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: Nov 29, 2007
Posted on: March 30, 2011 8:43 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Speaking of Coach Cow. Ignorance is bliss!

Since: Jan 30, 2007
Posted on: March 30, 2011 8:43 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

I think if you look at the Jerry Tipton article you will see that basically he hasn't participated much with the team since Jan. 18 which is exactly 10 days after his being ruled ineligible and declared a student coach which means he can participate in practice such as drills or as a teaching exercise just not active scrimmages.

I am confused why Sandy Bell or Cal should be ashamed given the fact that they let the NCAA do know exactly what they were doing and believe me the practice facility could be inspected at any time.

Secondly, the student coaches practice with every school in the country (I guarantee it, in fact I personally know it).  If you come down on Kentucky for this, come down on all of them and eliminate all four teams from the final four and do away with the tournament because this happens at every institution for a drill or a short period of teaching time (that's why it's impossible to enforce).

Just be objective, that's all I ask.

Nice objective article Jones, I didn't know you had it in you.

Since: Feb 2, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 8:30 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Thats your opinion but for now you can watch it wave from our rafters

Since: Dec 20, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 7:34 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

I'm sure Cal knew nothing about someone taking Rose's SAT for him.  It's not a matter of whether a similar scandal will arise with some of this season's UK Players, just a question of when.....  I recommend renting the banner you may hoist to the Rupp rafters, may only need it for about 18-24 months.

Since: Jan 4, 2010
Posted on: March 30, 2011 7:09 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Get a life!  GEEZ!!!  If your team sucks, it is not because Cal brought UK to prominance.  Get a life.

Since: Feb 8, 2007
Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:42 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

john3333, you obviously created a profile just to post some BS about Cal and Kanter.

You didn't do you your research very well, that's all i'm going to say.

There is no violation with Kanter being an assisstant student manager and participating in some practice duties, it was all okayed by the NCAA.

end of subject

.. . . You are an idiot

Since: Nov 28, 2007
Posted on: March 30, 2011 4:27 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Keep on hating boys and girls it doesn't make a flip what you say or think. Oh and for all those that say he can't keep a banner up, google UCLA, John Wooden, Sam Gilbert, their ten NC and why the NCAA didn't strip their titles.

Have a great day!

Since: Feb 2, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 3:11 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

First and foremost Kentucky isnt Umass or Memphis.Those are smaller schools brought to the limelight at the time by Cal.With that said UK was established way before he had gotten there and has more hoops tradition then those other schools combined.He does not need to pull any tricks to get kids, in which i never think he did in the first place,to come to UK. Im from Lexington kids that come to play here are treated like royalty.We have some of the best if not THE best facilitys in the nation.We play in a powerhouse conf not the A 10 or C USA.You are on tv more then oprah and Cal is helpin alot of these kids with nothin reach there dream which is the NBA.There is not a college basketball kid playin today that doesnt have that dream.You have a giant pot for success here at UK and all you need is a guy to stir it and that guy is most def Cal.He relates to kids unlike any coach and dont give me no money bulls%%%.What he has done for upperclassman that where not his kids in the first place is outstanding.The relationship he's built with DeAndre is a wonderful to see.A kid that was in the dog house a year ago and on the verge of bein thrown out(thank the Lord he wasnt i always liked him) is now one of his fav players.

People hate success plain and simple.What has Cal done?Really?When you look at what actually happened with Marrcus Camby and D.Rose how is that Cals doin?Roses HIGH SCHOOL Sat's HIGH SCHOOL NOW,where fishy accordin to the NCAA and they told them he could play!!!WTF?!Marcus Cambys recieves inproper benefits from an agent AFTER he declared he was goin pro.Again what the heck does he have to do with that?You cant go around holdin players hands after they leave.If Cal really had some wrong doin why hasnt he been charged?Why?Oh because he's slimey right?Isnt it innocent until PROVEN(key word right there) guilty?Never has been charged!!! And really look at the alligations.High school SAT tests and dirty agents.Has a college coach not ever commited worse crimes? What about Calhoun now?Communicating with recruits through a third party.Cmon now?!Wheres the mob out to get him? I dunno ive never hated al even when he was at Memphis and im a die hard UK fan.The year they went to the NC game i almost felt like it was my cats that lost that gm.It all goes back to success.People hate successful people.Success comes any many forms.He may not of won the big one yet but the man brings in top talent,gets paid big bucks and his teams are always a threat.I think he likes all the hate really.I think its only fuel to his fire.

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 2:40 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Anyone see the piece on Kanter today in the Lexington Herald.
Wow.  This one could hurt.  The reason Cal had the 2nd hearing to begin with was to get an extra month of practice with Kanter.  Now we find out he's been practicing all year even after the 2nd hearing was over?
Any chance that helped Harrelson?

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 2:37 am

Kanter has been practicing since 2nd hearing

Part of what the UK athletic office does that's so frustrating is to normal Americans, who do their jobs by the books, we have to follow rules.  And Sandy Bell (compliance at UK) should too.  Especially in a compliance office.  Kentucky queen or not.  She should follow the rules, no matter whose finger she's wrapped around.
With Cal, we knew what he was doing the first time Kanter was declared ineligible.  Cal talked about it.  Fans talked about it.  Writers wrote about it:  he knew, if Kanter asked a certain question to the NCAA, then Cal could "legally" have him on the practice floor for a month or so.
Kanter then, wrapped around Cal's finger, would ask for a 2nd hearing, "as soon as possible".  What that really meant to Coach Cal was that he would get another month with Kanter on the practice floor which would dramatically help Harrelson & now we find out the rest of the team (check the Lexington Herald Sports section today, several Kentucky players finally broke the silence today about Kanter dramatically helping Harrelson as well as the rest of the team).  In the middle of waiting for the hearing, the kids practiced hard.  Fine.  And legal.
But after the 2nd decision by the NCAA, Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible.
Which meant for Kanter, & it was crystal clear: no playing in Kentucky games.  And no practicing with the UK team anymore.
This is the part of the story where Cal has done himself in.  He knowingly violated the NCAA's decision, even if only in practice.  Harrelson looks like a beast out there this year in games and, we all know now (& suspected all year) that does come from Kanter in practice (Harrelson sucked last year, UK barely ever saw him, and he played he sucked).  And Kanter will be the #1 pick in the NBA draft next year after keeping his skills extremely sharp & even strengthening them with Cal & his team.... after the 2nd hearing... even though the NCAA ruled him ineligible to participate in games or in practice.
If this is not giving a team an unfair competitive advantage, using an ineligible pro athlete, then I don't know what is.
But the worst part is Cal did this knowingly.  And he knowingly had Kanter going full speed in practice all year.  And Sandy Bell knowingly didn't report it when it began happening illegally after the 2nd hearing.  And even worse, that Barnhart (their AD) & Todd (their president) are that in the dark on this is really sad.
This Kanter thing was the biggest news of the year.  How could Barnhart & Todd not known what was going on at practice?
And how could Sandy Bell convince them that this should not have been reported in January?
How?  So Kanter could get 4 more months of solid practice in with future NBA players.
So Harrelson could have a shot at helping the team make a run in the tournament, at least keeping games close.
So possibly.... Harrelson could keep them close enough....
To squeeze past Princeton in the first round.
Sandy Bell should be ashamed.  If she doesn't finally report this tomorrow....  wow..... Cal really has her, Barnhart & Todd wrapped around his finger.

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