Williams odd man out in chummy get-together Mississippi State coach unlinked with other three

Final Four notebook

March 28, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Like three fraternity brothers at a reunion, Kentucky's Rick Pitino, Massachusetts' John Calipari and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim waxed sentimental about their long-standing relationships yesterday in a teleconference involving the Final Four coaches.

Then there was Richard Williams, the former math teacher and little-known coach who has taken Mississippi State to its first-ever Final Four.

Did he feel like an outsider in the midst of all these old friends?

"Not really," Williams said. "I think we'll be playing in the same arena they're playing in."

Three days before No. 2 Kentucky squares off against No. 1 Massachusetts, and No. 15 Syracuse faces No. 19 Mississippi State in the national semifinals, the coaches talked about former ties.

In Calipari's case, those ties go back to his 1988 hiring at UMass.

"My relationship with Rick Pitino is based on the fact he was on the committee that hired me," Calipari said.

Boeheim hired Pitino as a Syracuse assistant in 1978, and said he has spent time with Calipari on Nike trips. "I'm thrilled with the job [Pitino's] done," he said.

Exhibit A

Boeheim said he hoped other college players would take note of how much John Wallace enhanced his value to the NBA by returning for his senior season.

"If you're ready physically and mentally, there's nothing wrong with going," Boeheim said. "I've had a couple of guys leave early and I don't think it was a bad decision. But for the most part, most guys need to stay and work on their games. Because if you go to the NBA, they need you to be ready."

Making his point

The biggest improvement in Mississippi State's season came in its backcourt, Williams said, and in particular with point guard Marcus Bullard.

"Defensively, he's been very solid all year and he's a tremendous shooter," Williams said. "But he was somewhat uncomfortable with his role of distributing the ball and, against pressure, he had a lot of turnovers early.

"We faced so much pressure he had to improve or we wouldn't improve. He had no choice. He had to get better or go home."

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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