The Latest: LSU coach says last year was not total loss
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Latest from SEC men's basketball media day on Wednesday (all times local):
John Calipari has ignited another firestorm at Kentucky. This time it's an internal squabble.
The Kentucky coach said Wednesday at SEC media day his statement that his current crop could be one of his best prompted an immediate reaction from some of his past Wildcats.
''All those guys have already hit me like, `So, this may be your best group,''' Calipari said. ''Trey (Lyles) hit me, Karl (Anthony Towns) hit me. Devin (Booker), they all hit me. Tyler (Ulis). `Really? This may be your best group?'''
Towns led the Wildcats to a 38-0 start before losing 71-64 to Wisconsin in the Final Four, denying Kentucky the first unbeaten championship season since Indiana in 1976. Calipari said that group had some ''alpha dogs'' on it, more into winning and supporting teammates.
So how did Calipari respond? He texted back that he needed to see if he has any alpha dogs like they were.
''And they went, `Thank you.'''
Kentucky is the preseason favorite to win the SEC again and Calipari has two preseason first-team All-SEC picks in freshmen Edrice ''Bam'' Adebayo and guard De'Aron Fox. Guards Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk are on the second team.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson says he has benefited from working at the same school as Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban.
''Coach Saban laughs all the time and say I've met with him more in the last 16 months than the last two coaches combined,'' Johnson said. ''That's intentional. I like to pick his brain about things. I like going to their practices and watch him work with the defensive backs every day, just like I work with our point guards. It's a lot of synergy there. We have a strong relationship.''
Johnson, who led his squad to an 18-15 record and an NIT berth last season, says he doesn't worry about getting overshadowed by an Alabama football program that has won four of the last seven national championships.
''We're not trying to be in the shadows of football,'' Johnson said. ''We're trying to partner with football, walk side by side and figure out a way that we can leverage their success to help us. I embrace it.''
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl says it's understandable why SEC's football can stifle early season enthusiasm for basketball on league campuses.
Pearly says, ''The SEC West is stronger than the AFC South right now in football.''
Pearl noted that isn't the case at other conferences.
''When we are playing college football in late October and early November, we're just getting started in the SEC,'' Pearl said. ''We're just getting warmed up. Our best games are just coming. Half the Big Ten is ready for college basketball right now. ... Half of the ACC is ready for college basketball right now. Their football season's over. Not in the SEC.''
Pearl emphasized he wasn't blaming the SEC's football prowess for the league's basketball struggles. He instead said that ''we should celebrate'' the SEC's football strength and that ''we shouldn't shy away from it.''
''It's not the reason why basketball's not good,'' Pearl said. ''We do have to get our fans and our kids a little bit more excited about November basketball. And we as coaches have to go out and win some more games in November.''
In the first injury news of the SEC basketball season, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes arrived for his news conference Wednesday at SEC media day wearing a sling after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
Barnes said at the start of preseason practice that he's been wearing the sling since late September and was told at the time that he would need it for six weeks. That should enable him to have the sling removed in plenty of time for Tennessee's Nov. 11 season opener with Chattanooga.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin says he has dropped 35 pounds during the offseason to make up for the weight gain that had occurred in the early years of his tenure.
Martin said he weighs somewhere between 259-263 pounds now and wants to get to 250. He said he was ''touching 296'' in April.
''I cut out the two things I love the most in life outside of my wife - bread and rice,'' Martin quipped. ''I started working out pretty hard again. ... I don't do sodas. I don't drink alcohol, but I like me a piece of dessert, so we had to cut that out.''
Martin offered a simple reason for changing his diet and workout habits.
''I want to be a father to my children,'' Martin said. ''That's the most important thing to me in my life. I want to see them grow and I don't want to deprive myself of that because I don't take care of myself.''
Martin said he had gotten out of shape from all the hours spent trying to build South Carolina into a winning program.
''There were a lot of nights shaking hands, doing dinners, having late-night conversations, eating junk food at midnight trying to turn every stone, watch every minute of tape, make every phone call to bring fans back into the building, to recruit a better player, to be better as a coach to help your present players,'' Martin said. ''That beats you up a little bit. I stopped working out and my eating habits kind of soured.''
LSU coach Johnny Jones says it is fair to criticize him for the Tigers' inability to earn an NCAA Tournament bid last season with the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons on the roster.
''I'll be that guy who will stand up and say anything that was lacking in last year's team, you can certainly point it at me,'' Jones said Thursday. ''I'm the head basketball coach. At the end of the day, all that falls on my shoulder and we continue to get better. But at the end of the day, if you're in the top three in a conference of this magnitude, you'd think you'd get in the NCAA Tournament, but you just didn't have any control over that.''
Jones stopped short of saying the entire season was a disappointment, pointing to LSU's accomplishments. The Tigers went 19-14 overall and 11-7 in conference play to finish in a three-way tie for third place in the league.
''I think at the end of the day, not making the tournament was a disappointment, but we did not declare that as a disappointing year for us,'' Jones said. ''We were 8-1 at home (in conference play). We had a tremendous fan base. We averaged over 11,000 fans a game, the third-largest increase in the country last year. So a lot of positive things happened for our team last year.''
Kentucky is the media favorite yet again to win the Southeastern Conference basketball title.
A media panel made the Wildcats as the overall preseason pick for the 12th time since the 1998-99 season in voting announced Wednesday.
Florida was picked to finish second, followed by Texas A&M, Georgia, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Mississippi State rounding out the top 10. Rounding out the preseason picks is Auburn at 11, followed by LSU, Tennessee and Missouri.
Arkansas senior forward Moses Kingsley is the preseason player of the year.
Georgia's J.J. Frazier, Tyler Davis of Texas A&M and Kentucky teammates Edrice ''Bam'' Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox join Kingsley on the preseason All-SEC team with another pair of Wildcats on the second-team in Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk.