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Cal's assistants hot commodities?

ATLANTA—Kentucky’s assistant coaches have started swirling around as head-coaching candidates amid the spring’s typically busy coaching carousel, and John Calipari said he’ll do whatever he can to help coaches advance their careers.

That is, if the job is right.

Kenny Payne has surfaced as a possible candidate to replace Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State. Payne is from Laurel, Miss., and he’s also considered one of the college game’s most able recruiters.

“He’s probably tougher on our kids than I am, and his recruiting speak for itself,” Calipari said Thursday. “And he grew up there, so he would be a good choice.”

Calipari also touted Payne’s success as an assistant coach at Oregon, a school in a very different region than Kentucky, for six seasons before taking a job at UK prior to the 2010-11 season.

Assistant coach Orlando Antigua’s name continues to pop up in coaching searches throughout the country, as it has for a few years now. Antigua has interviewed for “a couple” of head-coaching jobs this spring, Calipari said. Reports have linked his name to the coaching search currently underway at Rhode Island.

Calipari said he hasn’t talked to anybody on either Payne’s or Antigua’s behalf this spring.

“Obviously, I’m coaching this,” Calipari said, referring to the NCAA Tournament. “If somebody has an interest, they’re going to end up calling me at some point, or I will make a call.”

Calipari has said he wants his assistant coaches to advance in their careers in the same way he hopes his players advance. Key to Calipari, though, is that his coaches take jobs that will give them an opportunity to succeed. Not all gigs are equal.

“What I always tell my staff as (the season) starts winding down, ‘You see what's out there and tell me what you want to do and what you want me to do,’” Calipari said on March 6. “Orlando is ready to be a head coach if that's what he chooses to be. The issue is, we've got a pretty good thing going here so now you have to be a little choosy on what you do. There are going to be schools that contact him. I talked to Kenny (Payne) and said the same thing, ‘Kenny, if there is anything out there you're interested in, you let me know.’”

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