The topsy-turvy world of college basketball

Published 10:52 am Friday, April 12, 2024

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The state of college basketball has been the sports talk of the week around different stops, whether the barbershop, Hardee’s, or anywhere sports-loving fans gather. Everything from the transfer portal to John Calipari leaving the Bluegrass state and the hiring of Kim Caldwell as the new Tennessee Lady Vols head coach, replacing Kelly Harper. Surprisingly, no one really cared to talk about the Men’s National Championship game between Purdue and Connecticut as, for the most part, no one really cared. So, let’s talk about the top three college basketball conversations beginning with the transfer portal. After finishing ranked fifth in the final basketball poll of the season after their run to the Elite 8, the Tennessee Vols men’s basketball program saw two key parts of their run enter the portal this week as Toby Awaka and Jonas Aidoo put their names in the portal. It really doesn’t make that much sense why two stellar athletes who played a big role in the Vols’ run to not return for another season on Rocky Top to join a strong group of returning players including SEC Defensive Player of the Year in Zakia Zeigler – until you look at the always talked about NIL money available. And if one doesn’t think that money plays a part in the sport, consider Kaitlyn Clark from Iowa raked in $3.1 million in NIL money as she was the face of Gatorade, State Farm, Buick, Nike, and so many more as the National Player of the Year leaves the college game to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever. The word on the street is that Tennessee men’s basketball doesn’t have the NIL deals like many other schools ranking somewhere down the list around 70ish in that category and that is more than likely the driving point behind why any athlete at any school would want to enter the portal – money. Secondly, why would John Calipari be willing to take the job at Arkansas and leave a prestigious program like Kentucky? In his three-minute goodbye to Kentucky basketball, Calipari said that he believed the program needed a ‘new voice’ to lead the team. It’s more likely that the fan base and supporters’ voices were heard louder and Calipari humbly bowed out. The question is what coach in his right mind would want to run the program now since the school has become more of a one-and-done landing spot for top talent choosing to play one season and then jump to the NBA. Plus, the previously mentioned NIL portal doesn’t help either. Sadly, the athletes that are suffering when it comes to college basketball are high school players who might have been afforded the opportunity to play at a major basketball power who now see the very openings disappear as other athletes who are in the portal take those spots. Lastly, the hiring of Kim Caldwell brings a fresh face to the Tennessee women’s basketball program after Kelly Harper’s “resignation” i.e. avoiding being fired. A little-known coach that has had a ton of success in both Division II Glenville State and in a one-year stint at Marshall where the Thundering Herd set a record for wins in a season this year with 26 and made it to March Madness. With a winning percentage of almost 88% and over 200 wins in her career against only 31 losses, everything points toward a great opportunity for the new coach. While many are stunned about Harper’s departure and the hiring of a little-known coach, Lady Vol fans need to stop placing Pat Summitt-like expectations on the coach and give her an opportunity to bring a new brand of basketball to the Tennessee women’s team. Caldwell showed her grit during her inaugural press conference when John Adams, a sports writer with the Knoxville News Sentinel asked her whether her run-and-gun pace of basketball could work at Tennessee with Caldwell responding, “if I didn’t think it would I would not have come here,” followed by a glaring smirk at Adams. All in all, college basketball is on its head since the COVID year. The landscape has changed dramatically as players and coaches have become more entitled and less appreciative of the opportunities to play with pride for the schools they represent.

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