John Calipari has been the head coach of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team for a decade. He arrived in Lexington after the program had reached a low point after Billy Gillispie’s short two year run. The program wasn’t as bad off as when Rick Pitino arrived in 1989 after the infamous Kentucky’s Shame scandal, but it was nowhere near the top of the college basketball world.
Ten years later and Coach Cal’s resume is pretty darn good. To be clear, every member of the Big Blue Nation wants more championships. I think there’s a valid argument to be made that there should be at least one more title banner hanging in Rupp’s rafters. The flip side is that Calipari’s 10 year run hasn’t been a complete failure. One NCAA title, one runner up, four Final Fours and seven Elite Eight finishes isn’t exactly a trash resume, even if there are a few “what-ifs?”
UK legend Kyle Macy recently had some comments that could be interpreted as criticisms of John Calipari. To be sure, Macy is Kentucky Basketball royalty. His name is all over the UK record book and be brought an NCAA title to Lexington. Also, Coach Cal is not above criticism, he has made some mistakes and it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a fan if you highlight those mistakes. Like any coach, I’m sure there are plenty of decisions that haunt him. A lot of the issues that Macy and others in the BBN bring up, however, are the same arguments that we’ve heard against Calipari before he even coached one game in Lexington.
The One-and-Done Dilemma. When Calipari was introduced in 2009, I admit that this was the first concern I had. Kentucky fans are more knowledgeable about Wildcat history than most fan bases are to their own. UK fans grow to love the players, stars and non-stars alike. Those bonds take years to grow. My concern was how would the Big Blue Nation adapt to players that were only really Wildcats for just a few months? In that respect, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I think there are a lot of players (Cousins, Davis, MKG) that have endeared themselves to the Blue faithful after short stints in Lexington.
We, media and fans, can debate the merits of the one-and-done rule until we’re (Kentucky) blue in the face. Until the NBA and the NBA player’s union changes things, which seems to be forthcoming, there’s not a thing anyone can do to change it. I can certainly understand folks missing the good ol days of watching a guy develop from unsure freshman to an upperclassman contributor. I get it. The thing is, the NCAA is not going to go back to the old days. Calipari perfected his approach, Coach K at Duke co-opted it and now just about every top program is trying to cater to such talent. Until the NBA changes, this situation isn’t going to change and if UK fans want talent in Blue and White, one-and-done players are the cost of doing business.
The Rupp Arena schedule. The home slate of games isn’t exactly great. Of course, the highlight is archrival Louisville coming to town in December. Other than that, there’s a lot of meh. Macy, and others, have pointed out that Kentucky should schedule Indiana in a home and home series (although the best of those games were neutral court affairs). And fans have a right to complain about spending out big bucks for teams that don’t move the needle. I personally would like to see Kentucky have home and home games with Louisville, North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Duke. The problem is, however, no one else is going to do that.
If you look over the schedules for most of the big time programs and they’re littered with neutral site games. There are classics and invitationals galore. That’s how most big time programs fill out their non-conference schedules. This, unfortunately, is the way things are done in 2019. I definitely think that more teams should play opponents in their home arenas. I think that’s part of what makes college basketball special and unique. I also completely understand if Calipari doesn’t want to schedule a murderer’s row of non-conference opponents that could put his guys at a competitive disadvantage, especially with the SEC improving over the last few seasons.
The Greatest Night in Kentucky history. The greatest night in Kentucky Basketball history wasn’t NBA Draft Night 2010. John Calipari said it and, I think if he was completely honest, would at least admit that the wording was bad. The BBN had a right to be upset at that. Too much time and money and love has gone into the Kentucky program for it to become nothing more than a rest stop on the way to the NBA. While I understood the sentiment behind the words, there’s no doubt that Calipari used some poor words to express himself.
The thing I ask people that still bring that quote up is: “Do you honestly think John Calipari doesn’t want to win championships?” Continuing to go back to that quote, you have to ignore the work that Coach Cal has put into the Kentucky program. When all is said and done, and I think Calipari might have another decade in him, Coach Cal has left his mark on the program. Some people still try to position him as an outsider, not a true Kentucky guy. But if Cal repeats his first decade half output in his second, leaving with at least two titles and multiple Final Fours, wouldn’t that make him the second best coach in UK history behind only Adolph Rupp? And that wouldn’t be bad for a guy that doesn’t care about winning.
John Calipari doesn’t need me to defend him. What he’s accomplished throughout his coaching career stands on its own. I don’t even think you have to like Cal to be a Kentucky fan. I’m not a member of the fan police. After 10 years, however, it’s time to just look at what is and is not under his control. It’s not just that things have changed at Kentucky, it’s that things have changed throughout all of college basketball. We’re not going back to the good old days. For better or for worse, the landscape has changed.
It’s been 10 years, let’s find some new things to complain about.