For Kentucky Basketball Fans – Why I Can’t (or Won’t) Respect John Calipari

by Kent Sterling

UnknownKentucky fans are relentless in their love for Big Blue Nation, and their wild proclamations of physical and moral superiority are beyond debate.  If you try to explain in a rational way why Kentucky’s winning should ring hollow, they lose their minds.

Arguing gun control or abortion is more fun than engaging with Kentucky fans in a conversation about the merits of Kentucky hoops, and how its coach builds its roster, but in an effort to be clear, I step back into the abyss of illogic and blue blindness.

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The circuitous logic from Kentucky fans is much fun that of New Yorkers explaining why they live in the best city in the world, which is very similar to an Abbott & Costello routine.

  • Me: What’s the best city in the world?
  • New Yorker: New York
  • Me: Why?
  • New Yorker: Because it’s the best!
  • Me: What makes it the best?
  • New Yorker: Being New York makes it the best.
  • Me: So New York is the best city because it’s New York?
  • New Yorker: Yes!
  • Me: What about Los Angeles?
  • New Yorker: No, it’s not the best.
  • Me: Why not?
  • New Yorker: Because it isn’t New York.

With Kentucky, it’s the same thing.  Kentucky is the best because it’s Kentucky.  Anyone who dislikes the methodology that causes the success is an idiot, anyone who writes about it is a troll, and anyone who doesn’t worship at the alter of John Calipari is a hater.

Kentucky fans took exception to a lack of respect I articulated on Twitter today, and I promised I would provide the kind of explanation that can’t be expressed in 140 characters.

Let’s begin with a short recitation of those things for which I do not hold Calipari accountable:

  • The one-and-done rule is bad for kids, so I don’t like it.  The rule forces young men who have no interest in college to attend, unless they are willing to head overseas like Brandon Jennings and a couple of others have.  The rule is for the benefit of NBA owners who were tired of paying first rounders to work out rather than play.  They were even more disappointed when they had to pay max money to players a year before they would with the age limit as it currently exists.  Calipari had nothing to do with the rule being enacted, but he has exploited it to his great benefit.
  • I don’t blame Calipari for one and done kids not caring one way or another about their education.  They are only in college because it leads to the NBA.  Learning at the college level is not in the DNA of many of these kids. Let’s face it, most men on their way to millions aren’t concerned with Finite Math or East Asian Studies.  That’s not an issue whose blame can be assigned to Calipari.
  • Big Blue Nation wants wins.  You win – heroic status is conferred.  Lose – they come after you with torches.  That dynamic existed with Rupp, Hall, Sutton, Pitino, Smith, and Gillispie.  Calipari is just the latest to be held to a standard that has nothing to do with academics.

Okay, now we know what he isn’t accountable for – what are the things that rubs me the wrong way?

  • Calipari “earns” $5.2M + bonuses as the head coach of a bunch of 19 year-olds who do his bidding while their professional aspirations are on hold.  Is that against the rules?  No.  Is it Calipari’s fault that he is wildly overpaid, while his players can’t get a tattoo for an autograph?  No.  I didn’t say it’s his fault.  I said it rubs me the wrong way.
  • A disproportionate number of NBA bound players choose to attend Kentucky.  That annoys me.  Not because I don’t want Kentucky to win, but because there is no logical reason for it.  No offense to Kentucky, but there is nothing that separates it from Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan State, or any of the other top dozen programs.  All those players decide to go to the same place.  What motivates that choice is the question I keep asking.  I believe I know the answer, but as is the case with many annoyances, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence – which isn’t really evidence at all.
  • There is a trail of tears in the wake of Calipari’s stops at both UMass and Memphis.  He was not cited nor disciplined in the NCAA decisions that led to two separate Finals Four appearance being vacated, but he was there.  Does that make him guilty?  No.  What it probably makes him is real smart.
  • Eric Bledsoe had some high school transcript issues that showed he took two algebra courses out of sequence, and despite being a poor math student, scored an A in Algebra 3 prior to taking Algebra 2.  That’s a hell of a trick.  Did Calipari have anything to do with that?  No, but the NCAA didn’t find enough evidence to bring a penalty anyway, so what the hell is the problem.  The problem is that lack of evidence doesn’t mean screwy things didn’t transpire.  Again, annoying, not actionable.  Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans wrote another report about the NCAA’s look into Bledsoe’s eligibility.
  • There is also the friendship that exists between Calipari and World Wide Wes, the former runner who is now a consultant for Creative Arts Agency.  He’s friends with a lot of NBA players, and other famous people.  He’s a guy who gets things done for people.  Wes is an interesting man with interesting connections.  He was banned from the 2013 Midwest Regional by the NCAA.  They even printed flyers with Wes’s picture on them for security personnel.  Wes befriends college prospects at LeBron James Skills Academy.  What he does after that, draw your own conclusions.  Is there a rule that prohibits Calipari from counting Wes as a friend?  No.  Does it raise a reasonable level of suspicion?  Depends on your perspective.

I could go on and on.  The plantation mentality of college athletics is at the crux of my problem with Calipari.  He profits greatly from a system that won’t provide a student-athlete a small stipend to pay for he and a date to grab a sandwich and see a movie.  He operates within the rules, and then claims that because he’s within the rules, he is absolved of all blame for a system run amok.  Very convenient, and I don’t like that either.

Kentucky fans on Twitter wanted to know what my problem with Calipari is.  There it is.  Just because the NCAA is unwilling or unable to find the reasons for which Calipari should be banished from college athletics doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Today, those Twitter folks in Big Blue Nation said that they wanted to know how Calipari exploits the people he turns into millionaires.  I would argue that the only person John Calipari has turned into a millionaire is John Calipari.

30 Responses to For Kentucky Basketball Fans – Why I Can’t (or Won’t) Respect John Calipari
  1. ChronicHoosier
    October 24, 2013 | 10:33 pm

    What about Calipari the coach? So gifted & amazing a tactician he took a preseason top 3 team into (& out of) the 1st round of the NIT last year. Not enough credit given there.

    • kentsterling
      October 25, 2013 | 3:49 pm

      Good point, but I appreciate his mediocrity as a gamesman. It’s one of his few redeeming virtues.

    • Sluggerrr
      October 26, 2013 | 10:09 am

      That’s cute. You are like the rest of “hater nation” and get amnesia when it comes to his previous 3 years (or previous 20 years for that matter).

      • kentsterling
        October 26, 2013 | 12:09 pm

        The odd thing about Kentucky fans is that they always ascribe a negative equation of UK or Calipari to hatred. Not so much. There is a well-founded lack of respect that exists among indifferent fans as well as coaches, who tell very specific stories about Calipari that paint him in a negative light. That is also painted by UK fans as bitterness and jealousy.

        • Sluggerrr
          October 26, 2013 | 12:22 pm

          My comment was aimed at CronicHoosier and not you, Kent. There is really not a “well-founded” lack of respect that exists among fans and coached aimed at Calipari. This blog of yours proves that there really isn’t a foundation for that lack of respect. You have not provided one logical or fact-based reason for your “lack of respect” for Calipari. It is all based off of biased opinions. I am all for people having opinions and I respect the fact that you do not respect Calipari. I have opinions of my own that differ from others. I just think you should not act as though you have “proven” a good reason as to why you (and others) have that lack of respect.

  2. Jim d.
    October 25, 2013 | 10:43 am

    do you hate everyone who is successful or just John C and Kentucky ???

    • kentsterling
      October 25, 2013 | 6:46 pm

      I do not hate Kentucky, and my feelings toward Calipari rise only to a lack of respect. I hate know one. For the most part, I admire people who succeed. Those who succeed through subterfuge or through what I consider to be unfair practices are those I yell about. I railed against North Carolina’s educational scandal, a morally corrupt owner of the Chicago Cubs, Louisville’s AD for retaining Clint Hurtt as a coach, and the superintendent of Carmel (IN) Schools. I am an admirer of Tom Izzo, Brad Stevens, Jim Leyland, Tony Dungy, Fred Glass, and many others. I write about all of that, but all Kentucky fans read are the posts that they perceive as negative. I’ve probably written as many positive posts about UK as negative, but you don’t read them.

  3. Jeff Gregory
    October 25, 2013 | 11:01 am

    This is as good a place as any to wish Bob Knight a happy birthday (since he isn’t the biggest UK fan).

  4. Vosot68
    October 25, 2013 | 5:55 pm

    I know as well as anyone how passionate UK fans can be about the basketball program in Lexington. I am one. I am also lucid, prone to reason, and willing to listen to logic. But what fun is that? Detractors don’t want to communicate with sane fans… they want to blast a program/coach/fan base, then sit back and wait for the fireworks.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve responded to another blog you’ve written in the past bashing UK. So I stumbled across this one from Google today, and read it because your name was familiar to me. You’re a Hoosier fan, right? Well, sit down and have a beer… I’m sure we can work out our differences like men, in spite of the geographic rivalry.

    As far as I can tell, your original tweet says “I don’t hate UK… I have no respect for the way Calipari exploits athletes”. Then the “conversation” devolved to the point where you felt you had no choice but to explain yourself in a larger forum. Hence, this blog post.

    I can understand you having a lack of respect for someone famous. There are a lot of athletes and celebrities that I don’t have a lot of respect for. But usually it’s for differences in values, and I can explain those reasons logically. I gotta tell ya that I’m having difficulty finding the logic in your lack of respect for Calipari… or at least the way you explain it. To address a couple of key points:

    I’m sorry, but I will never believe that college players should be paid. The universities are their to make money first and foremost, so any argument about them making money off student athletes is utter nonsense. They make money off non-sports playing students, too, just not as much. If it’s the sheer amount of money you’re quibbling about, then I can’t help you there, either. Regardless, no student athlete deserves to be paid outside of their scholarship because no other student is paid, either. That was the first thing that “rubbed you the wrong way”. I don’t know what that has to do specifically with Calipari, as other coaches are well-compensated too (Saban, Brown, Pitino). Why single him out for that?

    Next you say that it annoys you that “a disproportionate number of NBA bound players choose to attend Kentucky”. So, they’re not supposed to recruit the best players? The players aren’t supposed to choose the school that they think gives them the best chance to make it to the NBA? You’re right, nothing that separates Kentucky from Michigan St., Duke, etc… Would you concede that, whatever skills Cal lacks as an Xs and Os coach he makes up for by being a superior recruiter? Why can’t somebody just be very very good at recruiting? Remember, UK didn’t have the top recruiting class last year, so not every McDonald’s All American is in Lexington.

    Although UMass and Memphis were exposed for violations, the cases were very different. People tend to forget that when bashing Cal/UK. They just yell “CHEAT!” and scurry to a corner. Does any sports fan that’s honest with him or herself think that if he would have been the slightest bit responsible, that the NCAA wouldn’t have disciplined him specifically? That would be quite a conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I don’t know every detail, but I’m also not the one blindly accusing.

    Now why would you be “annoyed” at Calipari about the Eric Bledsoe thing? Completely baseless for someone who passes himself off as rational.

    As for World Wide Wes, In a 2011 Sports Illustrated interview, Wesley said that the only way he “influences” players to attend Kentucky is by telling the truth: he trusts Cal and considers him one of the most loyal coaches in the game, and if they’re going to ask for his opinion, he’s going to give it. Oh by the way, fewer and fewer of Cal’s players are going to Wesley’s agency now.

    Am I an expert? Gosh no… I’m a fan. Do I know all the facts? No. Do I know a little? Yes.

    What separates me from you (and tons of others) is that I don’t let rhetoric and rumor cloud my fandom and judgment. When you get right down to your “disrespect” of Calipari, it really is illogical, and it smacks of an Indiana fan who wants to take shots at Kentucky any chance he gets, which is sad.

    Some of the worst displays of fan behavior I’ve seen have come from Tennessee Volunteer fans. Cub fans can be some of the most obnoxious visitors in another team’s ballpark that exist. Does that mean I hate the teams, the entire fan bases or the coaches? No. I, like most rational people, know beyond a doubt that every program has bad apples. Sorry you’ve had bad experiences with Kentucky, but it doesn’t look like you’ve ever tried to see both sides of the turf.

    Don’t be like Clay Travis of Fox Sports 1. Hopefully, you’re better than that.

    Good day, sir.

    • Vosot68
      October 25, 2013 | 6:04 pm

      Should say “The universities are THERE to make money…” Good Lord.

      • kentsterling
        October 25, 2013 | 6:37 pm

        I do the same thing from time to time. We don’t get haughty about grammar in the comments.

    • kentsterling
      October 25, 2013 | 6:36 pm

      Couple of answers to your questions, but first, thanks for the comment. You indeed seem lucid.

      Universities exist first, foremost, last, and in the middle to educate. I know of only one for-profit university with a athletic department.

      Athletes, I believe, should be paid commensurate to their value, just like everyone else in society. They certainly should be allowed to profit from the exploitation of their likenesses.

      I am annoyed at Calipari’s proximity if not abject culpability in situations like Bledsoe’s, the UMass or Memphis scandal, or anything to do with Wes. He is not directly culpable – he’s never directly culpable.

      As for his superiority as a recruiter, there’s recruiting and there is recruiting. Success at an absurd level puts him in proximity to some serious doubt about tactics. Direct evidence? Absolutely not, but an annoying level of doubt.

      I’m not making any accusations, just expressing my annoyance about a man whose scales of justice appear to be out of kilter for a variety of reasons.

      Thanks for being reasonable, and presenting a rational contrary perspective.

  5. Kevin Paul
    October 26, 2013 | 5:14 am

    Mr. Sterling,

    BLUF: Extremely biased UK fan here with counter arguments. I would love for you to respond if you have time and are interested.

    Also, I will more than likely have errors in my grammar–not an English major.

    To your point about the disproportionate amount of NBA players attending UK. Can you concede that it is possible that his success alone in recruiting 5* players is the reason for this? 5* players are likely to be one and done players since he has been successful in getting them he has more scholarships to give the next year which allows him to get more? If you look back to Memphis (before one and done rule) he was recruiting very well as well only to have some one and done prospects go straight to the NBA i.e., Amare.

    As far as the point of the two final four vacancies. Do you have the same disdain for Coach K? Marcus Camby situation very similar to Corey Magette situation and NCAA inconsistency resulted in different punishments. Derrick Rose (who I will admit probably cheated) was never found out to have cheated, the NCAA merely cited his refusal to participate in the investigation as reasons to invalidate the SAT score and make him ineligible (he was on the Bulls at this time so why would he care?). Very similar situation is Lance Thomas, who almost certainly received that jewelry loan due to perceived future earnings, refused to participate in the NCAA investigation as did the jeweler, which the NCAA said “hey, nothing we can do if they don’t talk to us”? A little bit of stretch but I thought it worth comparing.

    As far as Eric Bledsoe goes, Coach Calipari and Sandy Bell requested the NCAA to perform a more exhaustive investigation into Eric Bledsoe’s transcripts due to the reasons you cited above and didn’t play Eric Bledsoe until after the NCAA basically assured UK that Bledsoe was eligible. And as another poster commented, a lot of other schools were recruiting him too. Based on this information would you exonerate Cal of having nothing wrong in the Bledsoe issue.

    And in any biased UK fashion, and in an effort to annoy Hoosiers fans, at least he never choked or kicked a player right? (Couldn’t resist, sorry).

    V/R
    Kevin Paul
    UK Fan

    • kentsterling
      October 26, 2013 | 12:27 pm

      Now this is a hell of a good comment. I wish all UK fans were as interested in discussing the merits of Calipari and his era at UK as Kevin did. You are a good writer, and more importantly a good thinker. You can write for this site anytime you like.

      I agree in spirit with everything you write. I view Calipari through a different prism. No question he gets more 5-stars because he has more availabilities, and because five star guys begat more five star guys. But there is a false mythology about Calipari preparing kids well to play in the NBA, and there is a widely held believe that the most direct way to attract top players involves an exchange that doesn’t comply with NCAA rules. Not saying that UK would engage in such a dynamic, but as a matter of economics value demands payment in some form.

      One thing worth mentioning is that Bledsoe’s path to the NBA would have been inexorably disrupted if not for whatever happened with that transcript. The rule requiring a kid like Bledsoe to attend college for a year is wrongheaded. That has nothing to do with Calipari, nor did whatever happened in Birmingham. Calipari did nothing wrong, but he sure seems to be standing near a lot of these occurrences. He’s kind of like the William H. Macy character in “The Cooler.” He doesn’t roll the dice for the gambler, but that they come up snake eyes when he’s around is undeniable.

      Thanks for taking the time to write.

      • Kevin Paul
        October 26, 2013 | 3:26 pm

        Thanks for the response. Your thoughts that Calipari’s reputation for preparing kids for the NBA may have some merits. Of course, how many coaches could not have prepared John Wall, Cousins, or Davis from making the NBA. They all would have made the NBA wherever they went to school, or if they went the Brandon Jennings route.

        But to his credit, since his time at UK for sure he hasn’t messed up any of the recruits chances. I would think he is about 100% unless you count Harrow, Dodson, and more notably Wiltjer. To further my argument, I think that Josh Harrelson, Deandre Liggins, and Darius Miller would probably not have made the NBA if it wasn’t for Calipari, and Patterson probably wouldn’t be as good as he is if Cal didn’t emphasize his need to work on his perimeter skills. Before Cal got to UK, Patterson never even made a 3ptr, during his one year with Cal he made quite a few and now his a 40% NBA shooter from down range.

        I would also like to hear your thoughts on the Duke/UK comparison’s I noted above. The NCAA inconsistency is troubling to me.

        IMO, the only real thing that anyone can possibly have against Calipari is his idealogy. He does not have the attitude of Coach K, Tubby Smith, Knight, and several others that these guys are student athletes and openly admits that. He wants the best guys to come in and leave if they are projected to achieve their dreams. His open stance against the student athletes is different then the Norm. If that is the view of yourself or other Calipari detractors, it is valid and anything I write won’t change your mind. You have to admit though they have been boasting a pretty high GPA in his tenure collectively.

        • kentsterling
          October 26, 2013 | 4:10 pm

          I’m with you about Duke. Coach K has a reputation as a wonderfully benevolent successor to the legacy of John Wooden that is entirely undeserved, but I think he’s a great tactician, and that kids leave Duke with a really good education. The NCAA punishes only when it has to, and usually does it where the PR value is best.

          I’m not sure that claiming Harrellson as an NBA success is valid yet. He’s been on and off rosters and my wind up making a lot of money. Hasn’t happened yet – although I would love to have the pay checks he has ached.

          Patterson never would have achieved what he has with Gillispie as coach. That’s for sure. I don’t think Calipari can be blamed for every blue chipper who doesn’t make the NBA, anymore than he should be credited for those who do make it.

          You are right about my objections to Calipari’s ideology, but it runs deeper than that.

          • Kevin Paul
            October 27, 2013 | 2:42 am

            Hey… Great discussion. My point about Harrellson is that he only played like 2.4 minutes a game before Cal got there.

  6. TheArmadilloJackal
    October 26, 2013 | 5:35 am

    The fact that this article was even written just further proves that Kentucky is the best. It’s good to be king.

    • Kevin Paul
      October 26, 2013 | 5:45 am

      Why are we the best though? That’s right, because we are UK! LOL.

  7. lloyd
    October 26, 2013 | 9:24 am

    I do not fault John Calipari for taking advantage of the NBA rule. What coach wouldn’t, if they could sign a bunch of 5 stars every year? Diddnt Bill Self recently just sign Andrew Wiggins? I do agree though, that the kids in college should be paid for their talent. just my thoughts at lest, I think that every college who profits off of them should be able to share the profits. As for your college education comment, that these UK one and done guys, don’t go to school to learn……. I would highly advise you to look at UK’s track record there. In 2012 alone, UK posted as a team, 3.12 GPA, also in 2013, the team posted a 2.14 GPA.

    • kentsterling
      October 26, 2013 | 12:10 pm

      Depending upon who did the work, they should be very proud of their efforts.

    • Jeff Gregory
      October 26, 2013 | 12:34 pm

      Wow! Well, they are very academic young men. They are obviously selling themselves short in their scholastic pursuits. Who would have known! They are selling the world short playing basketball when they could be finding a cure for cancer – or weaving a fine basket.

  8. lloyd
    October 26, 2013 | 9:25 am

    opps a 3.14 GPA in 2013

  9. Sluggerrr
    October 26, 2013 | 10:21 am

    One thing that I find funny and inconsistent based on logic is that most fans who dislike Kentucky or Calipari say that he only recruits “one and done” players. Last year, Kentucky had the #1, #13, #15, and #40 recruits in the nation (that was the entire recruiting class). Based on logic, you would have to assume that any of the athletes ranked higher than the #13, #15, and #40 recruits should be selected higher so that would mean that there are several other recruits who should have been “one and done”. Granted, the #13 and #40 ranked recruits were projected as first-rounders, they stayed for another year in order to try to win a title.

    As for the UMASS and Memphis issues, there were a few logical responses already on here to if people spend time to understand the facts, they will see that this is no different than what happens at other universities. UMASS and Memphis were just a part of the inconsistent punishments that the NCAA is so famous for.

    • Sluggerrr
      October 26, 2013 | 10:23 am

      I should have clarified my comment about Poythress and WCS. They were projected as first-rounders last year because they produced at a high level and showed the potential that NBA scouts are looking for. That is one thing that Calipari has been know for. Getting recruits prepared for the NBA by showcasing their strengths on the court.

    • kentsterling
      October 26, 2013 | 12:07 pm

      You are assuming that the rankings accurately reflect NBA potential, which they do not. The rankings are to talent evaluation as mowing a lawn is to farming.

      I don’t disagree about the UMass and Memphis issues – just that they occurred on Calipari’s watch.

      • Sluggerrr
        October 26, 2013 | 12:15 pm

        I understand how the rankings work and how the NBA drafts based on potential. It is not a logical assumption to believe that if the idiotic one and done rule was not in effect that the majority of Calipari recruits would have skipped college. Rose, Davis, Noel, Wall, and Cousins all probably would have. The other players he has sent to the NBA would most likely have gone to college for at least 1 year.

  10. FleurdiLisa
    October 26, 2013 | 2:02 pm

    Mr. Sterling

    Why no reply on the Corey Maggette and Lance Thomas situations at Duke? Just because the NCAA picks and chooses who and how to enforce rules on doesn’t mean Coack K and Duke are squeaky clean. They just get away with it. Just like North Carolina. No institution in modern day athletics has had as much academic corruption as this school. Talk about not caring about athlete getting an education! They don’t even require theirs go to class.

    To single out Calipari, who plays within the rules in a system he did not create but makes the best of, just shows hypocrisy and jealousy. Nick Saban only recruits 5 stars and if college football had the same “one and done” rule as college basketball, his players would all leave after one year too. Bill Self and Coach K recruited the same players as Cal did. They just didn’t get as many. By your definition, they are exploiters, too.

    You need to take off the blinders and admit you have given Coach Cal a bad rap.

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