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Kentucky-Indiana Game Day: Crean vs. Calipari - Chicago Tribune

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Kentucky-Indiana Game Day: Crean vs. Calipari - Chicago Tribune
Mar 23rd 2012, 23:28

ATLANTA -- Even as Indiana was trying to figure its way out of the basketball basement, coach Tom Crean would field calls from a coach whose program has remained on top.

Outside of his family, Crean said, it was Kentucky coach John Calipari ringing him and offering help.

"It's been him more than really anybody outside of my family in this business," he said. "I will always appreciate that. … It wasn't just, 'Hey, hang in there.' Anybody can tell you that. It was tangible things: Have you thought about this? Are you looking at that? Things that made you think."

There certainly were no tips being doled out this week.

Crean and Calipari faced off in Friday's Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome, where the Hoosiers are appearing for the first time since 2002 while the Wildcats are trying to make back-to-back Final Four runs.

It wasn't just a collision of basketball bluebloods but of two coaches whose friendship has grown stronger over the years.

"If I didn't know John, I'd give him a ton of credit for what kind of coach he is," Crean said. "I learned a lot from him. He's been tremendous to me."

The game also is a rematch between Indiana's regular-season victory against Kentucky, the only game the Wildcats lost before their conference tournament. Outside the Georgia Dome, fans were dressed mostly in blue or red heading into Friday night's game, vastly outnumbering fans for the early game between Baylor and Xavier.

"The Indiana-Kentucky games, those have always been big, and for me personally, there's no question it's a big deal," Crean said. "There's always been a special aura around and about Indiana to me, and I would say the same thing about Kentucky."

Crean first admired Calipari by reading a Big East magazine article where Calipari noted that to move up in the coaching ranks and find success you had to be known for something. For Calipari, it was recruiting.

The idea struck Crean.

I continued to watch him and get to know him a little bit, I kept looking at a guy that is a great coach."

Calipari appreciated that Crean gave him credit after they played as Conference USA opponents, Calipari at Memphis and Crean at Marquette.

"He's a basketball Benny," Calipari said. "He's into basketball. He's not into a whole lot of other stuff. He just loves it. He's into his (players). And I've always had great respect for him because of that."

The love-fest was expected to take a little break Friday night.

Calipari said earlier in the week that he does not like to coach against friends. But Crean said both would be as competitive as ever in the meeting.

"You just understand that it's part of it," he said. "I think, if you've got a couple of people like that in your life, then you're fortunate to have them. I would say that he is. But it's not going to change anything (in the game), I promise you that. He's going to try to get an edge, I'm going to try and get it back. That's just the way it is."

sryan@tribune.com

Twitter @sryantribune

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