Reports: Pieces of Kentucky basketball coaching staff shakeup falling into place

Jerry Tipton and Ben Roberts
·5 min read

A shakeup of the Kentucky basketball coaching staff moved from a topic of speculation to just shy of confirmation of fact Thursday.

According to multiple media reports, assistant coach Joel Justus is leaving UK to join Bobby Hurley’s staff at Arizona State. Justus could not be reached for comment.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN cited sources in saying assistant coach Tony Barbee is a leading candidate after interviewing for the head coaching job at Central Michigan. Jeff Goodman of Stadium cited a source saying Barbee to the Chippewas was a done deal.

Reports have the jobs not staying vacant for long. Former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua is reportedly set to reunite with UK Coach John Calipari.

And Antigua may not be the only Illinois staffer coming to Kentucky. There have also been reports of assistant coach Ron “Chin” Coleman making the same Champaign-to-Lexington move.

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ESPN also reported that former UK player Brad Calipari, who played his final two seasons for Detroit Mercy, is expected to join his father’s staff in some capacity.

Justus came to Kentucky in 2014 as director of analytics. Two years later, after also serving as the special assistant to Calipari, he became an assistant coach.

Justus took the lead in the recruitment of Skyy Clark, a five-star point guard in the high school class of 2022. The player’s father, Kenny Clark, saluted Justus.

“That’s our guy,” the elder Clark told the Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts. “We’ve spent the last 18 months developing a great relationship with him. So it hurts.”

But Kenny Clark said he understood the move to Arizona State.

“It sounds like he’s going to be the lead assistant to the head coach,” the player’s father said. “So, it sounds like a tick up the ladder for him.”

For the Big Blue Nation, UK’s staff shakeup is widely seen as a chance to reinvigorate Kentucky’s recruiting. The recruiting service 247Sports ranks the incoming class of 2021 at No. 7 nationally. That’s the lowest ranking for a Kentucky class since John Calipari became coach in 2009.

It can be noted that 247Sports ranked UK’s haul in the high school class of 2020 first nationally. That followed a well-established pattern in which 247Sports ranked Kentucky’s classes first, second or third every other year of Calipari’s tenure as coach.

If and when Antigua rejoins the UK staff, it will be the third time Calipari has hired him.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Antigua was an assistant coach on Calipari’s first five UK staffs beginning in 2009-10. He had been an assistant coach for Calipari at Memphis in the 2008-09 season.

In Kentucky’s media guide for the 2011-12 season, Antigua is cited for having an “eye for talent on the recruiting trail” and is credited with helping UK sign top-ranked recruiting classes for the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

“As a result, he was named one of Yahoo! Sports top 10 college basketball recruiters,” his 2011-12 media guide biography said. In May of 2012, named Antigua the top assistant coach in the country under the age of 40. His bio in the 2013-14 media guide included ESPN naming him among the five “most feared assistant coaches on the recruiting trail in 2013.”

Antigua left Kentucky after the 2013-14 season to become head coach at South Florida. He compiled a 23-55 record (7-31 in the American Athletic Conference) before being fired on Jan. 3, 2017 amidst an 18-month NCAA investigation into what was termed the lowest possible “major” infractions involving impermissible benefits provided by assistant coach and younger brother Oliver Antigua.

A “summary disposition report” obtained by the Chicago Tribune noted those benefits involving hotel stays, meals and local transportation for recruits totaling about $500.

Under the headline reading “USF men’s basketball gets off lightly with NCAA,” the Tampa Bay Times reported the result of the NCAA investigation including a public reprimand and censure of South Florida’s basketball and the program’s self-imposed penalties of the loss of one scholarship for the 2016-17 season, one coach not permitted to recruit off campus for 50 days, a $5,000 fine and a two-year show-cause restriction on Oliver Antigua’s coaching career.

Three months after being fired by South Florida, Orlando Antigua was hired as an assistant coach by Illinois.

Antigua has been credited with improving the Illini’s front-court players. One such player, Kofi Cockburn, was named the Big Ten’s top newcomer for 2019-20 after a season in which he posted 12 double-doubles and won the league’s Freshman of the Week award seven times. Cockburn made First Team All-Big Ten this year.

Antigua began his coaching career at his alma mater of Pittsburgh for five seasons beginning in 2003-04.

After graduating from Pitt with a degree in social studies, he became the first player of Latin American descent to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Antigua’s first connection with Kentucky basketball came as a player for Pitt in the 1991-92 season. The Panthers won 85-67 in Rupp Arena to deny UK advancement to New York for the 1991 Preseason NIT semifinals. Antigua played 17 minutes and contributed nine points, eight rebounds, four blocks, an assist and one steal.

Antigua also has made news off the court. On Halloween in 1988, he survived being shot in the head near his left eye.

The oldest of three brothers, Antigua has been credited while in high school with helping his family deal with homelessness.

In 1994, the United States Basketball Writers’ Association gave its Most Courageous Athlete award to Antigua.

Coleman joined the Illinois staff the same month as Antigua. A 1997 Lamar graduate, Coleman led Lamar in scoring three straight seasons and totaled 1,316 points.

A native of Chicago, where he was a high school player and later coach, Coleman worked with guards primarily as an Illinois assistant. One of his players, Ayo Dosunmu, was named an All-Big Ten point guard the past two seasons.

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