishment?

DeCourcy: I wouldn't say they've ignored the Reggie Bush situation. There has been an investigation going on there for a good, long while. I can't tell you why it hasn't been wrapped, but it'll be interesting to see what develops when/if that occurs.

I'm not a fan of penalizing the school for violations it could not have been aware were committed, which is why I agreed with the Duke decision, and with the apparent inaction on Darrell Arthur's academic circumstance from high school. But the Memphis case does show an apparent double-standard in these matters.



1) Will Pitino weather the storm at U of L?

DeCourcy: I believe that he will, or has. The obstacle that remains, though, is the court case against Karen Sypher. If her trial were to be set during basketball season, how involved would Pitino choose to be? And what if I'm right that Pitino's public screed last week leads to a change of venue? How involved could he be in the team and the trial at the same time?

If the trial were to be set for next April, I don't think he'll have much trouble from here until he retires, outside the harassment he's sure to experience in visiting gyms.

2) How well will Calipari do in recruiting now that he is at a "big" name school?

DeCourcy: Do you just want to hear me say it? He was getting elite players at Memphis when its chief conference rival was … well, there was no chief rival. Of course he's going to get great players at UK.



What recruits do you predict will come to U.K. next year?

DeCourcy: I'm not a recruiting analyst. There are guys who do that every day and do it well. So I'm just educated-guessing when I say I'd expect Brandon Knight to wind up at UK. Not sure otherwise. I think the 2011 recruiting year will be even bigger, though.



I can understand the venom from opposing fan bases, but why so much hate from so many sportswriters and media members? It's not even close...are we really that much different than fan bases such as KU, Duke, UNC, IU etc...? Will people outside of Kentucky allow us to enjoy a potential championship this year or will the presence of Coach Cal and rumors put a bad taste in everyone's mouth?

DeCourcy: I think you're mixing the issues there. The media's approach to John Calipari is not intertwined with the media's attitude toward UK fans.

Personally, I think UK fans are a bit different. I think the statewide passion for Kentucky basketball is at a separate level. And I perceive that UK fans embrace that. Just ask the guy who's first in line for Big Blue Madness. He's probably already out there with his sleeping bag.

The folks who criticized UK fans for allegedly running Tubby Smith out of town – they just don't know and they don't want to know. The average Kentucky fan was patient with Coach Smith. I'm certain of this because when I was writing in the early 2000s that recruiting was not what it should be, UK fans defended him and attacked me.



Do you believe that Cousins has the skills and quickness to play the small forward position at both the college and pro ranks? He has apparently from indications has toned his body during the summer. I can see him playing any of the frontcourt positions at UK this year.

DeCourcy: If you could see him, you'd recognize he's no small forward. Not in college, not in the NBA. He's a small forward only if he's playing in the 6-10 and over league. He's a college center. If Daniel Orton and Cousins were playing together, Cousins likely would defend the power forward. He'll probably play power forward in the pros. He is mobile, but he does not have a small forward's body or game.



Over the years in both football and basketball, new styles and formations continue to come up. But when new offensive schemes arise, it usually doesn't take too long for defenses to come up with good answers.

What do you see as the future life of the dribble drive motion offense that Cal uses and how long before defenses adapt appropriately? And how would you defend against it?

DeCourcy: The pick-and-roll was invented long before I started watching the game, and it's still the foundation of NBA and international offenses. So just because something has been around in this game doesn't mean great coaches can automatically devise the means to stop it. In basketball, the player remains a more important part of the scheme. A pick-and-roll run by John Stockton and Karl Malone will be different than what you'd see from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, so there's no one-size-fits-all scheme to stop it.

The dribble-drive motion isn't hard to stop if it's run by players who don't drive that well. It's better in Derrick Rose's hands than Willie Kemp's, for instance. And it's important that the lineup contain somebody who can make some shots. How would I stop it? I'd play zone. I wouldn't be one of those coaches who declined to use all the clubs in his bag.



Can you give us your take on UK's guards and maybe give us your top three back courts in college ball for next season?

(If we are in your top three that is...if not give us your top five)


Kentucky's guards are a deep, athletic and promising group. Wall should be spectacular. How would I rank them? Not necessarily in order, I'd have Kansas, Washington, Michigan State, UConn and Kentucky. (But maybe in that order).



How do you think the onset of "one-and-done" players has affected college basketball? Is it a good thing or a bad thing, and how does that compare to its effects on the NBA?

DeCourcy: I seem to be a lone voice on this – or maybe it's me, David Stern and Myles Brand signing a trio – but I believe it's the best development in the game in more than a decade.

I don't see how it could be bad for college basketball for such players as Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Kevin Love and Tyreke Evans to have played at the Division I level. There were one-and-done players before the draft age limit was put into place. There were NCAA violations before it came into play. The cause-and-effect cries are shortsighted and hypocritical.

What bothers me most is that those who decry the rule focus strictly on how it's allegedly bad for college basketball. First, how is it any worse for college basketball to have these players on campus than to have programs spend time and money recruiting them and then see them disappear – like Kendrick Perkins did with Memphis, or Shaun Livingston did with Duke, or J.R. Smith at North Carolina? Second, when is somebody who makes this case going to recognize that the most important thing is the overall health of the game – at all levels.

The NBA has no mechanism to train high school players who enter its league directly. Percentage-wise, their track record on doing so is horrendous. American basketball cannot thrive when roughly half of its best prospects are failing, or failing to develop. A 20-year limit would be better than what we have. If college coaches had a clue on this issue, they'd be campaigning for that.



How has technology changed recruiting and the balance of power in college basketball? (i.e. internet and more easily accessible TV coverage giving players more exposure to more teams).

DeCourcy: Honestly, I don't think a lot. I think the creation of the BCS has been a bigger deal. It firmly established a dividing line between the richest leagues and the next group. In 1992, when the Great Midwest was introduced, the gulf between Cincinnati, Memphis, DePaul and that group was not as large as it eventually became. I still think SEC expansion was the most significant change to college athletics of the past 25 years.



You have stated in the past that the 1996 UK team was the best team in your years following the sport. I think the 1996 Cats and the 1968 UCLA team are the two 2 best clubs ever. How would you rate them? And remember you are on a UK board.

DeCourcy: It's the best in my years "covering" the sport. Once you go back to the UCLA teams, when I was a kid, the '96 Cats have a little tougher time. UCLA 1972 had Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and Henry Bibby. Swen Nater came off the bench for that team, and he wound up scoring nearly 9,000 points in the ABA/NBA.

I'd suggest '96 Kentucky is the greatest defensive team and wait around for anyone who wanted to challenge that. But the Cats did not have the reliable offensive post game that a Walton or Alcindor (or even a Corliss Williamson) provided for their teams.

2. I think UK goes 37-4 and wins the NCAA title. Agree or disagree (within reason).

DeCourcy: We have the Cats rated very highly. I would not say they are the favorite to win the championship, but I can understand why they're your favorite.


Is there a key player/position for UK in order for UK to have a very special season or is it just a combination of things?

DeCourcy: Obviously, the great players have to play great. That's especially Patterson and Wall, but it's also Miller and Cousins and others. But we expect the best players to perform well, so long as they're healthy. Very few of the best players fail to perform under Calipari.

So that leaves three variables:

1) Health. That's true for every team. Obviously, all predictions become moot when a major injury impacts a team.

2) Chemistry. I sense that the players on this team like each other, but it has to stay constant.

3) Shooting. UK doesn't have to have a single great shooter, the kind Jodie Meeks would have been had he stayed around. The 2008 Memphis team averaged 7.5 threes per game, but only one guy shot better than 37 percent (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and nobody made more than 66. (Meeks, by comparison, hit 117). So it can be kind of a committee thing. But the ball has to go down sometimes.

KSR would like to thank Mike DeCourcy for his participation and also would like to thank its members for their questions.

Follow KSR on Twitter.

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