Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman are the dynamic duo of Kentucky Basketball assistants (Dr. Michael Huang Photo).
Many would agree that assistant basketball coaches at the University of Kentucky have it made. John Calipari’s minions have all the rich program perks without any of the suffocating program pressures. Throw in some ridiculous high-paying salaries, and I’d say it might be the best job in all of sports.
Two of the lucky coaches currently enjoying the spoils, Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman, met with reporters to discuss this year’s upcoming team. Just a couple of weeks before the team’s preseason exhibition jaunt down to the Bahamas, the atmosphere was predictably light, smiles were plentiful, and the alcohol flowed freely.
Actually, there was no alcohol—but you get the point. This was not reporters grilling John Calipari in the postgame presser about Dontaie Allen’s lack of playing time, or why his offense bogs down in the middle, or why he didn’t call timeout. This was more like a friendly evening chat over beer and pretzels—with two very likeable dudes—after a stimulating day of practice.
Despite the congenial tone and softball questions, we learned a few things about how this team is coming together and about how the dynamic duo of Orlando and Chin is leading them along on a potential championship run.
Here are my top takes.
This team likes to work out and practice—so much so that the coaches have had to dial it back a bit.
They’ve resurrected “The Breakfast Club.” Led by Jacob Toppin and Chris Livingston, the group of four or five early risers are in the gym every morning at 7 am.
After working extensively with him on situational awareness at the end of ballgames, Coleman expects Sahvir Wheeler “to be the best point guard in the country.”
Wheeler, Lance Ware, and Jacob Toppin have emerged as the early vocal leaders. Freshman Cason Wallace has also impressed everybody with his leadership, maturity, and mindset. In regard to his physicality and commitment to defense, the 6-foot-4 combo guard from Texas is as good as he bragged he would be.
Defensively, this team has the potential to be great. But it’s still too early for the coaches to get a real sense of how their natural talents and speed will play out. Shot blocking—not just from the interior, but also from the wings and guards—will be a point of emphasis.
Antigua emphasized that CJ Fredrick is more than just a shooter. The fifth-year transfer from Iowa has a great feel for the game, passes the ball well, has a high basketball IQ, and always plays with an edge.
Coleman calls Daimion Collins an “Avatar” with innate, God-given gifts. The 6-foot-9 former Texas Gatorade Player of the Year supposedly improved all aspects of his game during the summer. You’ll notice a difference in his overall skill, his ball handling, his jump shot, and his middle game.
Both coaches used the words competitiveness, confidence, and chemistry over and over to describe the players on this current team.
Chemistry also applies to the current coaching staff. Coleman expects his role to be a little different in his second year under Calipari. Last year he was “just getting his feet wet, learning [about] everybody, and being a good team player.” In year two, he promises to be even more of his energetic and passionate self. He dismissed any sideline dust ups with Calipari as nothing more than two spirited coaches obsessed with winning.
“Chin’s gonna be Chin, and Cal’s gonna be Cal,” Coleman explained, when asked about the apparent animated interactions with his head coach that were caught on camera. “And we’re gonna love each other the same as we always do. If people on the outside think there’s something going on…Come on, man.”
Not to be outdone, Antigua finished the 30-minute media session with a description of what makes him tick.
“I’ve been blessed to be in a position to help impact young peoples’ lives,” he said, with a spirit of reflective gratitude. “I’ve had a lot of mentors, a lot of coaches that helped me—that have allowed me to be sitting here in front of you all talking about basketball. Basketball’s taken me all over the world. I think it’s my calling, my duty, to share that and to try to continue to help young kids to grow and take advantage of their God-given abilities.”
Not just in all of sports, but might a Kentucky Basketball assistant coach be the best job ever?
Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669