BOISE, Idaho — Wait, did we just have beef in Boise?
Buffalo coach Nate Oats, who was a high school coach five years ago, has quickly become one of the most engaging personalities at the NCAA Tournament — and suddenly has the largest megaphone of his life after the 13th-seeded Bulls upset Arizona in the first round Thursday. But did he really go in on Hall of Fame Kentucky coach John Calipari?
“Calipari’s been whining about no experience: Young, young, young,” Oats said once a second-round matchup with the fifth-seeded Wildcats was set. “We don’t have that problem.”
It’s true that Calipari has pointed out all season how he’s coaching the youngest team in the country — which is accurate. In fact, in the dozen years KenPom.com has tracked experience for every Division I team in college basketball, this Kentucky team is the least experienced of them all.
The Cats start five freshmen, lean heavily on two more and their most “veteran” players are sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. So when Calipari was informed Friday that Oats called him a whiner, he could not let that stand.
“I don’t know if it’s whining or telling the truth. I’m not whining about it,” Calipari said. “I’ve got a pretty good team. ‘He should not tell the truth. He should not even say it. Introduce them and don’t give their year.’ That’s fine. At the end of the day we’ve got to go play a basketball game. Everybody has got to get in the ring and play.”
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Oats was asked to follow up on the whining comment Friday, after Calipari’s turn at the podium.
“Let me clarify, when I said Calipari whining about freshmen I was maybe — it was a misuse of the word,” Oats said. “He’s a pretty dang good coach. He’s made known the fact that he’s young all year. It’s a fact. It is what it is. … Let’s say it like it is, let’s be real: I’m not going to try to disrespect anybody, but our players, they’re a little older. Wes [Clark, Buffalo senior point guard] has two kids. He’s trying to catch up to me. I’ve got three. We can trade parenting stories.”
The Bulls start a senior, three juniors and a sophomore — something Oats hopes his team can use as an advantage.
“The talent level [for Kentucky’s freshmen] is absolutely there, and when they go in the lottery, I’m going to agree with NBA teams that took them. They’re that good,” Oats said. “They’re still freshmen. No disrespect to our two freshmen [but] they’re inexperienced. It’s not disrespect. It is what it is. It’s facts. I’m going to tell them they’re not freshmen? You are freshmen.
“Just like Cal’s been saying. Cal’s been saying it.”
Some might even call it whining — but Calipari will happily tack that up on the bulletin board before tip-off Saturday night, no doubt.