College Basketball – Cheaters Continue to Win, Which Means We Need to Re-define Winning

by Kent Sterling

I'm not sure whether John Calipari cheats, but I know why I don't.

I’m not sure whether John Calipari cheats, but I know why I don’t.

Winning is not about gaining an advantage through systemic deceit – it’s the pursuit of answering adversity with grit, finding a way through the pain to outwork your opponents, motivating teammates to embrace a common cause, and subverting selfish wants for collective success.  Victory without embracing those concepts is meaningless.

Championships as a coach should not come because of the ability to aggregate talent, but because the talent that has been assembled has been able to learn and work hard enough to unlock their potential.  Talent is important, but the growth of players as human beings provides a greater legacy.

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Every time I write about Kentucky Basketball, someone comments to tell me that if I were in a position to be rewarded with millions of dollars that I would cheat too.  That winning by any and all means would trump winning the right way.  Mind you, I have never directly asserted that John Calipari cheats.  People just infer that I believe he does because it fits their narrative of me as a Calipari basher.

As evidence that I do not cheat and will not, I would offer a bank statement.  I am not worth millions, maybe because I have refused to cheat.  Winning is the ability to do what I love as well as I can, not the brief validation of emerging victorious after a game of basketball, pool, Sorry!, Crazy Eights, or dominating in the ratings at a radio station.

Winning as a team isn’t about banners, but the moment years later when you look into the eyes of a teammate knowing that you shared the exultation of that moment of total bliss.

Dan Dakich had a great conversation on 1070 the Fan today with CBS Sportsline’s Gregg Doyel about the morality of cheating.  Those two make great radio every time Doyel comes on because they both hold people, including themselves, accountable for questionable behavior.  Despite never cheating, many times to his own detriment, Dan now says he would cheat if he were a player.  Both said they would take steroids if everyone else was, and not doing it would cost them their jobs.  I didn’t buy it out of either Dan or Gregg.

Norman Dale, Gene Hackman’s character in “Hoosiers”, tells Jimmy Chitwood, “You know, in the ten years that I coached, I never met anybody who wanted to win as badly as I did. I’d do anything I had to do to increase my advantage. Anybody who tried to block the pursuit of that advantage, I’d just push ’em out of the way. Didn’t matter who they were, or what they were doing.”

I used to be one of those guys.  There was nothing I wouldn’t do to win a board game, game of pool, bicycle race, or any other contest where winning was possible.

It was a miserable existence.  Knowing when a referee wasn’t looking so I could gain a physical advantage playing high school soccer was part of the game within the game, or so I told myself.  Going up awkwardly for a head ball with a talented opponent so I could knock him off balance as a penance for challenging me was a skill I developed through diligent repetition.

My goal was to be as difficult to play against as possible, and if that meant someone was injured, those were the breaks.  I never tried to hurt anyone, but there were probably a dozen times when my opposite player was helped off the field over four years of practice and games.  I knocked the best player for Trinity High School in Louisville out of a game doing that, and felt it was my duty to help us win.

I tell you that so you know that I have come to sanity through learning that winning at all costs provides a very hollow affirmation.  Cheap shots are a form of cheating, but at least they are done in plain sight, and are subject to retaliation – either from officials or outraged teammates of the victim.  The kind of cheating that takes place in college athletics is covert – executed in the shadows – but the only victims are those who refuse to cheat.

Victimless crimes provide moral cover for the cheaters.  Breaking NCAA rules has almost become a badge of honor because of the inanity of the rules.  New Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was forced out of coaching because he lied to NCAA investigators about inviting a couple of recruits to his home for a barbecue.  The home was outside the radius allowed as part of a campus visit.  The lying was idiotic.  The rule was ridiculous.

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But who the hell wants to be a winner because you were able to cheat the best?  At that point, sports becomes about finding holes in the system, rather than being a teacher, coach, and mentor to young men trying to find their way through life to understand what’s important in life and why.

Let’s be clear that abuse of the rules is an absurd standard by which to determine who cheats.  My rule book is that shortcuts of any kind define cheating, and taking advantage of the one-and-done rule is a serious shortcut for a four-year university’s basketball program.  Is it against the rules?  No.  Does it violate the mission of a university?  Of course it does, and anyone who argues that needs to take an inventory of their beliefs.

Because the NCAA has decided that bringing down the boom is not expedient for their own survival, we need to believe the moral bankruptcy of cheats is penalty enough for those who engage in it.  Sometimes doing the right thing is the only meaningful reward in a world where trophies go to the creeps.  The decision which side of that philosophical chasm we stand belongs to each of us.

In my mind, I see Calipari standing unrepentantly on the opposite side of the gorge, and for that I don’t like him no matter how nice a guy he might be.  And for that reason, Go Cards!

28 thoughts on “College Basketball – Cheaters Continue to Win, Which Means We Need to Re-define Winning

  1. Warren in TN

    Well, first Kansas State lost to UK. Your disdain for Weber was greater than Cal and UK, so you didn’t have much for that one. Then Wichita State was going to derail UK. But you backed off that with your assurances that “if” the Shockers “faltered,” Louisville would be there to save the day.

    Well, after two of the most exciting basketball games the whole year, and certainly two of the greatest NCAA tournament games in the past decade, Kentucky is left standing.

    It must really suck for you, Kent. I feel your pain.

    Now the only question I have is one you don’t need to answer….

    It’s going to tickle me to no end to see you cheer on the Wolverines to somehow make this UK team go away. I mean, WOW. An IU fan cheering for Michigan. Go figure.

    Mazel Tov !

    1. steve

      Plus you should cheer for Michigan as they have three indiana kids and Michigan State has two of them. We cant keep them in state so I guess we are sort of rooting for IU now.

  2. steve

    Well kentucky won first off. Secondly I guess has IU has a nice guy who does not cheat so we are all good.The only thing is we could find a nice guy anyday of the week who we dont have to pay 3 million a year to produce lousy results.

  3. Philboyd Studge

    Your bitter tears of frustration are sweet nectar to Kentucky fans Kent. I read every word of this imbecilic, fatuous rant about “cheating.”

    Guess what was missing? ONE FACT ABOUT CHEATING. If you are talking about Marcus Camby secretly taking money from an agent — the NCAA EXPLICITLY cleared John Calipari of any wrongdoing in writing. If you are talking about Derek Rose apparently cheating on his SAT, after the test was taken he was cleared by the NCAA — Indiana among other schools continued to recruit him. IF Calipari was cheating to sign him, dozens of other schools stood ready to ink a kid who was cleared by the NCAA.

    By the way — guess who is a cheater? Your hero Tom Crean, who hired the experience-less son of an AAU coach who was cited for giving improper gifts to players, in order to have those players sign with Indiana. I guess the fact that the players have been a bust and Indiana is a joke on the court mitigates the cheating in your mind.

    And, of course, Indiana University is relatively recently off of major NCAA sanctions. You cheer for a dirty program, Kent. Wake up.

    As for Calipari, grow up. Your obsession is demeaning to you. You are becoming a sad, pathetic internet loser capable of generating responses to your banalities only by falsely accusing your betters.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Never accused anyone of cheating – as defined by the NCAA. The kind of cheating I’m talking about takes value from the players without compensating them in any meaning way. That kind of cheating is endorsed, not condemned, by the NCAA.

      It always comes back to Indiana, doesn’t it? As though I haven’t written many more posts about the arrogance and idiocy of former AD Rick Greenspan, and coach Kelvin Sampson and assistant doofus Rob Senderoff than the few I’ve written about Calipari.

      The Adams deal was not nearly as squirrelly as you describe, but even at that, the players from Adams’ program who might have been influenced by him have never done much but sit and watch games from really good seats.

      1. Philboyd Studge

        “The kind of cheating I’m talking about takes value from the players without compensating them in any meaningful way”

        You should be watching the press conferences after this impressive run of wins by the Wildcats Kent. Kids who arrived as callow youths in the fall are now confident, articulate young men on their way to lives of financial security, and everlasting hero status. I would have taken that compensation at 18-19. And you know what? They all LOVE Calipari, as do their parents, for his caring stewardship of their lives.

        Compare that to the sad, sordid parade of ‘creanings’ from Indiana. Which kids are getting compensated for their time in college Kent — Kentuckys or Indianas?

        I sincerely suggest you honestly think through your wrongheaded and increasingly desperate sounding emnity toward Calipari. He’s the one giving these kids something in return for their days in college — a lifetime of FF memories, the love of a worldwide fanbase, then a smooth transition into their chosen life’s work. What did Crean give Vonleh? Or Ehterington? Or Roth? Or Creek?

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Why are these memories from a fleeting moment in time enough for the players, but $5-million plus bonuses are needed for Calipari? Shouldn’t the pride of being a significant part of the players’ evolution toward maturity compensate a decent human being, like so many of the teachers who serve the same purpose at UK and every other educational enterprise in America? Of course not, because we live in a mostly capitalistic society. We should all be paid to our value.

          Except the players, whose comp package includes the opportunity to earn a degree that might propel them toward greater understanding of life, and a better chance to earn a comfortable living. That compensation is misapplied at Kentucky because other than the kids at the end of the bench, the mission at Kentucky is to churn future pros as they await their eligibility to earn in the NBA.

          The one-and-done rule fails kids, and despite his protestations to the contrary, Calipari has used it to build a palace of easily replaced cinder blocks and caulk.

          It’s not against the rules, but it is wrong.

        2. Philboyd Studge

          I’d like your honest answer to the questions I posed in the last two paragraphs above, Kent. Whatever else, you’ve usually been up for an honest reply. So, let’s hear it: Who had the better college experience: Randle or Vonleh? Jon Hood or Etherington? Alex Poythress or Hollowell?

          Which kids left angry, bitter and disillusioned? The Kentucky kids or the Indiana kids?

          1. kentsterling Post author

            Interesting question. Hard to answer accurately without posing similarly worded queries to the kids themselves. From the outside looking in, obviously the UK kids, but you’re asking about obviously thrilled kids at UK and kids on their way out the door at IU. An Indiana fan could ask the same question about Yogi Ferrell and Kyle Wiltjer or Will Sheehey and Ryan Harrow. Not apples to apples, but pretty easy to skew the question to bolster your position.

        3. kentsterling Post author

          Frankly, I think kids from both schools would trade the adulation of the fans for a giant can of Beef-a-roni. I’ve seen fans of both schools treat their heroes like crap. That fishbowl can be an unforgiving and frustrating place.

          There isn’t a one-and-done kid who gets decent value for his effort. Whether Vonleh or Davis, both got short shrift in their respective purgatories.

          Etherington will get his degree in management. Roth earned his bachelors and masters. Creek got his degree. All that is allowed for a school to provide, those guys got. Were they able to win at the level four of the last five UK teams have? No. Do they know what it’s like to hang an NCAA Championship banner? No. Did they face the kind of adversity that tested their mettle and will have them find a way to succeed in life? Yes.

          Which school did better by their kids? That’s a more difficult question to answer. NBA players as high school graduates became NBA players after a year in Lexington. One of those in Bloomington – same deal. The rest who stayed to get their degrees? Different question requiring a deeper and more nuanced answer than these comments are designed to provide.

          1. Philboyd Studge

            Well thanks for the reply Kent. To me, the question isn’t nearly as hard to answer. I take my kid to the Wizards’ games, and I see Anthony Davis, John Wall, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and other Kentucky players having the time of their lives. They are constantly on social media proclaiming their love for the Big Blue Nation. Julius Randle’s mom was on CBS before the Elite Eight game singing the praises of John Calipari, and what he has meant in her son’s life as a surrogate father. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s mother, a remarkably articulate woman, has practically deified Calipari for what he did to prepare her son for his life in the NBA.

            These are success stories. The kids creaned from Indiana, leaving with emotional bruises and bitterness, are not. In a lot of ways, I’d be happy for college basketball to return to what it was in the 1970s or 1990s — hell, Kentucky has always won, and always will. But until the NBA player’s union decides to let that happen, I’m for succeeding in today’s world, as long as you stay within the rules. UK has on its staff the former NCAA compliance chief, and she has veto power over all recruiting decisions. And there has not been one hint of impropriety in Kentucky’s basketball program since the 1980s. That’s a decade so deep in the past Indiana basketball was actually relevant.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Curious why you think Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s mother being articulate is remarkable.

            Surprised you would want to relive the 1980s. So much disappointment and underachievement in Lexington in that decade.

            And there have been many hints of impropriety, just not any evidence. Not saying there were violations – just that hints have existed, and one was published.

            There are different definitions to the word ‘success.’ I hope all the kids who spent eight months at camp Cal enjoy fruitful lives, smile their way through it, and help those as they have been helped.

  4. Bo Blackburn

    UK showed all the heart and fortitude of a team fully committed to each other. Andrew Harrison comes up off the floor in real pain and then goes to the line to hit 2 much needed free throws.

    Julius Randle takes his lottery pick body into the paint and instead of needing
    To be the guy he draws the triple team and kicks out to an open Aaron Harrison for the go ahead 3. (My wife called this play 5 seconds before it happened. Shout out!)

    Alex Poythress handles the pressure and gets the call (if maybe not the foul) and then sinks a free throw.

    I am sorry if this guys don’t sweat mediocrity for 4 years until you deem they deserve respect and success. I am sorry that you disagree with our coach, who can coach and keep this team working together better than any XO guy in the game. I am sorry we keep winning on the court, in the hearts of our fans and players.

    These teams win the right way. They invest in each other and enjoy playing for each other. That is team, that is winning and your opinion doesn’t lessen any of it or it’s rewards.

    Again, the myth of amateur athletics you hold to lives only in the fantasy re enactments of Hollywood and DIII games. Multi-billion dollar conference tv networks, O’Bamnion-esque lawsuits, Manziel autographs, UNC mad-lib term papers. Nike and Under Armor shoveling cash and commitments. You make our coach/team your punching bag. Fine. But
    I your article you the only thing you redefined was cheating. According to Kent, following the rules in place, getting players to play with/for each other up to their ability and making their fans proud is cheating.

    But those kids play the 40 minutes
    For their team and I firmly believe for
    the name in front of the jersey. They proved it last night and continue to prove
    it to their fans. You are not one. I get it. But that doesn’t make you right or any of them cheaters.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Never said anything negative about the kids. Through all of these victories, they are victims of a system built on the greed of adults intent on using kids’ talents without compensation. Other schools do it on occasion, but it’s Kentucky’s entire schematic.

      Nothing against any of the players. They are victims in a game they aren’t wise enough to understand they’re even playing.

      The inventor of the modern NCAA Walter Byers wrote in his mea clupa memoir that college athletics as he created it reflects a “neo-plantation mentality.” Kentucky’s players might be playing for the name on the front of the jersey, but someone should advise them as to what the name on the front truly represents.

  5. Kyle

    This is the biggest piece of crap I have ever read. This guy is a complete moron. What rule has Cal or UK broke to be called cheaters. Ever program has there issues; it isn’t a rule that a NCAA basketball player has to stay 4 years. If it was guess what UofL would be getting their butt’s handed to them on regular basis. Who are we or anybody to tell these kids to not take the millions that are offered to them to play a sport. Write an article about Baseball that takes them straight from high school if they choose. No where else in the world do they tell you that you have to stay in college before you get a job. They let 18 year old young men and women go to War for our country and die but thats ok. These kids are given a rule and they follow it. When that has been fulfulled they go along there way and make their money. The reason Cal hasn’t been charge with cheating is he hasn’t. It is all just what people think. Like Ricky P is any better. In the grand scheme of things, life. Ricky P is a looser that CHEATS on his wife and damages his family by doing so. I would rather have a coach, if he did; cheat on sports, rather than cheat in moral matter. This guy is a joke.

    1. Idiot Hunter

      Cal isn’t a cheat? ….. he makes banners disappear faster than a fat boy can put away a cake. He is also a racist. For you idiots who just know him from UK, go check the history he has left behind. Kids he has brought into programs at UMass and Memphis, just to let them take the “probation punishment” for something that happened when he was coach and long before those players ever attended that school. He is a liar and a cheat. Pitino may have hurt his family and that is no laughing matter, but this loser has ruined a lot of young men’s lives. If that kind of person is “your guy” then that says a lot about you as a person.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      Read the post again and tell me where I asserted Calipari has broken a rule – any rule. Baseball players, if they opt to attend college, must stay for three years. In football, they have to complete three years too. And the kids don’t follow a rule. The NBA follows its own rule by not allowing players to declare eligibility for the draft.

      Pitino may have cheated on his wife, but he doesn’t use kids to feather his own nest without Louisville providing them a significant education.

  6. Buck

    It’s funny how all the UK fans so quickly come to the defense of their cheating coach and Semi-Pro team. Cal is a cheat, has been every place he has been, left two universities to pick up the pieces of his questionable behavior. And before all the UK fans come on to say he was never found to be guilty, I say just look at the facts. Has any other coach had two seasons taken away? I don’t think so. It is more than just a coincidence that this honor lies at the feet of one man. He’s the same man – only the location has changed. However, UK has a long storied history of cheating so this is nothing new to them.

    And the “one and done” system makes a mockery of college ball where the players are supposed to be STUDENT ATHLETES. The semi-pro team are not student athletes and anyone who says they are is just plain wrong. Cal has too many people with questionable reputations hanging around his program, WWW and so on. One day the NCAA will stop hording the money brought in by this university and apply the rules. The day will come that UK fans will wish they never brought the snake oil salesman to town. But all UK fans care about is winning – not how it is accomplished and that’s a sad commentary on their fan base.

    And before you accuse me of being a Louisville fan, I don’t even live in the state of KY….I just hate cheaters and the fact they get away with it (at least for a while).

  7. jeff

    well again for all you haters !!! you keep bringing up the past ,of which the NCAA found no wrong doing of calipari !!! so move on and get another school to dump on !!!! if sanctions ever come up for KY we will deal with them like every other school does !!!! and for one and dones . coach cal didn’t make the rule !! NBA did !! and if the NCAA isn’t going to change it for the student atheletes ??? then blame them for it not KENTUCKY !!! if you think that no other college coach would take 6 all americans a year to play basketball at their school then your in denial or stupid !!!! ken you and pat forde are losers !!! quit crying for Indiana and Louisville and your hometown news paper !!!!! maybe you two should go write about high school players before they come to college !! and save them before they ruin their lives making millions in the NBA ???

    1. kentsterling Post author

      It’s not that the kids are ruining their lives, they aren’t. But they get nothing in return for playing basketball for nine months at UK while Calipari ‘earns’ more than $5 million per. The business model is so skewed in the disfavor of the athletes that something must be done. As was made clear in the post, this has nothing to do with punishable crimes against the NCAA, and everything to do with conceptual fairness. You go ahead and keep celebrating wins while kids are used. It’s like buying stock in a plantation. You would make money, but at what cost?

      1. Laugherty Daniel

        Why is it you never write about IU exploiting Vonleh plantation style? Why are you willing to “buy stock” in the Hoosier plantation Kent?

        You just look the other way when it’s your team? Ya hypocrite.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          I’m interested in when I have ever bought stock in Indiana University. I do not contribute to them, and I have written at least as many posts critical of Indiana as positive. You are assuming facts not in evidence.

  8. Steven Jones

    If someone had the guts and money to hire a private eye and send him to UK for a while a lot would surface. I know one kid in Chicago who was recruited by CAL and he has stories. Parents of UK recruits suddenly driving fancy cars, etc. are known on the street but nobody wants to get the proof. And the defense that everyone else does it is never a defense for your own lack of ethics.


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