Final Four coaches full of praise — for one another

SHARE Final Four coaches full of praise — for one another

BFFs Calipari and Ryan at the 2014 Final Four.

Everybody surely agrees that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, major-college basketball’s all-time leader in victories, is one of the finest coaches of his or any era.

“[John] Wooden, Krzyzewski — that’s about it,” said Kentucky’s John Calipari on Monday.

During the same conversation, Calipari called Michigan State’s Tom Izzo — whose Spartans will meet Duke at the Final Four in Indianapolis — one of the “top two or three” coaches in the college game. So where does that leave Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, whose Badgers will try to ruin UK’s perfect season in Saturday’s second semifinal game?

Don’t worry, Calipari had plenty of nice things to say about him, too.

Get ready for a week of bouquets and laurels, bravos and kudos, pats on the back and kisses on the behind as four true greats — is it too much to compare them to the Beatles? — allow us inside their mutual admiration society.

By the time the games arrive, Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Travis Trice et al. will seem like bit players in this Final Four show. Which might get really annoying if Calipari, Izzo, Krzyzewski and Ryan weren’t (a) as formidable a collection of coaching talent as there ever has been in one Final Four and (b) nearly as talented as Lennon and McCartney behind a mic.

Unless you just really can’t stand middle-aged rich guys, listening to these coaching giants talk about one another will be a lot of fun. Collectively, they got off to a good start during back-to-back-to-back-to-back individual teleconferences with the media.

Kind of got the head-to-head advantage?” Izzo interrupted with a laugh as a reporter gently inquired about the rough go he has had through the years against Kryzewski and the Blue Devils. “You can’t have a rivalry when it’s 8-1.”

Izzo has an enormously impressive total of seven Final Fours on his résumé. So does Kyzyzewski … plus five more.

“It’s good to have him around,” said Izzo, “because I’m always chasing him.”

The affinity flows in both directions.

“Tom’s as good as there is,” said Krzyzewski, “not just as coach, but a great guy. He’s a terrific friend. I think we have an amazing relationship.”

Ryan and Izzo spent time on the phone together earlier on Monday.

“Just two guys wishing each other well and representing the Big Ten,” Ryan said. “Good stuff.”

The coaching giants of the Big Ten — others in the league are good, but no one else is as good — are, in many ways, cut from similar cloth. Their conversations always are easy and enjoyable.

Know who else Ryan caught up, kibitzed and laughed with on the phone Monday morning? Calipari. The two — despite the vastly different approaches they’ve taken to building such successful programs — enjoyed the heck out of each other’s company during the run-up to last year’s meeting at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. So now they’re pals, too.

And why not? Eventually, they’ll try to crush each other’s hopes and dreams. But Saturday night is a long ways away.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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