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Izzo, Calipari share respect for success

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Given their resumes and the shadows they cast in college basketball, coaches Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski qualify as feature attractions.

When the Champions Classic tips of Tuesday with No. 1 Kentucky facing second-ranked Michigan State and No. 4 Duke meeting No. 5 Kansas, there should be plenty of spotlight to go around the United Center.

"I don't think we get enough credit that we have good players, too," Izzo said Monday. "I don't think they get enough credit."

The Wildcats and Spartans are the undercard -- 7:30 p.m. ET, with Duke-Kansas to follow -- but meet in the first matchup of No. 1 and No. 2 since Memphis-Tennessee in 2008.

Rising stars on all four teams light the marquee for the tip-off event, which is in its third season featuring the same field. At the inaugural event in 2011, Krzyzewski recorded his 903rd career victory at Madison Square Garden, beating Izzo and Michigan State. Duke beat Kentucky last season. To get to 3-0 in the early-season showcase, the Blue Devils must handle freshman Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Wiggins, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, is drawing comparisons to KU legends Danny Manning and Wilt Chamberlain -- for potential impact, not so much style -- and was the CBS Sports preseason player of the year.

"You have four top 10 teams in what could end up being a Final Four ... in November," Krzyzewski said. "What an incredible event."

It is a homecoming for freshman phenom Jabari Parker, the other top-ranked recruit in 2012-13 who chose Duke over BYU, Kansas, Stanford and Michigan State. Parker played at Chicago Simeon -- the same high school that produced Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson -- and scored 22 points with eight rebounds in his debut Friday against Davidson.

Parker is a matchup challenge at 6-foot-8 because of his ability to drive and shoot. He made three 3-pointers in his college debut.

"He's not a finished product, but he's a good product," Krzyzewski said. "If he's healthy, he's going to keep getting better. He's coachable. He's a good kid. He doesn't have any demons."

Not to be outdone, Kentucky and Calipari roll out another top-ranked recruiting class against Michigan State's disciplined system. The Wildcats can spread the wealth with a rotation Calipari projects will be nine or 10 players deep. Their headliner might well be another freshman -- forward Julius Randle. He averaged 22.5 points and 14.5 rebounds in two games last week.

Izzo has plotted to stock All-Americans at every position, but he considers Randle a unique talent. When pressed to make a comparison, Izzo said Randle (6-9, 250) is similar to former Michigan forward and NBA lottery pick Chris Webber. He is chiseled for a college freshman, can bring the ball up the court if he needs to and is not afraid to shoot if unchecked on the perimeter.

"We haven't seen anyone like that," Izzo said.

The Spartans are a man-to-man defensive team, like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, and Adreian Payne, gives Izzo a long-armed defender with an inside-outside game to match Randle.

Randle is also a familiar face to Calipari, who made waves when he arrived by helicopter to visit Randle as a high school senior in Ohio. The Spartans are piloted by Big Ten preseason player of the year Gary Harris, a sophomore who blossomed quickly after overcoming injuries as a freshman. Harris, too, was high on Kentucky's list coming out of high school.

Tuesday, he will be in green and white, and Kentucky's rotation will be mostly green. Calipari said he is fully confident in his freshmen -- and sophomores -- who are carrying much of the scoring and ball-handling responsibility to start the season. Calipari's ever-present NBA scouts have noted at Kentucky practice he could "very easily" start five freshmen.

Calipari will not rule it out, but said not to judge his raw talent after just the Wildcats' second game Tuesday. He recently labeled the matchup "unfair" to his inexperienced lineup.

"When I said it's not fair for a team like ours to try to play an event like that, it's true," Calipari said. "I mean, we've got all freshmen and sophomores. You don't play in that kind of event two games in."

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