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Calipari leading SEC resurgence

With John Calipari at the helm of the
SEC's flagship basketball program, coaches say the conference is
heading in the right direction.
In addition to the buzz swirling around Calipari and UK, several
of the better players in the Southeastern Conference last year are
returning to school.
"Basketball in the southeastern conference is alive and well,"
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Last season, it appeared to be on its death bed.
Only three SEC teams made it to the 2009 NCAA tournament and
mighty Kentucky was not one of them.
Now the winningest program in men's college basketball has a new
celebrity coach who has assembled the best incoming freshman class
in the country, according to various recruiting web sites.
Calipari, hired on March 31, embraces being an ambassador for
the university and says he has been busy.
"Those first 90 days are vital that you get off running and
that you do so many things," Calipari said. "One of those is just
learning and I'm learning as fast as I can.
"It's been an absolute whirlwind."
A whirlwind not without a couple of hiccups. His former school,
Memphis, faces possible major NCAA rules violations, though the
NCAA has said Calipari is not "at risk." Calipari also lost last
season's leading scorer, junior Jodie Meeks, who opted to take his
game to the NBA. Meeks was drafted 41st by the Milwaukee Bucks on
Thursday.
But that just means more minutes for players like Darius Miller,
Ramon Harris, Darnell Dodson and Jon Hood, Calipari said.
The fact reporters were asking other league coaches about
Calipari and Kentucky, four months away from basketball season,
showed the impact of the new hire, Mississippi St. coach Rick
Stansbury said.
"It's very obvious already the impact he's had," Stansbury
said. "All through that state, that's all everybody's talking
about."
And the timing couldn't be better.
"Last year whatever the perception was, it was fair,"
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "It was accurate. The league was
young."
Experience will be on the conference's side next season.
All-Conference players who considered the NBA draft but decided to
return to campus include Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, South
Carolina's Devan Downey, Tennessee's Tyler Smith and LSU's Tasmin
Mitchell.
Pearl said Florida won back-to-back national titles when a group
of upperclassmen put their NBA dreams on hold.
"Obviously our league is due a cycle up," Pearl said.
And the collective efforts of SEC team's will be critical to the
conference's revival. LSU coach Trent Johnson pointed out that it's
up to each team to pick up the league, not just the traditional
standard bearer.
"If you win your share of games, whether Kentucky or Ole Miss,
that's what's going to benefit your league," Johnson said.


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