Denny Crum has seen plenty of fantastic college basketball players come through over the last 50 years. He was an assistant at UCLA where he helped coach guys like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. He coached at Louisville from 1971 until 2001 and led the Cardinals to two national championships.
All that said, and the crazed rivalry with Kentucky aside, Crum believes Wildcats freshman Anthony Davis ranks among the best college players to ever play the game. That’s high praise, but Davis’ season is backing that up. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game and has helped Kentucky to a Final Four date with in-state rival Louisville on Sunday.
Denny Crumjoined 790 The Zone in Atlanta with Mayhem in the A.M. to discuss his relationship with Rick Pitino, if he and then-Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall were friends when coaching against each other, the pressure to win another NCAA tournament after winning your first, the toughness of the tournament and Anthony Davis’ place in college basketball history.
How well do you know Rick Pitino at this point?:
“I know Rick and we don’t have a lot of interaction. He’s busy coaching his team and I’m busy doing radio shows and working with the university still. … We just don’t see each other that much, but I’ve been friendly with him. I’ve never had any kind of an issue at all. He’s been nice to me. I don’t go to his practices and stuff because when you’re on this radio show, you get asked all kinds of questions and I don’t want to have to answer every question on there because I don’t want people thinking I’m trying to coach his team.”
Everyone talks about the lack of a relationship between Pitino and John Calipari. You now do a radio show with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall. How well did you guys know each other?:
“When you’re competing, you don’t get to know him that well, because you may meet him on the recruiting trail, but on a day-to-day basis, they’re 70 miles up the road and you’re just not around each other. But when you go to the coaches meetings and all the things involved with the Final Four, you usually see him. … You get to know him a little bit, but not as well as you would if you were in the same city and had lunch together occasionally or something like that. When Joe and I were competing, we were always friends and friendly. Yeah, we had a rivalry. In fact, it started in 1983 in Knoxville, Tenn., we played them in the finals of the regional and we beat them by 12 points in overtime. Since that time, Louisville has been playing Kentucky once every year.”
When you win a first national championship, does the mindset become even crazier about having to do it again?:
“You know, I was an assistant to Coach Wooden in ’69, ’70 and ’71. We had won it all three of those years. I’m not taking the credit, I was just an assistant coach. But I was a part of it. And I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. I took the Louisville job and my first team had a bunch of seniors on it and we went to the Final Four my first year at Louisville. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ But you find out that you’re a lot better coach when you have better players, and I’m no exception. It’s a funny thing because you win it and you really feel good about that and you think you’ve got the world by the tail. … Pretty soon it’s in the past and now you’ve got to start and do it all over again.”
On the toughness of the tournament:
“People pick their brackets before the tournament and they think it’s about seeding. … Well, that isn’t going to work. There have been 16 upsets in the tournament, higher seeds beating lower seeds, in this particular tournament already. What it’s really about more is matchups and how well you’re playing right now. The beauty of our tournament is you get not only the schools that were best during the year, most of the time you’ll get the schools that are the best at year-end.”
You’ve been around the game for some time. Do you have a best one or two players you’ve ever seen?:
“Well, I’ll tell you what, this Anthony Davis has gotten to be in that category. He is such a dominant player. He rebounds, he shoots, he’s developed an outside shot, he passes the ball, he blocks shots like no one I’ve ever seen. He has great hands, long arms, doesn’t foul hardly at all. He’s probably, all-around, about as good as anyone I’ve seen. There’s a lot of good players, but I think he’s separated.”
That’s some compliment:
“Bill Walton was as good as anybody I’ve ever seen when he was healthy. … When he was healthy I don’t know if there’s ever been anybody ever better.”