John Calipari’s Admission Hints At How Crucial It Is to Hire This Assistant

John Calipari
Photo credit Craven Whitlow

The first shot in John Calipari getting his old crew back together has been fired.

On Thursday it was announced that Kenny Payne, whose two-year as Louisville’s head coach ended with a 12-52 mark, is returning to his old boss’ side as the first assistant coach added to the new Arkansas basketball staff.

Payne’s head coaching stint turned out to be dismal. The 11 years he spent as one of Calipari’s most trusted lieutenants in Lexington were anything but. He helped recruit a cohort of future NBA stars to Kentucky and helped Calipari win his lone national title in 2012.

As good of a recruiter as Payne is, however, he’s not necessarily the most accomplished on those great Kentucky basketball teams that benefited from five consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes from 2010 to 2014. Arguably, the best recruiter on those staffs was Orlando Antigua.

Getting Antigua, who was last week was reported to be coming over with Calipari from Kentucky as part of a Wildcat-turned-Hog cohort, is the the man that Calipari has counted on to close a number of his most notable recruits over the years. Antigua has an incredible story, including surviving a gunshot wound to the head as an adolescent, that would help him be able to hold the attention and relate to almost anybody.

That’s key to remember when hearing Calipari say “I’m overrated as a recruiter,” as he recently told Bo Mattingly on The Hog Pod. “I hope I’m a better coach than a recruiter, but I’ve been overrated as a recruiter.”

Landing the 51-year-old Antigua may be harder than originally reported given that it appears Antigua hasn’t yet resigned like the other UK assistants under Calipari and may prefer to stay in Lexington.

Orlando Antigua and the Hogs: Doing What It Takes

John Calipari, John Tyson and whoever else would do well to make it very worth the while of Antigua and his family to move, however. He has been a huge part of helping build Calipari’s reputation as an elite recruiter since joined Calipari his last season at Memphis following the infamous 2008 title game loss in overtime to Kansas, helping him recruit Tyreke Evans before turning his attention to recruiting the first crop of Kentucky stars, including No. 1 overall pick John Wall and lottery picks Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins and Daniel Orton.

Later, Antigua was he lead recruiter on a laundry list of top talent that came through Lexington in his first stint there. That includes Terrence Jones, Nerlens Noel, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns before he left to take over the South Florida job after the firing of Stan Heath, the former Arkansas basketball coach.

After a stint at Illinois, Orlando Antigua returned to Kentucky in 2021 and kept helped signing elite classes. This most recent one is full of potential stars like Jayden Quaintance, Somto Cyril Karter Knox, he of IG “CHICKEN MAN” fame.

Johnuel Fland at Play

Count NYC metro native Johnuel “Boogie” Fland as the most enticing former UK signee that could be more easily swayed Arkansas’ way if Calipari can get Antigua on board. This past season Antigua, a native of Dominican Republic by way of the Bronx, attended many of Fland’s games at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, New York.

Getting this “Boogie” would fulfill another, more famous Boogie’s prediction — that the floodgates by which so much talent had poured in Lexington would now be opened toward Fayetteville with Calipari on board.

Players know that if they want to go to the NBA, the best bet is to play for someone who has a Rolodex of former guys who suited up for him and would vouch for him.

That now includes two former Arkansas kids in both Archie Goodwin and Malik Monk. Now Calipari will have Payne and other Arkansas basketball assistants out on the trail to find the next batch of in-state players who can take their talents to Bud Walton and flourish.

It only took Calipari two seasons to get a Wildcat program that hadn’t made a Final Four appearance since 1998 back to it in 2011.

The hope for Arkansas fans is that he and his staff can find the motivation and the talent to get the school to its first Final Four since making back-to-back trips in 1994 and 1995.

Antigua, who spent time with the Harlem Globetrotters after his collegiate playing days were over, developed the ‘Hurricane’ nickname as a Globetrotter. Coincidentally, for a while there was a tornado of activity for Arkansas with Musselman leaving, all the speculation, the Calipari hire and the roster cupboard completely clearing out.

Then it quieted down for a while, but things look to get moving again with Payne’s announcement. Now it’s time for Calipari to bring the Hurricane.


Expectations for Arkansas Basketball in 2024-25

A plethora of sportsbooks have ranked the 2024-25 Razorback team as having Top 12 type odds when it comes to winning it all next season, and a few pundits are starting to chime in with their own outlooks that fall in line with that.

Take Bill Haisten, the Tulsa World columnist, who has stood in awe of the splashiness of the John Calipari hire and what that level of investment portends for the future of Razorback athletics.

“It just feels like Arkansas is this close to just making a statement to the whole of the SEC, to OU, to Texas, to Texas A&M, that we are sick of mediocrity and football and we are sick of this inconsistency in basketball,” he said. “And we are bringing in John Calipari as a signal that we are about to go to a different place and our expectations are getting adjusted in a big way.”

Assuming Calipari fills out the Arkansas basketball roster with players possessing the kind of depth, talent, skill and size that’s anticipated, “it wouldn’t shock me if they’re an Elite Eight team in his first year,” Haisten added.

Hear from the last Razorback standing, walk-on Lawson Blake:

More from Calipari on building the right roster balance freshmen and transfers starting at 23:00 here:

See Antigua spinning it at 1:35 here:

YouTube video

More on Kenny Payne here:

YouTube video

YouTube video

More on John Calipari and Arkansas basketball from BoAS here:

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