This Week’s Sports Illustrated: The 2014 Final Four Preview Features Stories of Last Chance Redemption, Frank the Tank and more

This week’s April 7, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated @SInow features the 2014 Final Four Preview with one national, Kentucky, and one regional cover, Wisconsin, from the Elite 8 games; Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison’s pivotal game winning shot (with twin brother Andrew Harrison in the background), and Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky celebrating their win over top seeded Arizona. This marks the 16th cover for the Kentucky Wildcats basketball and the second for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball.

The 10 page section of the Final Four Preview features: “Fresh Start,” a look at Kentucky’s road to the Final Four; “Redemption,” a feature on Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin’s comeback after a career threatening suspension; “A Soft Side,” a piece on UConn’s Shabazz Napier’s significant choice in becoming one with his team; “Tanking,” a look into Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky’s own way of doing things; and SI’s “Scouts’ Takes”; a look into each team’s strengths and weapons.

Among the features:

SI’s Luke Winn takes a closer look into Julius Randle, the 6’9” power forward from Dallas Texas and the Wildcats’ long journey to the Final Four. After speaking with Winn, Carolyn Kyles, Randle’s mother, notes it was the third round victory against Wichita State, in which Randle tallied 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists that her son was back in action. She said: “That game is when I could see all the joy come back in his eyes.” (Page 38)

Also featured, twenty-five years later, SI’s Michael Rosenberg takes a look back to Seton Hall’s heartbreaking loss in the men’s 1989 NCAA Finals against Michigan. Rosenberg spoke with head coach P.J. Carlesimo and Ramon Ramos, the 6’8”center star who was critically injured years later in a near death auto accident. Rosenberg writes, “Ramos remembers beating Duke in the Final Four. He remembers Michigan point guard Rumeal Robinson sinking the winning free throws in the final after referee John Clougherty called one of the most second-guessed fouls in college basketball history.” (Page 56) He does not remember much about the 25 years since.



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What’s New in Blue

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Get to Know Kentucky’s Freshmen Before They Jump to the NBA

There are three reasons a recruit goes to Kentucky: To win, to play with great players and to get to the NBA. A combination of all those factors lured the Wildcats’ four starting freshmen to Lexington, and under John Calipari’s coaching, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein are just starting to roll, learning to thrive playing the college game. Chris Mannix breaks down what each brings to the team.

Over the last three years 21 players have been selected in the first round of the NBA draft after finishing their freshman seasons. Nine (42.9%) have been from Kentucky, and the trend will likely continue with this year’s group. Says one NBA executive from a Western Conference team, “I’ll be watching Kentucky all season. It’s NBA U” (page 46).

The Kentucky Wildcats Culminate Their Sensational Season With a National Title

The Kentucky Wildcats survived an intrastate showdown with the Louisville Cardinals in the national semifinals and a furious rally from the Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game to win their first NCAA basketball title since 1998.  The champion Wildcats appear on the cover of the April 9, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the twelfth time that Kentucky basketball has appeared on the cover.

Kentucky, which started three freshmen and two sophomores, proved to everyone that a team this young could be poised enough to win a championship. The victory also put to rest the question whether coach John Calipari could win “the big one.”

1996 Kentucky Wildcats NCAA Title cover resembles the 2012 cover.

The accomplishment was a team effort, conceived by Calipari and implemented by his team.  Senior writer Kelli Anderson writes, “The Wildcats led the nation in blocked shots (344), field-goal-percentage defense (37.4%) and scoring margin (16.8 points), but the stat Calipari likes to tout the most was this: He had seven players who put up 20 points a game in high school, yet none of them averaged more than 9.3 shots this season. And all seven led the team in scoring at least once.”


Commentary on Twitter on National Championship night:

Seth Davis: @SethDavisHoops

“Lotta debate ahead but I say this is the best team of this millennium. Fla ’07 is second. NC ’09 is third.”

Andy Glockner: @AndyGlockner

“Good ballgame. Congrats to Kentucky, very worthy champ. Kansas was game, but not quite good enough.”

Amanda Younger: ayounger45

“Regardless of how you feel about Coach Cal/Kentucky, there’s no denying the best team in college hoops won.”

Andy Staples: @AndyStaples

“Anthony Davis made 1 of 10 shots. He also won Most Outstanding Player. He deserved it.”

Tim Layden: @SITimLayden

“2011’s Lamb: UConn’s Jeremy with door-slamming dunk. 2012’s Lamb: Kentucky’s Doron with 3 key threes”

Richard Deitsch: @RichardDeitsch

Sixteen years ago this week, Antonie Walker was on the cover of SI under the headline BLUE HEAVEN


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