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: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: April 3, 2011 12:38 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

LOL at this article being written right before Cal puts on one of the worst coaching performances in tournament history

Since: Jan 2, 2010
Posted on: March 31, 2011 1:01 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Why don't we all save the tacky rhetoric for a few days and just let the coaches settle it on the court with their teams. Most of you are looking really ragged already with your blah blah hanging out. Let's try a little CLASS for a few days, what d' say

Since: Mar 31, 2011
Posted on: March 31, 2011 1:10 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Actually, if you took the time to look, John Wall was a scholar athlete, as is Brandon Knight....several other Kentucky players from both teams are doing well in the classroom as well.  And while I admit that it looks bad when you leave 2 programs and they both have rules violations, let's look at the acutal scenarios.  At UMASS, Cal is the one who basically turned Marcus Camby in, and his dealings were wiht a 3rd party agent.  At Memphis, Derek Rose was given the go-ahead by the NCAA, and then after the season they rescinded my opinion, Memphis should not be on the hook for that...Yes Rose cheated, but the NCAA did certify him as eligible, and Cal could plausibly not have known about the cheating.  Just saying, its not like John Wooden paying players, (or Eddie Sutton for that matter), and it's not Kelvin Sampson or Bruce Pearl conducting illegal recruiting practices.  Very different scenarios.

Since: Apr 5, 2008
Posted on: March 31, 2011 1:08 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

What a country!  The NCAA completely clears Calipari of 'ANY" wrongdoing and people just change the narrative to "he left when the going got rough after he created a mess".  Jealousy is such an ugly, ugly thing.  You people are sick at best.  I can think of a few other words to desribe how you act (monsterous, rabid, buffoonish, etc.) but you won't pay a bit of attention.  You have your thought process and you're sticking to it no matter how much evidence there is.  No wonder our country is drowning in debt and will soon be owned by China.  La La Land is like that.  No one pays attention to reality.  They hear what they want to hear and to heck with the rest.  You don't even get how insane your claims are.  Cal took that test for Rose.  The NCAA didn't change their mind about him after the season.  Camby took money from an agent and Cal signed the check made out to cash.  You people are either incredibly stupid or incredibly jealous.  The media has you sold on such a pack of lies you can't even imagine you might be wrong.  And you are wrong.  The NCAA went out of their way to give Cal a clean bill of health and you still think he cheated.  What's your source?  Jealous journalists who never met a team that wasn't either ACC or Big East that they liked?  You're more insane than the Jews of 1930's Germany.  Sure Hitler says he's going to kill you but that can't be true.  The papers all say he's a great man and great men don't do that sort of thing.  Wake up people.  The media created this monster and your festering jealousy made you east targets.  Sick is the only way to describe this stuff.  Sick beyond belief.<br />

Since: Jan 25, 2010
Posted on: March 31, 2011 12:16 am

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Coach C talent never in doubt.  It is how he stretched all rules and how he left programs.  Every program he has beenwith has had problems as he left.  Calhoun like other coaches has done his misdeeds but his program has never been destroyed because of him.  Dont see any comparison between the two except for coaching skill.

I compare Coach C with Gary WIlliams MD.  Williams is so squeeky clean it is almost a burden he carries.  Coach C has no concern for university.  He nevr cares if gys will get education.  Get them on court. Thats it.

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 9:04 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

No offense, but you can't dog Big Ben by saying the charges were dropped and then defend Calipari.  Calipari has had two (both) final fours vacated, but no charges against him stuck either.
Just don't talk out of both sides.

Since: Mar 23, 2008
Posted on: March 30, 2011 8:41 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

Anyone remember John Calipari's career at UMass? He won almost 200 games, won five straight conference titles, and made five straight NCAA Tournaments (over an eight year period) with exactly one NBA player (Marcus Camby). He was 3-0 vs teams that were ranked #1 in the country, and he took UMass to the 1996 Final Four. Why was his coaching ability ever in question? Joke...

Since: Aug 10, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:14 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

wow, UL fans will go to any length to convince someone that UK has cheated.

Didn't the NCAA approve Enes as a Student assistant coach after the 2nd appeal?  Now, imagine that, an assistant coach coaching Harrellson....

I know it's tough for UL fans to have uk's old coach who is only a HOFer because of his time at UK. 
now UK's coach has taken 3 teams to the final 4... just like their coach....  he'll always have that asterisk, but everyone knows he's done it, just like pitino.

but it's not even about the coaches..... it's about UL fans...   they aren't even ul fans, they are anti-uk fans.   They'd rather watch something bad happen to UK than something good happen for their own team....  now that's obsession.

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: March 30, 2011 4:17 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

....."knowingly had Kanter go full speed in practice all year."

Wow.  That's the best you got?!  So it would have been ok if Kanter practiced--you're wrong it is legal--but not gone "full speed". 

Did Kanter receive an unfair benefit by being able to practice against a Final 4 team?

Kanter probably committed an NCAA violation by accepting a scholarship and going to class also, right?

Keep digging, I'm sure you can come up with something just as obscure and (also) not illegal to blame on Calipari and (with the help of Google) Sandy Bell.

By the way, When does Louisville play?

Since: Nov 8, 2006
Posted on: March 30, 2011 2:12 pm

Final Four should change old Calipari narrative

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or