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January 30, 2009

Mailbag: Pick the coach to run your program

Got a question? Click here to send it to Greg.

Pick your leader

From: Liam Harris of Chattanooga, Tenn.: If you were an AD and could pick any current college coach to run your program, who would you choose and why?

Mike Krzyzewski. He's as accomplished as anyone who has ever coached (with the exception of the great John Wooden!).

Krzyzewski wins with great talent or good talent. He runs a program long on tradition and success and short on controversy. Also, he plays a style that players enjoy, and his philosophy is the same as mine you defend first. Even though the Blue Devils are not the most talented physically, I believe they are the best perimeter defensive team in America. They also share the ball. His players have to be unselfish and they really understand how important it is to have everyone involved.

I say this not because they are No. 1 right now, I don't think they will win it all. But that's exactly why I love Krzyzewski - whether he has the best talent or not, he will always give his a team a chance to win.

How good are the Vols?

From: Ryan Jacobs: I'm curious about your take on the Tennessee Vols. Do you attribute their early season "struggles" to a combination of a tough schedule and many new players (as I do), or do you think we're seeing pretty much what the Vols are this year an up-and-down team that will do well to make it to the Sweet 16?

You are right on with your assessment. Anytime you lose your starting backcourt and the first two guards off the bench there is going to be an adjustment. You really have to appreciate just how special that group was.

The Vols are a work in progress, a good team but nowhere near as good as last year's team. The sign of a good coach and program is to be good when you're rebuilding, and that is exactly what Tennessee is. Keep in mind that the schedule will help down the line and seeding will determine just how far the Vols go. Also, they still have to get there first.

Who's poised for a fall?

From: Joey Eberhardt: What team do you think might be the biggest disappointment come tournament time?

The team that has the most to lose, North Carolina. The thought is that unless the Tar Heels win it all they will be considered disappointing. I don't agree with that. The tournament can be fickle.

I was fortunate enough to win a national championship my junior year, but my senior team was far superior. What's great about the tournament is that the best team (or most talented) doesn't always win. They have as good a chance as any team to win it all. They are an excellent team, but in the tournament it's about your ability to win when you don't play well.

Translation, the better your defense the more likely you are to prevail. That's the sticking point for me with the Tar Heels.

The future for Calathes

From: Brandon Gilbert of Miami: You had the privilege to watch Florida guard Nick Calathes play against N.C. State earlier this year. My questions are: Do you think he can have a good career in the NBA? What player (past or present) does he remind you of?

Watching Calathes earlier this season was one of the most impressive performances I've seen all year. He reminds me of a bigger Jose Calderon as a player. I use four criteria when I try to evaluate a player's ability at the next level:

1. Can he defend his position; he's a point guard on the collegiate level and will have to guard the pick and roll and contain penetration.

2. Can a player be effective if he's not the best player; oftentimes guys don't succeed in the pros because their role will be different as a pro than it was in college. How do you perform when you're not the first option, maybe you're the fourth option? The game is so different in the pros and sometimes young men struggle to make that adjustment.

3. The system. Believe it or not most teams have a system and very few players are good enough to be their best in any system or are so good that the team will change their system for a specific player.

4. What's inside. Most players want to be great but it doesn't always happen in the beginning. Some players can't handle the failure that comes with development. Will they start feeling sorry for themselves? In the pros no one is going to hold your hand and a coach is not going to wait for you because he may be fired tomorrow.

UNLV too small?

From: Grant W. : Greg, I remember you from a Spanish class at UNLV way back in the day. Anyway, I have a question about the media perception of Lon Kruger and the UNLV program. Why does the media seem to think Kruger needs to leave UNLV for Arizona (before that Michigan, before that Indiana)? I even think you may be falling into a mind-set that UNLV is "too small" a program to keep a top-notch coach like Lon - at least I got that feeling from the halftime comments about him during a CBS televised game at BYU.

Que Pasa my friend. Kruger is a fabulous coach, one of the best in America. He's won everywhere he has been and his success is a given because of who he is as a coach. This is not about UNLV being a small-time program, the potential exists for it to return to national prominence. Coach Kruger could definitely be the guy to lead UNLV back to its glory days, and I'd love to see it.

But remember UNLV plays in the Mountain West Conference, a very good but not great conference. It doesn't have a major television deal and that has an effect regardless of how good a coach is. It also comes down to what a coach wants. UNLV cannot pay what an Indiana, Michigan or even Arizona can pay.

There's also recruiting. Very few personalities exist that can take a program from a non-BCS conference to being a perennial power. John Calipari comes to mind with Memphis, which is very much how it was when I was in school. He will dominate his conference, maybe lose once a year in conference games and play a national schedule where his games are nationally televised.

UNLV is a great program, but it's fair to compare its conference to some of the traditional powers. I don't think he will leave because of where he is in his life - and he's got a good thing going.

Something to rally around

From: Lucas Coffey of Richmond, Ky.: When Kentucky was at Alabama Ramon Harris collapsed in the tunnel on the way out from the locker room. Did you ever have anything like this ever happen to you as a player? If so, how hard is it to overcome something like this as a player in order to play well the second half without worrying about your ill/fallen teammate?

I've never fainted but was knocked out cold when I was in college. I broke my jaw in two places and my chin. Of course I remember it like it was yesterday, a big Monday game against Fresno State. When I came to I cried like a baby because I thought the year was over.

I had surgery that night and I can't describe the amount of pain I was in. Believe it or not I went to practice the next day, and just showing up really helped me mentally and reassured my teammates. The thought was I would try and play on Thursday. Coach hoped I could give 10 minutes and see how it went. I ended up playing 30 minutes and even took two charges! We went on to win a national championship!!!

It's through adversity that players (and teams) find something that allows them to rally. While Ramon's situation was a little different, players will find a way to focus on what's at hand. It's why you see athletes in the most difficult of times find a way. Let's hope the young man recovers fully and this was just an isolated incident.

Greg Anthony is a college basketball analyst for Rivals.com. He was a point guard at UNLV from 1988-91 and played 11 seasons in the NBA. Click here to send it to Greg a question.

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