With six of his student-athletes — three of them “one-and-done” freshman — expected to turn pro, John Calipari isn’t asking anyone’s forgiveness.
“I don’t apologize,” he said.
What for? Calipari has merely exposed the highest level of the college game for what it is, a business proposition.
In fact, as it regards Monday’s national championship game against Kansas, there’s only one outcome that could warrant an apology from the Kentucky coach. That would be not winning.
You got six pros on your squad? You should win.
You’re a six and a half-point favorite? You should win.
Been to four Final Fours, a couple title games? Time you won your first, no?
“This isn’t about me,” Calipari said.
You got a deal worth $36.5 million to coach the University of Kentucky? Believe me, it’s about you. It’s about your legacy, too.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “If my legacy is decided on one game it won’t be me deciding it, it will be everybody else.”
Isn’t that how legacies are always decided? Ask Marv Levy. Ask Guy Lewis. Be for real. Ask yourself.
It’s not all Calipari’s fault that he finds himself in this position. But it’s his fault if he doesn’t win. Again, he’s not coaching Butler or Lehigh. He’s coaching a finishing school for NBA prospects in Lexington, Ky.
“It’s not my rule,” he said, referring to the NBA’s decree that players be at least 19 or a year out of high school.
“. . . Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay for me.”
He’s too principled to do the latter, he says. Perhaps. But he’s also too smart. Everything depends on attracting the blue chip players. Calipari can con the media and the NCAA (two institutions that probably deserve a bit of conning), but he can’t con them. It would ruin his credibility, and therefore endanger his ability to procure the next class of prospects.
“I could never do it because I just emotionally get too attached to these guys,” Rick Pitino said the other night. “I want to see them grow as people” — finally, he caught himself, or at least, pretended to — “not that (Calipari) doesn’t. I’m sure he does.”
And I’m sure Pitino wouldn’t have signed Anthony Davis if he could only be emotionally attached to the kid for just one season.
Pitino knew exactly what he was saying, of course. He had just lost to an epic rival and was invoking the one-and-done phenomenon to cast himself as The Teacher at Calipari’s expense. It was one of the great backhanded compliments in the history of college basketball, which, in addition to profound cynicism, also engenders the most egregious double-standards.
No one would dare call out Mike Krzyzewski because Duke has a one-and-done. Being the son of an NBA coach, Austin Rivers can’t say he’s going to the NBA to buy his mom a home. He shouldn’t have to, either. Players should be free to exploit the system as it would exploit them.
The rules tell you what you can’t get away with. But also, what you can. Ask Bill Self. Four years ago, his Kansas team beat Calipari’s Memphis squad for the national championship. Mario Chalmers hit a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to send the game into overtime.
It’s worth reminding you that Chalmers father, Ronnie, was appointed Kansas’ Director of Basketball Operations in 2005, shortly after his son matriculated. He resigned three years later, not long after his son signed with the Miami Heat.
Cynical? Yes. A way of paying off the Chalmers family? Tough to argue any other way. But it was all within the rules.
Memphis’ 2008 season was famously vacated after the NCAA concluded that Derrick Rose’s SAT was taken by someone other than Derrick Rose.
Just the same, Darrell Arthur, of the 2008 Kansas team, arrived in Lawrence, Kan., with an apparently doctored high school transcript. Darnell Jackson, another future pro from that team, was suspended nine games for accepting benefits from a Kansas booster.
More recently, the NCAA suspended then-Jayhawk freshman Josh Selby nine games for recruiting violations.
So who’s the bad guy tonight?
I’m not exonerating Calipari, the only coach to have two Final Four appearances vacated. But if Self doesn’t have to apologize, why should Calipari?
Rather, Calipari’s real transgression would be losing – again. Memphis was a two-point favorite against Kansas in 2008. Kentucky was a two-point favorite in last year’s semifinal against UConn, a game that saw the Wildcats miss 8 of 12 free throws.
Now Kentucky is a six and a half-point favorite with six pros.
It’s a business. It’s time. John Calipari has everything but an excuse.