Blog Entry

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Posted on: March 29, 2011 8:07 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 12:07 am

Posted by Matt Jones

Sports writing is easier when we can put subjects into an easy-to-navigate narrative. A normal story has a good guy, a bad guy, some type of compelling action and presto, you have a column that can be churned out to fit everything from the NFL Labor dispute to the Final Four.

What is much more difficult to figure out is how to handle a complex individual or one that does something to alter previous stereotypes. Then, the thoughtful person is required to re-examine previously held assumptions in order to understand if that stereotype was correct. That is a much more difficult path and requires self-reflection, a trait as rare as the dodo bird among some in sports media.

This is why, in part, this Kentucky Final Four appearance is difficult for many to swallow. Right or wrong, Wildcats coach John Calipari long ago was placed into an easily digestible template utilized for any story about him. As a person, he was a slick salesmen, operating on the edge of the NCAA's rulebook. As a coach, he was mediocre at best, gifted at collecting talent but not much of a tactician. And many in the media exploited his failures almost as a springboard to pursue his next controversy.

But this Final Four, Calipari and his team don't fit that construct. Yes, this Kentucky team has talent. Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones are potential lottery picks and Doron Lamb a likely future NBA first-rounder. But this team is not like last year's group, loaded with Calipari's trademark one-and-dones. Instead, three veterans, none recruited by Calipari nor significant contributors in the past, have risen up and helped lift the Wildcats to Houston.

Darius Miller , DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson are nice players. But coming into this season, all three were virtually unknown outside of the Kentucky basketball world. This is not Derrick Rose , John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins showcasing professional ability transcending any college coach. Instead, these are players who have had to work hard to simply see the court in college. Calipari has put these players in a spot where they can be successful and excel as a team. That isn't about collecting great talent, but coach and players coming together to get the most out their abilities.

At the East Regional in Newark, Kentucky played two teams which had not only better talent, but also were more "team-oriented" (read: better-coached). And in both games, Calipari outmaneuvered his opponent. Against Thad Matta's Ohio State team, Calipari defended star center Jared Sullinger straight up with Harrellson -- no double team -- and focused on shutting down the perimeter. He put defensive stopper Liggins on Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft and the result discombobulated Ohio State's normally efficient attack.

Against Roy Williams and North Carolina, Calipari reversed his previously unsuccessful plan from a December loss to UNC. Instead of attacking Carolina's big men inside and allowing their height to be an advantage, Kentucky focused more on driving and kicking out to open 3-point shooters. The result was 12 made 3s for the Wildcats and a neutralization of some of the interior defensive effectiveness of Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes .

In both games, Calipari's squad executed a specific plan aimed at cutting off the other team at the knees. The plan in both games involved significant offensive contributions from Kentucky's three previously unknown veterans, who combined for 37 points in each of the two games. This was not the case of Calipari team hitting another team over the head and breaking their will with raw talent. Instead it was beating the other team by reacting to their strengths and exploiting their weakness, aka coaching.

Now a Kentucky team that spent most of the year on the outer edges of the Top 25 is in the program's 14th Final Four, with a legitimate chance to win its eighth national title. The team has been carried, not by a group of made up of McDonald's All-Americans whose recruitment raised clouds of suspicions, but a group of onetime bench-warmers who raised their level of play to new heights. It is a team that if coached by someone like Tom Izzo , would be praised as "gritty" or "tough" and held up as using exemplary coaching tactics.

But will Calipari get the same accolades? Old habits and assumptions die hard. One regular critic, ESPN's Dana O'Neill , said on television that it's worth noting in the UK-UConn semifinal, is that UConn was "on probation too." The statement seemed to assume that Calipari lives on perpetual probation (she later apologized for misspeaking on Twitter). But it cannot be ignored that Calipari's previous two Final Four trips were vacated and one can most certainly guarantee there will be numerous articles written bringing up the various issues from his coaching past.

But beyond all that, this Final Four proves that Calipari is a fine coach. Since Kentucky's most recent Final Four trip in 1998, there have arguably been five better UK teams. But this unit made it to Houston because it has come closer to reaching its fullest potential than any of those others.

There probably are not five NBA first-round draft picks on the roster, but five players playing as well as they possibly can together at precisely the right time. By any standard, that is the sign of solid coaching. One would think that even the most vociferous Calipari critic must acknowledge this accomplishment. But that wouldn't fit easily into the Calipari narrative, causing many to avoid this obvious truth, even as the proof takes the court Saturday in the Final Four.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Kentucky

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 2:07 pm

Steelers fan talking about defending our coach...

Didnt Big Ben get into some trouble?  Do you think you should defend him??? Hell yeah you should. As a fan you always should.  But all jokes aside, he raped that chick.  You guys (steelers) have him as quarterback.  What did our coach allegedly do? even if Cal did do it, seems a little pale in comparison doesnt it?

Go Cats.

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 1:47 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Your posts are amusing John333....  Wow. Th
is one could hurt.   Best laugh I've had all day.   Cool

Since: Aug 31, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 1:34 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

The simple fact that you have a Steelers logo makes everything you say worhtless because you support a rapist, classy!  Please go somewhere else troll.  And the excuse that charges were dropped don't hold up! It was not consensual bathroom sex!  

Since: Nov 8, 2009
Posted on: March 30, 2011 11:22 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

I'm not sure it's Coach Cal's great coaching as much as it is an NBA game with a three point line that's three feet short that is taking away the big man's post game.  

Since: Mar 27, 2007
Posted on: March 30, 2011 11:07 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Are UK haters actually talking about practice?  I know you guys don't like UK, but if you're going to post something, bring more substance.  So now we are in the final four because Kanter was participating in practice?  Honestly, get a hobby.

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 10:40 am

WOW a fluff piece on UK by Matt Jones?

He is usually such a hard hitting journalist digging deep to find out the truth.  I would have never thought Matt Jones would stop being so hard on UK, but I am wrong.

Matt makes his living tugging on UK's nutties.  He'll never speak the truth about them, plain and simple.

That being said, go Cats go.  Bring home #8.

Since: Nov 28, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 10:07 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

I always find the most funny (pathetic) part of the John Calipari tale as is it told today is when its time to come out and defend the indefensible, the only ones that do it are UK fans!  Guys, you sold yourselves to the devil to win, stop defending the guy, just go about your business and enjoy the weekend.  When you start the "jealous haters" route and even worse, talk as if Calipari is all good, you sound pretty damn stupid.  Calipari does not play by the rules, he never has.  
The U"Conn" matchup will be an example of that cheating does pay off, you get a slap on the wrist and get to go the Final Four.  What a matchup!  One coach is the most notorious rule dodger with 2 vacated Final Fours vs another coach who's program has just been found guilty of 8 major violations...classy.  The worst part is one of these coaches will be well on their way to a NC two days later.  Great lesson for our kids, typical American way these days...Just cheat, who cares? There are no real repercussions, you get a better job, and a lofty raise.  You get suspended (next year of course) but who cares, Final Four baby!!!

Since: Sep 23, 2009
Posted on: March 30, 2011 9:40 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

I normally don't post anything but this is just crazy.  As a UK fan, I have no desire or intention to go and read a story of a hated rival or a team I have no interest in let alone get on there and post something. 

When you are on top, everyone wants to take you down, we call this ENVY!!

Enjoy the hating and we bring home #8!!!

Go Cats!!

Since: Aug 5, 2009
Posted on: March 30, 2011 9:40 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Nice article as always Matt!   Keep em coming!

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 8:55 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

To John 33333333:

Get a freaking are so typical of these mousy little worms that crawl out from under rocks periodically to pick the fly crap out of the pepper on ANYTHING that could possibly distract Cal and his team from taking care of business......however YOU my friend have qualified as the most disjointed accusation I think any of us have read to date. If I am to understand your twisted logic, Harrelson should feel bad and the UK team should be punished for the approved practice time Enes Kanter ?? First of all, Kanter has a sanctioned relationship with the team in his current capacity as student manager. In that capacity he is allowed to practice and interact with the team in limited, pre-approved ways. There have been many, many student managers on the court, doing a variety of activities in the course of a practice......

This is a nausiating example of why UK fans are a bit sensitive about specious stories that attempt to belittle our integrity or our reverance for the hallowed NCAA. Just like those morons at the New York times that went out of their way, spent thousands of dollars, just to soil the reputation of Eric Bledsoe......or the jerk that intimated that some of our 2011-12 recruits were inappropriately incented to UK.....jesus, mary, and joseph.....enough is enough.

Look John.....why don't you worry about your 2010 tax return, or that gang banger your daughter is hanging out with, or that man's shirt you found in your wife's trunk that isn't yours......worry about that pesky spot on your back that bleeds every now and then.....or how about that receding hairline ???  Worry about Libya, oil, unemployment, radioactivity, tooth decay, national debt, housing prices, or the price of gas.......cross UK and Sandy Bell off that list.......we've had more than enough of your neurosis.......

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