The fist pump. That may be the image that will stick with Kentucky fans and John Calipari long after he exits the coaching chair at Kentucky.
Do you remember the fist pump? If not, let me take you back to last season after the Kentucky Wildcats won their eighth national title, Coach Cal’s first. There was an assembly in Rupp Arena for the fans to honor the newly crowned champs. A bus pulled in and Anthony Davis, MKG, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and the rest of the Wildcats filed out to thunderous applause.
John Calipari was the last to exit the bus. As he did, he looked at the crowd and pumped his fist in the air. It was an act of pure joy and relief. He had finally reached the pinnacle of his profession and nobody was going to take it away from him. Ever.
But that seems like 100 years ago instead of less than one year. John Calipari is faced with the toughest challenge of his long and successful coaching career. He lost the best player on his team to a torn ACL. The rest of his players responded by getting beat handily that same night. That’s understandable though. The young men had just lost their friend for the season and witnessed what many of them have nightmares about: an injury that placed their basketball dreams in serious jeopardy.
But there was no time for self-pity or doubt. There were still basketball games to be played, and the next one was only a few short days away. No one was sure how the Wildcats would react after the loss of Nerlens Noel. Many scenarios were discussed, good and bad, but the worst case scenario won out. The team was embarrassed on national television by a mediocre Tennessee team.
It was bad enough that they were defeated by thirty points, but the reaction of the Kentucky players is what made the situation unbearable. They were hanging their heads, slumping their shoulders, fighting with each other, fighting with their coaches and fighting with the opposition. It was disgusting to behold.
John Calipari was visibly disturbed during his post game press conference and even went as far as to say that there were guys on his team that weren’t very coachable. At that point, we all thought that he had reached his limit.
But that wasn’t to be the case.