NEW ORLEANS -- Here it comes. Can you hear it? Can you smell it? I can. Sounds unfair and smells bad, like the dried-vomit aroma that parts of New Orleans just can't get rid of. But here it comes, and I'm not talking about the vomit but something that offends my senses almost as much:
The idea that Kentucky is bad for basketball.
You know what I'm talking about. You know the idea. It's not my idea, but it's out there. It's everywhere. Kentucky -- OK, Kentucky coach John Calipari -- recruits basketball players who come to college (gasp) just to play basketball. Calipari courts them, signs them, rolls the ball onto the court and watches them win 30 games a year while he's texting Worldwide Wes and lining up his next recruiting class of one-and-done Neanderthals.
That's the idea, and with Kentucky in the national title game, we have a 24-hour news cycle for it to waft into your nostrils. Not that we needed Kentucky to qualify for the title game Monday against Kansas. That idea is already out there. It's everywhere. A good friend of mine at the newspaper in Orlando used the occasion of Kentucky's victory at Florida's home finale this season to lament that "this, sadly, is what college basketball has become -- a temp agency for rogue UK coach John Calipari."
Calipari, my friend from Orlando wrote, "refuses to apologize for signing the best players in the country even when he must know his program is nothing more than a glorified AAU squad."
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That idea. Put forward last week by a guy in San Diego who said Calipari "continually stoops to conquer ... his success stems from cutting corners and circumventing education."
Because big-time college basketball is about education on other campuses -- just not at Kentucky. It's about education at Duke, where saintly Mike Krzyzewski has lost a one-and-done point guard two years in a row. It's about education at North Carolina, where ol' Roy Williams has seen 11 players leave early for the NBA in the past seven years. It's about education everywhere but Kentucky, where it's about something more sinister.
That's the idea. An idea put forward recently by no less an authority than NCAA president Mark Emmert, who channeled his inner Bob Knight and talked about Kentucky without ever talking about Kentucky when he said "the one-and-done rule ... forces young men to go to college that have little or no interest in going to college. It makes a travesty of the whole notion of student as an athlete."
As if the NCAA itself doesn't make a travesty of the notion of the student as an athlete by inviting 132 men's and women's basketball teams to a tournament every March that will remove the most successful kids from campus for damn near a month. But never mind about that, because the NCAA isn't under attack here. Calipari is -- even as Calipari himself attacks the rule that forces a kid who is ready to play in the NBA to spend a year at college.
"I don't apologize -- it's not my rule," Calipari said Sunday. "I don't like the rule. ... There's only two solutions to it: 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 [for the NBA] to stay for me."
Nice quote, but people aren't listening. They aren't even thinking. They've decided that Kentucky is bad, a temp agency, a glorified AAU squad, a travesty. Kentucky is dried vomit on the pristine notion of amateur athletics.
And within minutes of Kentucky's victory against Louisville in one national semifinal Saturday, the idea was trotted out by the coach of the losing team, Rick Pitino, who backhanded Calipari with a flurry of compliments. Pitino noted that Calipari surely cares about his players, wants to see them develop and mature as people -- just not as much as Pitino, who puffed out his chest and said of Kentucky's annual roster upheaval: "I couldn't do it. I can't say hello and goodbye in seven months. It's just not me."
And Pitino's right -- it's not him. But not for a lack of effort. Pitino desperately wanted one of Kentucky's potential one-and-done players, freshman point guard Marquis Teague, but Teague chose Kentucky. Pitino also was involved last year with likely one-and-done big man Andre Drummond, who went to UConn. In the current high school senior class, Pitino received a commitment from potential one-and-done wing Rodney Purvis, who was a top-five recruit when he picked the Cardinals before changing his mind and signing with North Carolina State. In recent years, Pitino has signed Sebastian Telfair, who was a none-and-done, and Derrick Caracter, who wasn't a one-and-done only because he was a bust.
But this isn't about Pitino. It isn't even about Calipari, whose team of indifferent academic rogues had a 3.0 grade-point average last year and a 2.8 GPA last semester. It's about the idea that what Kentucky does is bad for college basketball, that it's wrong, unfair, unsavory.
It's about the reality that college basketball has more than a few "student-athletes" who didn't get into school because they had the right GPA or SAT score, but were admitted over applicants with superior academic credentials because they could shoot from 21 feet. To suggest otherwise is high-minded elitist hypocrisy, but it's a suggestion promoted by the president of the NCAA and media members and most transparently by coaches and fans of schools that cannot beat Kentucky.
A few months from now, presumed No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis will be a millionaire. Kentucky classmates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague would be if they turn pro, too. Just like the six other Kentucky players since 2010 who spent one year in Lexington and were drafted in the first round. Millionaires, all of them. And this is bad? This is wrong?
No. That's stupid, but it's an idea that will be vomited forth in the next 24 hours. Just watch for it. You'll see it. You'll smell it. It won't be the smell of decades of parties on Bourbon Street. It'll be the cowardly smell of frauds and hypocrites who don't like John Calipari -- but instead of just saying that, they spray their fear and loathing at the one-and-done system Calipari didn't create and doesn't like.
He just does it better than everyone else.