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Notes on the Kentucky-Kansas matchup

NEW ORLEANS — A good story is worth re-telling.

With Kentucky coach John Calipari facing Kansas for the NCAA title just as he did in 2008 when he was at Memphis, he fondly recalled his days as a volunteer assistant in Lawrence, Kan. He talked about being able to eat steak, which he never did growing up, and putting on weight.

He even re-told the story about being the man with the ladle at the training table.

And not in a "Boy, this sounds familiar," way.

Word for word.

"I would serve peas or corn. 'What would you like? I'll be there early for practice if you want to do some extra shooting. What would you like, peas or corn?' That's what I did," Calipari said in 2008.

"I would be in the line. 'Would you like peas or corn? Peas? Great,'" Calipari said Sunday, even dropping in the laugh-getter about the extra shooting.

Even if the stories are canned, the affection Calipari feels for his days at Kansas is genuine. It's where he met his wife, Ellen, who worked in the school's business office. And it's where he got his start in basketball.

Calipari has come a long way since then.

He has taken the Wildcats to the Final Four twice in his first three seasons at Kentucky and will make his second appearance in the NCAA championship Monday night. He's got kids recruiting him as much as the other way around, and he is among the highest-paid coaches in the country, making more than $4 million this season alone.

Quite a change from that first job.

"When Ted Owens asked me to join his staff, I said, 'What position?'" Calipari recalled Sunday. "He said, 'Volunteer.' I said, 'How much does that guy make?'"


BLOCK PARTY: Kansas coach Bill Self is willing to anoint Kentucky star Anthony Davis as the nation's best shot blocker. Self also believes the Jayhawks have a close second.

Jeff Withey, the former volleyball player from the beaches of San Diego, has emerged in the NCAA tournament as one of the premier defensive players in the game. He blocked 10 shots in a win over N.C. State, and then caused all kinds of trouble for Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.

The 7-footer swatted seven shots, altering half a dozen more.

"Guys like Anthony and guys like Jeff cover up mistakes," Self said. "That's a big advantage."

Withey already has set the school record with 137 blocks and has at least five in a game 11 times, while Davis has set an NCAA freshman record with 180 this season.

The way the two go about things is slightly different.

Withey uses his height and wingspan to overwhelm opponents, whether it's a guard trying to get to the rim — such as the Buckeyes' William Buford — or a big guy like Sullinger. Meanwhile, Davis uses his uncanny quickness to close come across the lane and block shots seemingly out of nowhere.

"He was 6-3, he grew to 6-10 — he's nimble like a guard. He doesn't try to block it in your hands. He lets you release it. That's what great shot-blockers do," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He's nimble. He's quick to the ball. He's got a quick twitch."


GUEST APPEARANCE: You never know who's going to show up at a practice these days.

Hall of Famer Larry Brown, the only coach to win NCAA and NBA titles, has been hanging around Allen Fieldhouse the last few weeks and was front-and-center in the Kansas section when the Jayhawks upset North Carolina to win the Midwest Regional last weekend. He's also dropped in at Villanova, Maryland and Kentucky.

"He's unemployed," Kansas coach Bill Self said, drawing laughs, when asked what his mentor is doing. "He's got to be around ball. ... He comes to practice, watches. He doesn't come to all practices, but he'll sit around in a film session with us, that kind of stuff.

"It's just kind of cool to have him around. I think the players like seeing him, too," Self added. "That respect factor is always there when Coach Brown is around."

With Self and Kentucky coach John Calipari both among his long list of protégés, the 71-year-old Brown isn't playing favorites at the Final Four in New Orleans. He watched Saturday night's semifinals in the same section as other famous coaches, including Roy Williams, Denny Crum, Tom Izzo and Eddie Sutton.


COACHING AWARD: Kansas is guaranteed to leave New Orleans with at least one trophy.

Bill Self was selected the Naismith Coach of the Year on Sunday, beating out his opponent in Monday night's NCAA title game, Kentucky's John Calipari. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and Missouri's Frank Haith also were finalists for the award, given by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

"He's a great teacher," Tyshawn Taylor said. "He helps us all understand the game, understand how he wants us to play for us to be successful. His system works. What made this team so good all year is that, most of the time, we bought in and we listened and we actually paid attention to what he said, wanted to come out there and play.

"I agree with him being the Coach of the Year," Taylor added. "I said it all year."

Kansas (32-6) has made an improbable run to the title game, its first appearance since winning its third NCAA championship in 2008. The Jayhawks trailed for all but the final minutes of their round-of-32 game against Purdue and eked out a similar-looking win against Ohio State in the Final Four.

Kansas also beat top-seeded North Carolina to win the Midwest Regional.

"It's a cool award," Self said. "But there's a lot of coaches out there deserving of winning awards. All that is is a reflection of your team playing well. I appreciate it, but I don't put a lot of stock into thinking that I've done something that other coaches haven't."

Kansas is the first school to have three different Naismith winners, with Self joining Larry Brown (1988) and Roy Williams (1997).


TUNING UP: The Fray is scheduled to sing the national anthem before the NCAA title game Monday night.

The Grammy-nominated band released its third full-length album, "Scars and Stories," in February. Its first album, "How to Save a Life," went double platinum and produced the top-10 single, "Over My Head." Its second album, the self-titled "The Fray," debuted at No. 1 after it was released in 2009, and went gold.

R&B recording artist Monica performed the national anthem before Saturday night's semifinal games.