Parrish: I think this is a great Final Four because it has a lot of great stories. You tell stories. I tell stories, and this Final Four has a lot of stories. You've got Bo, a story you guys know well. Making his first Final Four at 66, months after his father passed, dispelling the notion that you can't run his type of system and make it here.
We've celebrated the Fab Five for two decades now and Kentucky is starting five freshmen. They are bringing another freshman off the bench and a sophomore now that Willie Cauley-Stein is hurt. They were preseason number one, unranked in the middle of the season and turned it around. Kentucky looks the closest to being a great team, but they haven't been a great team all year long. That's why they are an eight seed. They look the part, but they haven't been the part.
Billy Donovan is trying to get his third title with a very different roster. The other roster has Noah, Horford, Brewer, Tauren Green, a bunch of NBA draft picks. I don't know if there's a guarantee for one and yet here (Donovan) is, a guy who for much of his career was a young hot-shot recruiter. Now he's really molding a basketball team the way a Bo Ryan might mold it with an upperclassmen basketball team.
UConn has Kevin Ollie, his second year as a head coach. Less than four years ago he was playing in the NBA and was teammates with Kevin Durant. Now here is he with Shabazz Napier trying to do a Kemba Walker impression. I'm fired up. I'm ready to go. I don't always go, ‘Ooo, I can't wait.' But I really can't wait.
You wrote a piece of a couple weeks ago describing Kentucky-Wichita State as one of the more intriguing ‘third-round games' in recent memory. Explain why.
Parrish: I just thought it was compelling. Games are games typically. Sometimes they are terrific, but most times they look alike or are very similar. It usually is all the same ingredients, but just mixed a different way. That game was a preseason No.1 team who had talks of going 40-0 against a team who at the time still had a shot to go 40-0. It was the biggest baddest program in America against the scrappy program from the Missouri Valley. I didn't know the game would live up to it, but it did. I just thought it was interesting for all of the reasons that you watch stories. Give me the stories. Make me care.
Oddly after Wichita State won 35 games they couldn't win people over, but in its only defeat convinced people they were really good. It goes back to what (Coach) Gregg Marshall said. Just watch us play. That's fine if you watch us play and you don't think we're good, but don't say we're not good because we're from the Missouri Valley. I looked forward to that game, just like I am looking forward to today.
You've watched Kentucky a lot this season. What's the hardest matchup you think they present to teams?
Parrish: They just are big and strong and athletic. They're pros. They are all pros. They are all guys that will play in the NBA. Sam Dekker may go to the NBA some day. Same with Frank Kaminsky, but that's about it. Even those guys aren't guaranteed anything. Even with Willie Cauley-Stein hurt, you are talking seven first-round draft picks, maybe more, that will play. All the reasons people liked them in the preseason are there.
They're the best offensive rebounding team in the country. That's pretty clear. You don't need to watch tape, just look at the numbers. The thing I would be concerned about if I was Bo is that the Harrison twins are playing well. They've always been big, but they always haven't been playing well. Now they are big and playing well. You are talking about two big 6-6 guards. Josh, Ben and Traevon aren't that big, so I would be worried about being physically overwhelmed at the 1-2-3.
I think they will figure it out up front. Bo is smart. You can do a lot of things to disrupt people's frontcourts. Not a lot you can do when big guards are being aggressive and driving to the rim, especially when they might be a little more athletic and faster than you as well. That would be my concern; will the Harrisons physically overwhelm Wisconsin's guards.
Based in Memphis you have known John Calipari for a long time. How has he changed from Memphis to Kentucky, if at all?
Parrish: Not much. It's funny because Memphis fans get so mad. He's the same dude. Whatever you think you hate about him now, that stuff was present before. He just changed addresses and got a bigger paycheck. The perception of him has changed. You can find published columns, dumb columns, from the 2008 Final Four when people said he just rolls the ball out and lets them play. That was written, and that was always stupid. I sat in on his practices for four years. He's a good basketball coach.
I think people now understand that a little bit more. Some idiots still stay he's just a recruiter who rolls the ball out, but six years ago that was the common opinion. It was always a dumb opinion. I don't' think he's changed much, but the perception of him has changed a little bit. People credit him as a coach a little more than they probably did before. In terms of talking to him and being around him, same stuff. When I see him, I just see an older version of the same dude I was around every day.
He's the best at marketing, changing the story, changing the narrative and making people focus on what he wants them to focus on instead of other stuff. I don't know if anybody in sports is better at that than him.
What are your impressions of the one-and-done debate that has been raging on this week?
Parrish: I would prefer kids who don't need to be in college not be in college, and I would never knock them on that. It's the NBA system that creates this, not college. I would love kids to stay for three years but how am I going to tell a kid worth $20 million to turn it down? It's only frustrating when people try to act like it's a bad thing.
Take Gary Harris, I wrote the story that he's turning pro baring some major change of plans. I immediately get all these responses that he's not ready and he's making a mistake. Gary Harris is going to be a millionaire in like two months. I'll probably never be a millionaire, but there's a 20 year old that's going to be a millionaire. In what world is that a mistake? In what world do we tell 20-year-old kids, or any kids, to do something for multi-millions? No, don't do that. Stay in school and do it for free basically. It's such a screwed up thing to think that I don't know how you can say it with a straight face.
I was a journalism student. What if after my freshman year some publication paid $15 million for writers and they thought I was so great to pay me that? Not only would I do it, everybody who knows about me would brag about me. It would be a little harder than staying in school for another year, but they would pay me $15 million over five years to do it. There's not a single person on the planet who would tell me to stay in school. Nobody would do that, and yet people do it all the time with athletes. If the worst mistake you ever made was becoming a millionaire, that's a good mistake.
They should get rid of the age limit. Let them turn pro if they want to turn pro. Being a one-and-done and a two-and-done if you are good enough to do it makes sense to me. I never roll my eyes when an Andrew Wiggins turns pro. I only roll my eyes when a Marcus Smart doesn't because to me that's more foolish than not. We shouldn't make young people feel guilty for getting rich.
As a long time admirer of Wisconsin, what has impressed you about this year's team?
Parrish: The way they regrouped it. That's not easy to do. Florida has been great all year. Connecticut only had a couple blips but was consistently good. Some of that was league affiliation. That league was so bad that you're not going to lose five of six. For John Calipari and Bo Ryan to get it turned the way they did, there were moments in the season when both teams weren't ranked. It's not always easy to get it turned back the right way and both were able to do that this year.
Nigel Hayes development has been impressive. Bo typically doesn't rely on first year players. He's been able to rely on Nigel. People will technically fall into stereotypes about Wisconsin kids: white, unathletic players. Frank and Sam can play in the NBA. It's still Bo's system and it's still recruiting and developing, but they got real players. They might be outmanned by Kentucky because everybody is outmanned by Kentucky, but they can line up and play you. They aren't out there just out-gimmicking you. They've got real players.
As a long-time admirer of them, I'm glad to see them here so you don't have to here that (expletive) again about him not making a Final Four. I always thought that was dumb. If Butler, VCU and George Mason can get here, Wisconsin can get here. At some point you just break though.
Once you get here, it's just a single-elimination tournament. We're not playing a seven-game series. Why did Kentucky beat Wichita State? We can throw out a bunch of reasons. One is they shot the ball in a way that was uncharacteristic for them. They were better on that day and made shots they don't normally make, so here they are.
Because of where I live, you hear this conversation a lot between Josh Pastner (Memphis) and Cuonzo Martin (Tennessee). Pastner didn't make the Sweet 16 again this year, but Martin did. Why didn't Memphis make the Sweet 16? In the round of 32 they had to play Virginia. Virginia is great and they just beat their brains in.
Tennessee got put in the first four. They played Iowa, which had won two top50 games since December 31. They handle that and play a UMass team that was over seeded and an underdog. The in the round of 32 where Memphis had to play Virginia, Tennessee was supposed to play Duke, but Mercer beat Duke. Tennessee beat Mercer and Martin is a Sweet 16 coach. Why is Tennessee a Sweet 16 team? Because Mercer beat Duke.
Why is Shaka Smart a Final Four coach? They played 34 games in 2011 before the NCAA tournament started. They never made more than 12 3-pointers. In the NCAA tournament they did it three times in a span of two weeks.
Bo is consistently great over a four-month period of time, which means more to me than a three-week tournament. That's awesome. That's hard to do. Nobody has been as consistently good as him.
Where is this game going to be won-or-loss tonight? Parrish: You can't keep Kentucky off the boards because nobody can. They will be great at that, so you have to be great at something else. How do you offset the extra possessions they are going to get? Can you not turn the ball over at all? Limit the turnovers because you can't give them extra possessions that way.
Honestly you have two good coaches and two good teams. Bo is not going to out scheme Cal and Cal isn't going to out scheme Bo. A lot of times this stuff is going to come down to what this always comes down to. It's one 40-minute game. What it Kentucky shoots 3-for-19 from 3-point range? They'll lose probably. What if they go 9-for-19? They'll win probably. That's the way stuff goes.
The things you can actually control you have to control. For Kentucky it's offensive rebounding. For Wisconsin it's taking care of the ball the way you get there. From there, it's who gets hot, who gets into foul trouble and who gets the bounce. That's what always happens when you get comparable teams.