So after a month of anticipation and mystery, John Calipari finally revealed what the tweak was that turned the Kentucky Wildcats season around. He instructed point guard Andrew Harrison to pass the ball more. Yup. That’s it.
And with promising the tweak, Calipari deflected all of the criticism that was directed towards his team and had the BBN speculating and tweeting (to death) about this mysterious tweak. With the weight of the BBN off them, the team responded and well, the rest was history. Calipari got credit for motivating his team to a higher level all while introducing the most basic concept of being a point guard.
Brilliant mind games by Calipari to deflect the criticism of his team, but this wasw not the first time Calipari has tweaked the fans into directing their disappointment onto something else. Gary Parrish was once the victim of a Calipari tweak and explains.
The Tigers’ best player that season was Chris Massie, and he’d just led Memphis to its first NCAA Tournament since 1996. His story was interesting because he was a high school dropout turned junior college star, and I went to his hometown in Texas to tell his story. Then, heading into the Round of 64 game against Arizona State, I published his story, and the immediate reaction was positive, not because I’d filed some beautiful story but because the story was a classic tale of a person overcoming obstacles to achieve something, and people tend to enjoy those stories. So people, for the most part, I believe, enjoyed that story.
Then came the game with Arizona State.
Memphis was favored, and the Tigers were ahead by a point at the half. But they still lost 84-71, ensuring Calipari would enter his fourth season with zero wins in the NCAA Tournament, and, as you can imagine, Memphis fans were fired up.
Are we sure he’s the right person for the job? Why are we paying this guy all of this money? Larry Finch was fired after making the NCAA Tournament in four of his past five seasons. So why are we settling for this?
That Memphis fans were just as crazy to question Calipari then as UK fans were to question Calipari last month is beside the point. The point is that Calipari was getting attacked by his own fans, and so guess what he did? He started talking publicly about my story on Massie and how it messed with Massie’s head and how he couldn’t believe the local paper would try to embarrass a young man in that way, and he created the impression that the newspaper story cost his team as opposed to Rob Evans’ halftime adjustments.
Just like that, Memphis fans were no longer attacking Calipari.
They were attacking me!
It was the weirdest thing — how Calipari essentially took all of the criticism directed at him, redirected it at me and my employer, and changed the conversation completely. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t even mad. I was, more than anything, impressed by Calipari’s ability to flip the script, so to speak, and I’ve always thought that was part of what makes him great, his unique ability to manipulate large groups of people.
Which brings me back to THE TWEAK.
It was essentially the same thing.
The big news of the week is not the tweak but that Willie Cauley-Stein is returning for his junior year at Kentucky. While most pundits were on the fence about whether Cauley-Stein would depart for the NBA or not, it seems that the decision was not that hard for Cauley-Stein.
“I want to come back and have a chance to win a national championship, while also getting closer to earning my degree,” Cauley-Stein said in news release. After suffering an unspecified ankle injury in the Sweet 16 that sidelined him for the rest of the Wildcats’ run to the NCAA championship game, he noted: “Being at the Final Four this year was special, but not being able to help my teammates on the floor was tough. I look forward to helping us get back there next year, while playing in front of the best fans in the nation.”
Cauley-Stein’s 106 blocks as a sophomore rank second in UK single-season history and his 166 career blocks rank sixth. He is 102 away from passing Jamaal Magloire for the school record. Although most assumed he was headed for the NBA after this season, Cauley-Stein was clearly torn the night the Wildcats lost to Connecticut in the title game.
“I feel this emptiness in me like I still got something to prove and I still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said then. “I went up from last year and now I want to take another step. I want to make another jump in my game. … And I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. I love the people there. So it’s like, why not stay until they make you leave?”
Hopefully most of the other Kentucky players feel the same way, but there has been no schedule as to when to expect the announcements. You would think most of this gets resolved by Easter, so stay tuned.
Along with the players NBA decisions, the future of the Rupp Arena renovation is expected to be settled soon as well. Governor Steve Beshear is seeking to salvage the financing deal before this session of the state legislature ends. It’s the basketball equivalent of facing a relentless full court press and trailing in the final minutes.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has said the Rupp renovation is integral to the success of a planned downtown entertainment district. Beshear has argued Rupp, which still has bleacher seating in the upper arena, badly needs an upgrade.
Beshear’s staff and Gray met behind closed doors with the Senate Republican caucus, joined by some Democrats, to lay out the newest plan early Monday evening.
Beshear said that plan called for keeping the room tax where it is but increasing the state bonding commitment to $80 million. Meanwhile, the city agreed to increase its contribution to the project to $40 million, up from $30 million.
Gray said after the meeting he’s still hopeful an agreement can be worked out. As he left the Capitol at 6 p.m., Gray wouldn’t discuss specifics of the project’s status.
“I’ve been saying all along that I’m unshakably optimistic. I still am,” Gray said.
Beshear said that even though the legislature needs to appropriate the money now, the state won’t issue the bonds until all the specifics of the project are “in concrete.”