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Q&A with Clark Kellogg

Clark Kellogg is one of the most respected voices in college basketball. The former star at Ohio State and CBS’ lead college basketball analyst is also an Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup (www.capitalonecup.com, www.facebook.com/capitalonecup), which annually recognizes the best NCAA Division I men’s and women’s athletics programs. It might still be summer, but it’s never too early to talk college hoops, so the The Big Lead chatted with Kellogg about the upcoming college basketball season and the Capital One Cup.

The Big Lead: Kentucky had a tremendous season in 2012-13 en route to winning the NCAA title. Where do the Wildcats rank among the all-time great teams?

Clark Kellogg: I think there are a number of outstanding championship teams. I don’t know that I would have them in the top 15 of all-time, but I think they belong in the next tier. They were unique in that they had five guys, six guys, all of whom averaged double figures. They had tremendous talent, four guys who were NBA first-round draft picks. That speaks to their talent.

But it’s more than that. I was impressed with what a talented, unselfish, team-oriented group they were. It was not two or three superstars and a bunch of role players. They truly came together as a unit. 

Now, as for the truly great teams in college hoops,you’re talking the John Wooden UCLA teams of the 1960s, the great UNLV teams, Duke in 1991 and 1992. For that matter, you can go back to the 1950s, the San Francisco teams with Bill Russell and KC Jones. I don’t think last season’s Kentucky team rises to that level, but the Wildcats are in the next tier.

TBL: Will we ever see another program like Wooden’s UCLA squads?

CK: I don’t think so, just because the landscape is so different. It’s rare that you have back-to-back champions like Florida (2006-07), or the North Carolina team of 2009 where the group came back as juniors with sole purpose of winning national championship after reaching the Final Four the previous year. You’ve had teams like UCLA reach the Final Four three straight years (2006-08) and Kentucky (1996-98) but I just don’t see it happening much anymore. I understand the sentiment from kids who want to go pro, because I left school in 1982 to pursue my dreams after my junior year. The big boys are still going to get their audience with elite players. Perennial powers like UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Indiana and North Carolina, they’ll always have a chance. But having one team monopolize things, like Duke with all those Final Fours in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we’re probably not going to see that again.

TBL: I know we’re sitting here talking this summer and the tournament isn’t until March, but who are your early picks to find their way to the Georgia Dome?

CK: I think there are three teams worth mentioning, and I’m going to list them in alphabetical order. First off, Indiana has outstanding talent and their incoming freshman class is reputed to be outstanding. Me personally, I don’t usually evaluate incoming kids until they get out there and practice in college, because until then, they’re just height and weight figures on the roster, whatever they did in high school goes out the window. But their kids love up to the hype, they could have something special.

I think Kentucky, despite all those players lost, has elite players coming in and the Wildcats have one of the great coaches in the game in John Calipari, he always has good, cohesive teams. And finally, Lousiville has a number of key players returning. I thought Wayne Blackshear played pretty well in the Final Four game. He missed a lot of last season because of his injury, but with the benefit of a healthy summer he’ll have a chance to live up to his promise. I’m excited to see it all play out.

TBL: Who are this year’s sleeper teams? Is there a potential George Mason or Virginia Commonwealth out there who will bust some brackets come March?

CK: It’s funny you mention that, because VCU is on my list again this year, they really are. They’ve got a relatively young team, but Shaka Smart is one of the outstanding coaches in the game. VCU is considered mid-major, but the way it approaches hoops is big time.

As for as other teams that could crash the party, I think UNLV has good returning players. Creighton impressed in the tourney last year and has a good nucleus coming back. Keep an eye on Murray State, too.
 
TBL: Michigan State and UNC kicked off last season by playing a game on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego. This year, there are three such games. Two questions: Have you ever participated in a game, if not on an aircraft carrier, then somewhere in a non-traditional setting? And either way, how do you prepare for such a game?

CK: I did not experience anything like that, other than, when I was growing up, like all of us, whether or not you went on to play in college or the pros, we played outside on the playground. But that’s the closest I came. I watched the game last year and I enjoyed it, it was some type of scene.

I think from coaching and preparation standpoint, you’d approach it more or less the same as you would on the playground. The elements can be more of a factor, but again, most of the kids have played outside before when it gets cold or windy. If it gets that way, you’d try to keep everything in the paint, get it close to the rim. But it should be a great experience for those kids, so don’t change anything, the game’s the same.

TBL: The Florida men and Stanford women repeated as Capital One Cup champions this past year.  How big of a testament is that to the strength of their athletic programs?

CK: It speaks volumes. The Capital One Cup recognizes tremendous achievements. There’s a premium placed on winning a championship, weighted on popularity and the number of participants in each sport. So to win not just one year but back to back, it speaks to the tremendous talent among the sports at both schools. Capital One is shining a light on the Florida and Stanford men’s and women’s programs. And it speaks not to just the talent level of the student athletes, but also to the continuity in places like that. When you have a stable athletic department, from the athletic director on down, there isn’t a ton of turnover in coaching ranks, and that helps to continually attract top student athletes.

TBL: The Capital One Cup includes 39 total men’s and women’s sports.  If you never played basketball what other sport do you think you would have been successful in?

CK: You know, I wouldn’t have been able to answer this for you if it hadn’t been for the fact my kids all played soccer. My daughter went on to play college volleyball at Georgia Tech and my youngest son [Nick] plays basketball at Ohio University, but they all played soccer growing up. I don’t think I could have played football, I enjoy watching it but wasn’t that big on the physical contact. But watching my kids play soccer, I see it as playing basketball with your feet. You have to control the ball, you have to trust your teammates, you have to get the ball from side to side. If I was doing it all over I would have given soccer a chance.

 

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