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Calipari stars in this reality show
People already knew what John Calipari was before he landed one of the elite jobs in college coaching. He already was considered one of the, let’s say, slickest coaches in the country when Kentucky hired him. That was no surprise or accident. It was a selling point.
He is the only coach in history to have Final Four appearances at two schools vacated for NCAA rules violations. SOLD! Calipari arrives at the Final Four with the best talent of any team here. By far. He's likely to win his first national championship.
Will that be a defeat for college sports? If we can just keep Calipari from winning a title, won’t that be some sort of last stand for morals and ethics and amateurism in college sports?
Hah! Calipari isn't the bad guy. He is a billboard for exactly what his profession and his sport are. He is not violating the system; he is the system.
You want to know what he is? John Calipari is reality.
"For me, at the end of the day, if I'm done with this profession and we've had all the success, young people that are graduating, high grade point averages, the highest APR (Academic Progress Rate) in the SEC ... ’’
Sorry, but I'm not sure what he said after that. It was hard to concentrate with the B.S. meter going so crazy. There is no way Calipari cares about those things. If he did, then he wouldn't have gotten the Kentucky job. His job is to win basketball games. He does it by bringing in players who want to get to the NBA before their sophomore English classes, and blending them together quickly.
The thing is, Calipari isn't an agent of negative change. He is a reflection of it. The ideal of sports and school is lost, at least at the top level. Maybe is still exists some at the lower levels, where coaches can't reasonably get players with NBA talent, and need to develop them, develop the togetherness of a team, and keep them academically eligible for four years.
And surely there are a few examples at the top level, too. Maybe Mike Krzyzewski. But even Krzyzewski, if he's everything his reputation says he is, is the aberration.
Calipari is reality.
The criticism now is over the type of player he brings in, the type that is in college because the NBA makes you wait a year after high school before going to the league. So Kentucky is basically a rental system.
Guard Darius Miller is a senior. He has had 40 different college teammates.
There is a sense that Calipari has all of his chips in for this title. He needs to win it. Most of his team will head off to the NBA after the season, and next year he will be left with nothing? That’s doubtful.
Several of the nation's top recruits still haven't made up their minds, and will see clearly that they can go to Kentucky and be ready for the NBA as soon as possible. They can follow the path.
Calipari is a safe-haven for those players, or "student-athletes" as the NCAA calls them.
You have to have an inner dirtbag to be a top coach at one of the best programs. Three years ago, I talked to then-Illinois coach Bruce Weber about this, telling him he was too nice to win at the top level. He had been a great coach at Southern Illinois, but when he moved up to the Big Ten, he just could not land the superstar players. He didn't know how.
"The part maybe I’m not as good at is what you said – getting involved with people around a kid (such as street agents)," he said. "That, I don’t feel comfortable with. If that's a negative, then in a way I'm proud of it. It may also hurt us in the long run."
Three weeks ago, Weber was fired.
Calipari has now been to back-to-back Final Fours. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who throws zero surefire NBA prospects against Kentucky Saturday, said that if you're a player who wants to go to the NBA after just one year, then Kentucky is going to be on the top of your list.
Calipari is cornering the market for the best players. "His way is working," Pitino said.
Well, almost. Calipari still has never won a national championship. Back-to-back Final Fours is usually considered to be pretty good. Kentucky is not satisfied without titles. And no national titles and Calipari at the same time? Totally unacceptable. If you don't win big with him, then you suddenly develop standards.
Before Kentucky hired Calipari, he had one Final Four vacated because Marcus Camby, one of his players at UMass, had taken money from agents.
Another Final Four was later vacated at Memphis on academic fraud charges against Derrick Rose. Calipari was not implicated, but these were his programs, on his watch.
He has to win now, especially with all this talent. He particularly cannot lose the semifinal game against rival-Louisville with Pitino, the former Kentucky coach. If he doesn't win now, then people will say that you can't win Calipari's way.
Don’t kid yourself: You can. Calipari is inches from the mountaintop, at one of the classic programs.
This isn't an endorsement. It's just a recognition of reality. In a few days, Calipari will be a hero at Kentucky, or he might be in danger of being thrown out with the garbage.
In this era, in this profession, sometimes there isn't much difference between the two.
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