By Jon Rothstein
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– Kentucky coach John Calipari said earlier this week that he will attempt to schedule more games in football stadiums moving forward to prepare his teams for the NCAA Tournament. “I’ve got basically a new team every year,” Calipari said. “The only way we’re going to prepare these kids to play in the NCAA Tournament is by playing games early in those types of environments.” Calipari had hoped to continue the Wildcats’ series with Indiana by playing multiple games at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis but the Hoosiers opted to pass. Look for Kentucky to pursue more opportunities in dome like settings next season as they continue to fill out the non-conference portion of their schedule. The Wildcats are already slated to play Duke in the Georgia Dome in the Champions Classic and will also face Maryland in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
– The NCAA’s new rule that allows teams to start practicing once kids are enrolled in summer school should do wonders for off-season development. Now starting in June, coaches can work out their kids for two hours each week and won’t be forced to rely on players to be self starters in the off-season. Look for programs to potentially take less foreign trips with exhibition games during the summer since they’re getting practice time in regardless.
– Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith is considering Florida, Old Dominion, and a slew of other schools after getting his release earlier this week. The 6-foot-8 forward will have a major impact wherever he winds up but could be a star if he decides to join the Monarchs and reunite with former Hokies assistant John Richardson, who left Blacksburg for a spot on Blaine Taylor’s staff at the end of the season. We’re hearing that another BCS level school may get an official visit from Finney-Smith in the next few weeks — stay tuned to this space for more. As a freshman, Finney-Smith averaged 6.3 points and 7 rebounds per contest while shooting 36.6% from 3-point range.
– Looking for a CAA sleeper next season? Try Delaware. The Blue Hens won nine of their final 11 games to close last season and finished with an impressive 12-6 mark in conference play. Monte Ross returns a dynamite inside-outside combo with Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged a double-double last season with 12.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Delaware also will welcome back 6-foot-2 guard Jarvis Threatt, a silky smooth sophomore to be who tallied double figures as a freshman at 10.7 points per contest.
– Illinois State hit a home run by hiring Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller as their next head coach. The well liked Muller played for the Redbirds from 1995-98 and is the perfect person to take the baton from Tim Jankovich, who left Illinois State to join Larry Brown’s staff at SMU. Muller has good people skills, learned from one of the best tacticians in the game in Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings,, and should have the Redbirds in position to challenge Creighton next season for a Missouri Valley Conference title. Illinois State returns every key piece from a team that went 21-14 last season and lost to Stanford in the NIT.
– Speaking of Larry Brown, he’s certainly not wasting any time building a back court. The newly minted SMU coach has already received commitments from two transfers, Arizona point guard Josiah Turner and Illinois’ off guard Crandall Head — both of whom will be eligible for the Mustangs in the 2013-14 season. Making SMU relevant for a long period of time won’t be easy for Brown but at least he’s got two Big East caliber guards when his program joins the conference after next season.
– Richard Pitino added a big piece to his first recruiting class as head coach of Florida International by signing St. Anthony’s big man Jerome Frink. Frink is closer to 6-5 than 6-7 but he’ll do wonders for Pitino in South Florida because of his relentlessness on both sides of the floor. Frink averaged 16.2 points and 6.5 rebounds during the Friars’ run in the New Jersey State Tournament.
– We’re hearing NC State is going to be tough to beat for the services of Friends Central forward Amile Jefferson, who is set to announce his college decision next week. The 6-foot-7, 190 pound Jefferson is a consensus Top 25 recruit and one of the best unsigned prospects left on the board in the 2012 class. Jefferson is also considering Duke, Villanova, Ohio State, and Kentucky.
– A big key to Villanova’s success next season might hinge on whether or not Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault gets a waiver from the NCAA to play without sitting out a year. The 6-foot-2 Chennault is originally from Philadelphia and played his high school ball at Neumann-Goretti and would immediately add some experience to a Wildcats’ back court that desperately needs some. Villanova lost 19 games last season for only the second time in program history and both of the team’s starting guards, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek opted to enter the 2012 NBA Draft. Sophomore to be Ty Johnson is the incumbent starting point guard and he’ll likely be joined by Chennault if he’s cleared to play. If Chennault doesn’t receive a waiver, sophomore Darrun Hilliard and junior James Bell figure to push for starting spots on the perimeter.
– The annual Dick Vitale Gala to support cancer research is next Friday, May 18th at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota. The event is already sold out but if you’re interested in making contributions, please visit www.dickvitaleonline.com.