Calipari Captures His First Title
The slick coach with the slick hair and slick suits always had a slick answer. His 2007-2008 Memphis team was a notoriously poor free throw shooting team. Cal had no problem shrugging his shoulders and assuring people ‘we’ll make them when they matter.’ That time came in the 2008 title game, and they didn’t make them. The coach had earned the reputation as the best recruiter but an average game coach. That didn’t sit well with him.
In 2009, the slick coach left Beale Street for the bluegrass state. He was able to bring in his usual cast of blue chippers and five star recruits commonly known as ‘one and dones.’ The ‘one and dones’ use college basketball as a finishing school before they take their talents to the professional game.
His first Wildcat team featured five players who were taken in the first round of the 2010 draft. Despite the uncommon wealth of talent, Kentucky was upset in the elite eight by West Virginia. As he had done for so many years, the slick coach shrugged off the loss and said West Virginia was the better team that day.
The coach is a smart man. He knew there was no gray area when it comes to measuring greatness. Conference titles and Final Four appearances are nice, but no coach can reach Mt. Rushmore until they reach the top of a Werner ladder at a Final Four.
Until last night, the only thing that had eluded the slick coach was a national championship. He had reached Final Fours with three different schools, but always with a shroud of controversy. In 1996, Calipari’s UMass Minutemen reached the Final Four with Marcus Camby. That season was later vacated when the NCAA discovered Camby accepted $40,000 in cash and gifts from an agent. Calipari was never implicated. Memphis’s 2007-2008 season was vacated when the NCAA determined Derrick Rose was ineligible because he didn’t take his own SAT. Once again, the slick coach wasn’t implicated.
Cal’s transparency about sacrificing upperclassmen for talent was questioned and scrutinized by basketball purists. Bobby Knight could barely bring himself to acknowledge Kentucky as a basketball entity under Calipari. It should also be noted that Knight always shied away from the AAU game that Calipari plays better than anybody.
You’d be fooling yourself if you didn’t believe last night was as much about Calipari as it was Kentucky capturing its eighth title. After the win, it was easy for Calipari to maintain it wasn’t about him it was about the kids. Internally, Calipari had to be relieved. How much longer could the slick coach provide slick answers for why his loaded, young teams couldn’t capture it all in early April? Final Four appearances and lofty winning percentages don’t silence critics; championships silence critics!
There is a lot of chatter now that Kentucky may go on a UCLA like run of domination. It’s possible, but we also can’t overlook how unselfish this team was. Who’s to say that Cal’s next group of ‘one and dones’ buy in as much as this group. That’s the risk you run when you essentially put together an AAU team in college basketball.
One thing is certain. The slick coach will have little time to reflect on his legacy. He must hit the dusty trail to find the next group of blue chippers.