John Calipari — An Enigma Wrapped in a Banner


John Calipari is arguably the most polarizing figure in college basketball today.  He is talked about like a dog with the mange by the media (I’m looking at you Bob Knight).  He is always unfairly scrutinized and penalized by the NCAA (Link to the USA Today site) and yet he never says anything disparaging about any of those trolls.  He doesn’t pout or go ostrich out and hide like most would.  He’s humble with a fair amount of hubris and constantly smiling.  How does he do that?!

So of course when my Wildcats bested the Jayhawks this past April for their 8th National Championship, immediately people started making jokes about how long it would be before the NCAA came a calling and yanked that banner from the rafters of Rupp. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the vilification of Calipari is that he is not a deviant trying to skirt the rules set forth by the infallible NCAA.  Hell, he’s never been implicated in any violation that caused the NCAA to unjustly vacate his 1996 Final Four with UMass and his 2008 Final Four with Memphis, yet he was held personally responsible.  How does the punishment fit the crime?  Don’t ask Jim Calhoun because with the proverbial slap on the wristhe got in the recruitment of Nate Miles would most assuredly have been the death penalty for Calipari.  (Sarcasm…sort of)

One problem you have is that he’s just that much better at his job, as both a recruiter and coach, than any of his contemporaries and that, my friends, is a breeding ground for jealousy.  And perhaps therein lays the source of vilification of one John Calipari.  Add that to the fact that people fail to grasp that he’s players first, regardless of how many times he says it so his focus is getting the best in and the greatest out of the University of Kentucky.  Make no mistake, he takes on projects but always makes lemonade out of the lemons which is something that neither of his two predecessors could do.  You have to go all the way back to…gasp…Pitino to see that skill.  But Calipari’s player success is far greater than even Rick Pitino’s.  But I digress.  Since 2008, he’s had 3 #1 overall picks (Derrick Rose, John Wall and Anthony Davis) to go along with the 12 other first rounders and 7 second rounders. Look at that and tell me how you can argue with any kid in the country wanting to come here?  Calipari turns every NBA draft into a free recruiting pitch just by his presence with his guys there.  It’s laughable that people paint him to be a villain when the reality is that he’s just better at his job than they are…and probably you are yours.

Listen, I’m not saying he’s a saint and he may operate in some grey areas but the last I checked, that’s legal.  If the NCAA has a problem with their color scale then maybe they should choose different ink.  But again, I digress.  The point is that he doesn’t do anything different than any other coach, he is among the elite coaches in the country and is the biggest villain by a country mile (Which is longer than a city mile).  Vendetta?  Perhaps.  Does he care?  Doesn’t appear to.  Is he fairly characterized?  Doesn’t appear to be.  Again, does he care?  Maybe a little.  He is human after all…or is he?  I’ve met him a couple times and he is very affable and fan friendly with not a hint of bitterness on his face from the constant unfair attacks on his character and profession and that, my friends, is beyond amazing to me. I don’t know how he does it. And perhaps my greatest is this:  Why does he have to?  What did he ever do?

What say you my fine friends?  Are people just to criticize based on the facts and his body of work or is he just a punching bag for the pretenders?