On October 2, ESPN debuted another round of their acclaimed documentary series 30 for 30. The first run was produced in conjunction with ESPN’s 30th Anniversary. Some of the best documentary directors around turned their lenses toward the world of sports and made some of the best sports films I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen any of them, do yourself a favor and watch one, two or all of them. The subject of the most recent film was professional athletes and their money and is aptly titled “Broke.”
The filmmakers interviewed former athletes, financial advisors and others involved in the financial side of professional sports. While I think that the film could have gone into greater detail, suffice to say that the reality of how some of these athletes end up after their career is over is unsettling to say the least and heart-wrenchingly depressing at worse. There were tales of gaudy jewelry, house, cars, parties, bad investments, hangers on and, yes, women. The most striking thing was two of the interviewees on the film, on various ends of the financial spectrum, were former University of Kentucky basketball players, Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker.
There’s no need to rehash Walker’s financial troubles or Mashburn’s post basketball successes, but the fact is that both could be used as cautionary tales to the current group of UK ballplayers as they move from college to the high paying life of a professional baller. The one point that stuck out the most from the film was: what do the universities owe the athletes that have competed in their name? While the answer is complicated and far above my pay grade, I think it’s safe to say that athletes are owed more than they are currently getting. Essentially, these universities and athletic departments need to be more player focused and less about protecting the name of the school or the coach. And I believe that’s what makes Coach John Calipari so special.
We’ve all heard him go on and on about how the UK Men’s Basketball Program under his guidance is a “player’s first” program. And it’s easy to let those words float out there and not think about exactly what that means. When you see Coach Cal and the current staff in action, those words take on a life of their own and it’s easy to tell what separates UK from the other top basketball programs.
Coach Cal does whatever he can to help the young men under his care chase their dreams. Think about that for a minute. If a kid is ready to leave and pursue his dream, Cal wishes him well and helps prepare that young man for the next step in is life. Even if it’s to the detriment to Cal and the UK team. I’m sure if he begged some of the one year players to say, a few of them would have, but Cal wanted what’s best for them. If you want to know why Cal is red hot on the recruiting trail, that’s it. He’s not afraid to be honest and real with recruits and current players and it shows.
Now, how does that separate him from the other coaches? Well, to hear the media tell it, Cal invented the “One and Done” rule. Obviously, that’s not the case. The reality is that Cal was the first and maybe only coach to totally embrace it. He approaches recruits with a plan. Basically, it’s a “if you want to get to the NBA, let me show you how it’s done.” And that mindset puts his proteges in a better situation than players whose coaches are solely focused on their own well being.
With all the one year or two year players that Cal has produced at Memphis and Kentucky, very few, if any have had any on or off the court difficulties and I think that can be traced back to Calipari preparing them for the next step. I hope none of them end up bankrupt after their playing days, but at least Calipari is doing more than most to get them ready for the demands of being a professional basketball and an instant millionaire.
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