John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats may have lost the National Championship game to Connecticut, but Calipari has dominate the headlines for the last two months like no other college basketball coach in recent memory. And it is for all the good reasons. It’s not as if Calipari has been embroiled in controversy or reduced to defending his school from academic fraud concerns. Simply put, it has been the summer of Calipari.
It took the unfounded but timely rumor that Calipari was a done deal to the Lakers to get the ball rolling and the “Players First” book tour made sure that Calipari’s smiling mug was omnipresent. Then came the contract extension and yesterdays news that Calipari and the Cavaliers were in “deep talks”. CBS’s Gary Parrish followed Calipari in Memphis and has about as much experience on Calipari than anyone and thinks that this latest sage was calculated, effective, and brilliant. And this whole thing could have gone differently had the Harrisons gone pro.
The latter development — i.e., the Harrisons returning for their sophomore years — ensures the Wildcats will be ranked No. 1 in all relevant preseason polls, and that was always going to make Cleveland’s pursuit of Calipari more difficult than it otherwise would have been. Still, like I wrote last month, there was nothing random or accidental about Calipari taking that call and doing that interview with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. He wanted to be pursued and create options, and, boy, did he ever get pursued and create options.
Put another way, Coach Cal won again.
The 55-year-old engaged Cleveland just enough publicly (and to a serious degree privately) to generate big interest from Gilbert, and doing so produced a no-lose situation. Suddenly, Calipari had the option to either return to the NBA with a contract in excess of $60 million or remain at Kentucky for a contract worth roughly $53 million, and that he decided to remain at UK is a testament to the school’s commitment and roster in place.
Still, my main point from last month remains unchanged.
Like I wrote then and will repeat now, nothing Calipari does is ever a coincidence. When he took that call from that Cleveland reporter and talked about his desire to someday coach King James, he did so with an agenda easy to spot. It was calculated and brilliant and, most important, effective to the point that it eventually led to two contracts on a table worth more money than any normal person could ever dream of earning.
Obviously the members of the BBN are relieved that Calipari is returning to Kentucky. And the incoming recruits are obviously thrilled. James Ulis, Tyler’s father, talked to Adam Zagoria yesterday about the Calipari news.
“I’m just glad he’s going to be there [at Kentucky],” James Ulis told SNY.tv. “I just think he’s going to bring out a better part of Tyler because of the way he develops point guards.”
Yahoo! Sports reported that Calapari and the Cavs were “deep in discussions…on a seven-year, $60 million-plus contract” that would’ve made him president and coach.
“If you’re successful, I think organizations are going to want you to run their team,” James Ulis said.
So even though Calipari has signed an extension and has spurned $60M to return to Kentucky, John Clay seems to think that yesterday’s news means very little in the big picture. While personally, I think that Calipari is set for a while, the debate will continue. And the summer of Calipari continues …
I still think there is a part of Calipari that wants to prove that he can succeed in the NBA. He loves proving people wrong, and after being fired by the Nets in his only pro coaching job, Calipari would no doubt love to show the basketball world that the Nets made a mistake.
I also think that despite all its benefits, the Kentucky coaching job is a taxing existence. And Calipari does everything at UK full-on: recruiting, media, camps, promotions. He’s rarely on break. Add to that the constant merry-go-round of the one-and-dones.
It’s not out of the question that down the road, he would either want a break or become restless for something else.
The guess here is that there were too many question marks with Cleveland. Will Kyrie Irving re-sign? What will the Cavs do with its No. 1 draft pick in June? Is the return of LeBron to the Cavs a pipe dream? How would it be working for a hands-on owner in Dan Gilbert?