Kentucky’s John Calipari was charged with getting the Dominican Republic basketball program to its first-ever Olympic berth.
He came close at the FIBA Americas tournament in Argentina, falling short in the semifinals to Brazil before finishing up strong and beating Puerto Rico for third place.
“The goal was to get them to the Olympics,’’ Calipari said Tuesday as he made his way back to the United States from Mar del Plata, Argentina. “Our goal was the Olympics. They had never been there in their history. We ended up finishing third. They had never won that many games.’’
Now they have a shot at one of three berths in the 2012 London Olympics during the final qualifying tournament next July. Will Calipari follow through with his stated goal and coach the Dominican team against 11 others countries next summer?
Calipari said he recently spoke with the D.R. delegation about whether he would continue coaching the team, but no decision was reached. Calipari said the commitment was intense the past month, despite training camp being conducted at Kentucky. The time next summer won’t be as daunting since the tournament is confined to a week next year. But if the Dominicans were to finish in the top three, the Olympics would start soon after in late July.
“We haven’t gone that far,’’ Calipari said of the discussion. “The good news is that it would be the first week of July and I wouldn’t miss anything. I don’t know. At this point, I just got through this. This was challenging. The time element certainly was and we were on campus for the first half and then Brazil [for a pre-tournament] and then Argentina.’’
Calipari said he felt like he done well with the job, providing a window for young Dominicans to see basketball in the same light they may view baseball.
“Whether I’m coaching this team or not, I’ll help them in any way I can,’’ Calipari said. “The dates may not work out. It may not be something I choose to do. But the appeal is to get them to the Olympics.’’
Calipari also got a kick out of coaching Atlanta's Al Horford, who was a double-double machine for his native country.
“It was a great experience for me to coach,’’ he said. “I coached against some of the best in the world.’’
Calipari said he is already thinking how he’s going to incorporate what he did with the Dominicans with his national title-contending Kentucky Wildcats this season.
“The dribble-drive is more European than anything else and the way they use their 4s is something we can do,’’ he said of the Euro-styles of Argentina and Brazil. “We’ve got Kyle Wiltjer and Anthony Davis, who might be two of our best shooters. Now we can do some pick-and-rolls like these Europeans do. It was good watching and learning and I’ve got some great ideas to come back with.’’
Calipari said he will use more pick-and-roll plays with freshman point guard Marquise Teague. He didn’t want to do that with former point guards Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans at Memphis because he needed them to make plays. Same with a solid shooter like Brandon Knight at Kentucky. And with John Wall? That speed was too valuable.
But with Teague he can envision the pick-and-roll to free up other players who can spot-up shoot off the dribble-drive.
“Marquise can get to the rim and use that pick-and-roll,’’ Calipari said.
Calipari was en route to making multiple recruiting visits Tuesday before landing back in Lexington. He said he made three in-home visits through speaker phone from Argentina.
Calipari had assistants Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland on the Dominican staff, while John Robic and Kenny Payne have been taking care of the Wildcats back home.
“Everyone has been working hard, getting after it and doing well,’’ Calipari said. “This has been a great experience for me. This team got better.’’
The United States, Argentina, Brazil, host Great Britain, Australia and Tunisia have all qualified for the London Olympics. The FIBA Asia champion, and two from the Eurobasket championship are still to be determined. That will leave three spots in London with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Angola, Nigeria and New Zealand making half of the field for next summer's Olympic qualifying tournament. Four more spots will come from Eurobasket and two more from Asia.