Kentucky's John Calipari has controversial reputation but results, too

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Kentucky's John Calipari has controversial reputation but results, too

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Fri Apr 01, 2011 4:07 am

Kentucky's John Calipari has controversial reputation but results, too

By John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune

HOUSTON — You don’t have to like John Calipari.

Fact is, if you’re outside Lexington, Ky., and you like Kentucky’s coach, you’re probably in the minority. That’s what the label of being a slick hustler, who always has been a step ahead of the posse and one deodorant application ahead of the stink, can earn for a coach.

As everyone by now knows, Calipari twice before has led programs to the Final Four, Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008. Too, everyone knows both previous appearances were vacated, Massachusetts because star center Marcus Camby accepted money from sports agents while playing for the Minutemen, and Memphis because of allegations regarding the SAT score of star guard Derrick Rose.

Coach Cal wasn’t implicated in either case. But that isn’t nearly the same as saying he walked away from either situation clean.

And he hasn’t endeared himself for embracing the reality of the one-and-done college player, the guys who play college ball for a season only because they no longer can go directly to the NBA from high school.

For all that and more, you don’t have to like Calipari, and don’t have to defend the dislike.

But you at least have to respect the job he has done this season at Kentucky, which will play Connecticut on Saturday in the second of the two national semifinal games at Reliant Stadium.

Calipari lost five first-round draft picks off last year’s team that reached the Elite Eight, including four one-and-done jobs — guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and big men DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton. And in terms of NCAA Tournament advancement, he pushed this season’s team farther.

Sure, this squad won’t match the win total posted by last year’s team, which finished 35-3. And it certainly falls short in the luster department. Wall was the No. 1 overall draft pick in the NBA and was pretty much considered the top prospect from the first day he set foot on campus.

But the Wildcats (29-Cool and their fans aren’t complaining. And there can’t be much grumbling over the work Calipari has done this season, provided it holds up under scrutiny, of course.

“What I take pride in is players at each of those programs have done well and gone on to do well,” Calipari said. “You think about not only my young kids that everyone talks about, (but senior forward) Josh Harrelson’s life has changed, (and) so has (junior guard) DeAndre Liggins and (junior guard) Darius Miller. They’ve now put themselves on a different trajectory. I’m as proud of that as anything I’ve done with a team.

“When I first took the job at Kentucky, I said this is going to be a players-first program. Some people were angry about that. I look at this and say, ‘If we can do right by these young people, then they’ll do right by us, and we’ll accomplish as a program what we’re trying to accomplish. But we’ve got to do right by them. We’ve got to help them reach their dreams, too. During the season, it’s about team; after the season, it’s about each individual player.

“I never thought about it that way, like I don’t do this by numbers, how many wins. I’m just coaching these guys. I try to stay focused on them. If you’re worried about numbers, if you’re worried about all that other stuff, I think it takes us off point of why we do what we do, which is trying to help young people get from Point A to Point B, and in some cases get from Point A to Point Z.

“That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Snicker and howl with skepticism if you want. Calipari has earned that, whether he wants to admit it. But there aren’t many better examples of a team going from Point A to Point Z this season.

In addition to the Wildcats losing five first-round picks, they couldn’t seem to win a road game in a weakened Southeastern Conference. Until they turned it on in the conference tournament, they weren’t even the best team in their division.

One of the teams they lost to this season? Connecticut, 84-67 at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.

“I don’t think that game means anything in this particular game,” UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said. “They’re now a terrific 3-point shooting team. I think one of the things John has done particularly good is run, control half-court offense and, of course, they make 3s like crazy.

“If you try to take away (the drive), they’re going to make shots from the outside. They use their veterans exceptionally well to help their young freshmen, who are no longer young. They’re very good players.

“And John Calipari, who always has been an aggressive, incredible personality, has developed into a terrific basketball coach.”

No one has to like him to admit that. The results speak for themselves — the ones that have been allowed to stand, that is.

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