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March 31, 2012

Davis adds to hardware; Calipari, Pitino look back

NEW ORLEANS - All of the awards Anthony Davis has been racking up say something about his season.

One of them offered some insight into his relationship with his coach.

When the Kentucky freshman was presented with the Adolph Rupp Player of the Year Award on Thursday, UK coach John Calipari got choked up in congratulating his 6-foot-10 star.

"He gets emotional when it comes to his players," Davis said. "We mean a lot to him. When he talks about one of his players doing something great, he gets very emotional."

Davis said he'd never seen Calipari in that emotional state.

By now, the UK coach should be accustomed to Davis collecting hardware. He was presented with two more trophies on Friday. Early in the morning, Davis received the Oscar Robertson Trophy as the United States Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year.

That victory had been previously announced. Later in the morning, Davis was introduced as The Associated Press' Player of the Year, an award that's announced at the Final Four.

In accepting that honor, Davis thanked point guard Marquis Teague for throwing him lob passes for easy dunks, and jokingly lauded "the guards who get beat off the dribble so I can block those shots."

Davis also was named the winner of the first Chuck Hayes Award for Media Cooperation, voted on by a panel of reporters who cover the UK basketball team on a daily basis. The award is presented to the Kentucky player who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media.

Davis' most talked-about win, though, remained the Rupp Award, named for former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, and Calipari's teary-eyed reaction to it.

"That just shows how much he really loves us, not just because we play for him and he puts on a front or whatever," Davis said. "He really loves us and you can tell, the way he acted when he had to talk about me."

Respectful rivalry
On Thursday, Rick Pitino was asked the nature of his relationship with Calipari and said the two have "no animosity." On Friday, a reporter went a step further, asking both Pitino and Calipari to list the best qualities of the other.

"He probably coaches young players better than anybody in the game," Pitino said. "I don't know if I would ever want to do it or ever could do it, to coach a new group of freshmen every year. Very difficult.

"Freshmen have a lot of emotional immaturity that you have to get them over before they start working on their physical maturity. He's probably done it better than anybody in the game. His guys get better. This group has handled themselves as well as any group. They act like veterans. They play like veterans. So real impressed with that."

Asked Pitino's strengths, Calipari said: "Bringing teams together, motivating teams to play at a high level, coming up with schemes and different ways of playing that gives his teams a chance to win, pushing them to places they don't want to go by themselves and making them do things they didn't think were possible."

Both coaches also downplayed comments Calipari made prior to the start of the season, when he described Kentucky as unique because it's the only state with only one major program for which college fans root, which was taken as a dig at the Cardinals.

"What I said was, we have a ton of Kentucky fans in Louisville," Calipari said. "It's just a unique place. I've never seen anything like it. There was no disrespect. It's, we have the state's name: Kentucky. Our fans are throughout. That doesn't disrespect Louisville at all. It wasn't meant to� ."

Pitino said Calipari's perceived slight "doesn't light a fire under us anymore."
"We have to say so many things in life, every now and then you're going to say something that's not correct," Pitino said.

"At one time Eddie Sutton said, 'We like Louisville, we treat them like a little brother.'

"John has only been in this state three years, so he doesn't know the magnitude of Louisville basketball, for that matter the history. You say so many things, you're going to make a mistake. I've made so many myself."

Even with the good vibes, Calipari referenced his much-discussed rivalry with Pitino.

The two sat down to conduct an interview together with Jim Rome prior to Friday's media session, and when asked how it went, Calipari quipped "The table was flipped over and people were rolling around, but I'm not going to say more and I'll let you guys watch it on CBS."

Later, Calipari was asked if Pitino's "ability as a strategist" might shrink the talent gap between the Wildcats and Cardinals in Saturday's game.

"You're basically saying I have none of that, is that right?" Calipari said with a smile. "You're just not praising me about mine, you're praising him."

Pressure packed
Sixteen years ago, Pitino was sitting where Calipari is now, at the Final Four with a Kentucky team that had to win a national title to avoid being viewed as a disappointment.

Pitino's Wildcats won that championship in 1996, beating Calipari's Massachusetts team along the way.

"This team, their team and our team, was No. 1 for a long period of time, and you expected to win it," Pitino said. "Your expectations as a coaching staff were you have to win it. Not only would the fans be disappointed, but we would have been very, very disappointed.

"So it is a lot of pressure. It's good pressure because you've got the goods to deliver. But as we all know, anything can happen in a basketball game."

Calipari, who has not won an NCAA championship, arrived in New Jersey in 1996 hoping to get his first. Kentucky topped the Minutemen in a National Semifinal and went on to win Pitino his first title with a championship game win against Syracuse.

"What I remember about the game when we lost was going up to Rick, hugging him, telling him, 'I'm happy for you, and I really want you to win your championship,'" Calipari said. "At that time he had not won one yet, being at Kentucky. Those are the thoughts I have."

Sixteen years later, Calipari's hoping to get his first at the program Pitino used to coach. There's only one program Pitino would rather see win it more, he said.

"Certainly we hope we win a championship and bring it back to the state," Pitino said. "If we can't bring it back, I hope they do."


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