Since leaving Lexington seven years ago, Orlando Antigua has been on quite the journey. After helping the Cats to a Final Four in 2014, Antigua was hired to be South Florida’s head coach. He also served as head coach of the Dominican Republic National Team from 2013 to 2015. Following his dismissal from South Florida in 2017, Antigua joined Brad Underwood’s staff at Illinois, playing a leading role with the Illini’s frontcourt players and on the recruiting trail. Illinois posted back-to-back 20-win seasons over the last two years and was a No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
In a conversation with the media today, Antigua said the chance to rejoin John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky was too much to pass up, especially given all the experience he’ll bring with him this go around.
“I’ve got a better appreciation now having had the opportunity to sit in that seat, to not quite know, but have a better idea of what is coming at Cal and what he has to do and our jobs as assistants is to take stuff off his plate. We need to figure out tomorrow’s news yesterday. Staying on the grind, staying connected with the kids, staying connected with people in the basketball world and our relationships and doing those kind of things so we can better serve him and make sure he’s prepared for everything.”
Antigua brings Ron “Chin” Coleman with him from Illinois. Coleman raved about Antigua, his “big brother,” to reporters, talking about how he’s watched him evolve into even a better coach over four years at Illinois.
“He’s a high character individual,” Coleman said. “He’s all about making sure everyone around him is okay. He’s like a big brother to me in terms of all of those things but from a basketball standpoint, Coach Antigua is a head coach. He is. He lives and operates like a head coach. He’s got all the tools, man, that you need to be a successful head coach, and I know when he gets the opportunity again, I know this time around he’s a much better coach than he was the first time.”
It’s impossible to recreate Calipari and Antigua’s first five years at Kentucky, but Antigua said he’s looking forward to the challenge of finding the unique type of players needed for the program to have the same kind of success.
“I don’t know if there’s any real secret sauce, I just thought it was a lot of great synergy and togetherness and finding the right pieces. Obviously, everybody knows that this year an abnormal year with everything that has transpired. I think that’s an offset of what’s normal and trying to get back to doing the things that we’ve done and Cal’s always requested of his kids and of his staff, getting back to working really hard and working together. Being a player-first program. We’re looking to do all those things and just hit the pavement and find and identify kids that are going to want the pleasure of the pressure, which is what it is being at Kentucky. You’ve got to be able to want to take on that challenge, live up to that challenge and allow us to push it through so you can go out and shine and chase your dreams and in that process, we go out and we win a lot of games.”
Pleasure of the pressure is a great line.