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The Thirst Seems Real with John Calipari


It’s kinda cool not being a member of the media but still having a small following of friends who dig what I do. It affords me the luxury of freedom that legitimate members of the media do not possess. I do not have to answer to anyone but myself, I cannot be fired from my own site. Hell, I may be the only person that reads this, and if that’s the case then so be it. Venting is cathartic even in a vacuum. I don’t expect Duke to clap back at John Calipari so allow me to retort

It’s fair to say I’ve never liked John Calipari, like ever. I would say most of it stems from just knowing people like him – I’ve always been the type of person who reads quite well between the lines. I don’t have many talents but the ability to size someone up rather quickly based on their words and actions is well within my skill set. I’m not going to go into what I know and what I do not know about how he recruits. I will simply go into what is out there for public consumption. Everyone knows there is a bit of a recruiting battle between Kentucky and Duke over 5 star center prospect Marques Bolden. Kentucky will very likely land the 6’10 Bolden and that’s perfectly OK as neither team will suffer from a lack of talent. Securing a commitment from Bolden by either team assures that team of landing the number one recruiting class – for some reason that is a coveted title to have. I’ve never really cared as a fan about the number or recruits or the ranking, but rather what needs were filled, but as with most things Calipari it’s all about marketing: if you can market yourself as always having the number one recruiting class then it becomes a recruiting tool. I don’t see anything wrong with that honestly, it’s a smart play, but this latest cycle of recruiting has seemed to take a personal turn with the Kentucky coach throwing subtle and not so subtle jabs at Coach Mike Krzyzewski. First it was a sweaty Cal working out and showing how fit and ready he is and mentioning how long we would coach (apparently to raise concerns about the health of Coach K and his waning years left in coaching), then the latest barb because a recruit mentioned that Kentucky’s only selling point to him was the NBA thing and that Duke offers more in terms of a family atmosphere and an alumni brotherhood and a much more highly regarded educational reputation. Well I would say to Calipari, you talked to this same recruit, you had every opportunity to mention the glorious academic achievements of Kentucky. Not sure if you mentioned your first Kentucky squad and the woeful academic performance and how the President of the university was disappointed in the output. I give credit as it has not been a problem since but honestly we all know it never should have been.

I would say if John Calipari is as great a coach and player advocate as he claims to be, why do you feel the need to sink to a level of shade-throwing that a common homer fan would? It speaks volumes. It’s all about the player, but only if Cal can frame the story. When it suits him and his reputation, sure, it’s all about the player. When he was in a rush to make it known to the press that Patrick Patterson was forgoing his eligibility to enter the draft before his mother (Tywanna Patterson) even knew and then not return her call, was that all about the player? Or was that about making sure the incoming class felt secure about their positions? Perhaps John Calipari wasn’t very secure about his own.

As a coach, if you can’t be above the petty fray, what does that say about you? What does it say that you allow your baser instincts be it jealousy, anger, or what have you to take over? In Duke’s championship year, when Kentucky was beaten by West Virginia ending what could have been a Duke vs Kentucky matchup, the excuse was used that his team was looking ahead. Who says that? If that is the case, what does it say about you as a coach? Or maybe it was in your grab bag of excuses. Perhaps it was the only way you could frame a defeat so that you still looked like the better team, the better coach.

I keep hearing the term, “It’s all about the player,” was it all about the player when 6 players moved on after Calipari showed up in UK or better yet asked to move on? Of course we know that scholarships are one year contracts, but you would expect or at least hope as a coach and a human being you would honor those players that were there prior to your arrival. It was all about Calipari, all about winning. Here’s a quote directly from one of those players that moved on: “It hurt because I feel like I abided by the rules. I did everything I was supposed to do. I went to class every day. I didn’t fail any tests. For following my part of the contract, they should follow theirs.” Hmmmm.

It’s clear that Calipari has seen a lot of players come through and get drafted, had a lot of number 1 recruiting classes, and he’s won a lot of games, not championships but nonetheless a lot of games. It makes one wonder why the pettiness? Why the thirst?


  • Kevin Graysays:

    It’s the classic story of GOOD (Duke) VS EVIL (Uk)

  • Bill Harrillsays:

    I have not commented on BB publically for many, many years. However, with Calamari, enough is enough. If you look at his legacy, or the messes he made at Umass and Memphis, his past performance speaks volumes. Calamari is currently in a position of power. He has positioned himself to go to a school which was desperate for another Adolph Rupp. They wanted wins and more banners to hang from the rafters. Calamari was their man.
    Yes, he gave them an NCAA championship. Will he be able to deliver another one? Probably doubtful. Why? One reason is I think that he will do the Pitino shuffle before long. When the right bag of cash is waved under his nose, he will be gone. Had Pitino stayed at Kentucky, he probably would have amassed a better record that Coach K. I could be wrong with that statement but fundamentals were in place for that to happen. Make no mistake, I am no fan of Pitino either. He was on the fast track lane to success, which is one reason the Celtics wanted him so bad. Had he been able to deliver in the NBA, maybe I might have a different opinion of him. Just when it looks like it appears that he atoned for his past, he screws some slut on a table in a bar. His team had a harem to service their sexual wants and desires. Yet, he didn’t know.
    This kind of like Penn State. There was enough smoke present for Paterno to have known. New findings are coming to light that looks like he did know. But that is not part of the discussion here.
    I coached young kids in basketball for a number of years. Some with NBA aspirations, some that just liked to play basketball and some that were there because their parents pushed them into it. If you take the category of players that are looking to go to the NBA, the first thing that you have to tell a player is, this is what you are looking at. Number one, there are only so many places at the table in the NBA. 250,000 slots in high school basketball, 14,000 in college and maybe 700 in the NBA. Your chances of playing professional ball continually diminish from high school on. Even then, if you can be drafted, only a couple will actually make it to a team. The ones that might make it, or should something happen to a main stream player might be put into a development league, or you could play overseas. Number two, the talent pool that is available to the NBA is larger than it has ever been. Like soccer, basketball is now a global sport. It’s not like the old days where players from other countries has some size and a minor basketball skill set. Now, players from all over the world are in the NBA. Number three, you have to be a team player. If you are not a team player, you will not make it. No matter how good your skills are, if you are not a team player, the talent poll out there nowadays will put you out to pasture. A good example is Allen Iverson. To me, Iverson was nothing but a bum and a thug. Yes, he had skills to play basketball. But he was not a team player. He was only into himself. If you look at one of his contemporaries, Michael Jordan, Jordan had heart. Jordan had the attitude of a winner. Iverson wanted to win, but not for himself. Before Chicago started winning championships, one thing that you could see was that Jordan was doing everything he could to make the entire team play as a unit. After the fact, meaning when you hang up he basketball shoes, Iverson is a penniless bum after going through $250m and Jordan has built an empire for himself. The difference is character building. Your inner character has to be as dedicated as your desire to be a basketball player. Number four, as Coach K says, basketball is a mental game. Yes, you need to be physically prepared to play the game. You have to be a runner. If you do not have physical and mental stamina to play the game, no matter how good your skill set is you will not be a winner. It takes heart, it takes stamina. By the time you are ready to make the transition from high school to college, all the fundamentals are there. Some kids can step onto a college gym floor and not even miss a beat. Some have nothing but inner fears and trepidations to overcome before their game returns to normal. A lot of the one and done kids can step on the court and play at or above a college level. Make no mistake, there are some that cannot and end up with splinters in their ass. One of the main things as a coach is that you have to instill in your players to be fearless. Fear can be broken down into various layers, fear of not living up to the coaches expectation, fear of not getting enough playing time, fear of letting the team down and so on. These fears can turn into slumps of various kinds. What a player has to understand is that a coach sees and understands a players potential. A coach does his best to set the stage for the player to realize his potential, if a player fails to realize that potential, maybe, in a way, he fails the coach, but, ultimately, he fails himself.
    This is what I have issue with at Calamari’s NBA factory. This suede shoe salesman comes into town with his glitzy show of pipe dreams and glamour to a young kid. The young kid and his parents listen to all this shit and swallow it hook, line, sinker and fishing pole. If you look at the legacy that K has built in his tenure with all of his past players, he has become what he used to hate. In his early years at Duke, there was no love lost between Dean Smith and Coach K. Then things changed, with K’s tenure and development in the ACC. In the early years, the ACC was Dean Smith. Dean left an incredible legacy with all of his players up towards the end of life. I am not saying that K didn’t either from the beginning as his mentor was Bobby Knight. But if you look at how K has mentored and helped his players after the fact, there is not much difference between K and Dean. If you bring Calamari into the equation, he whines about K having an unfair advantage in recruiting because of the USA team. Where is Calamari’s legacy? There is a reason that NBA players want their kids playing for K. Look at the tremendous respect NBA players have for K. Do you think that it is some type of honorary position where he just sits on a bench where he doesn’t even get a medal for coaching the USA team? It’s like Pitino, the reason he failed in the NBA was not because he wasn’t a good coach, he just didn’t know how to coach in the NBA. It is not easy dealing with mature egos and a team of highly skilled athletes and then getting them to play together, in harmony, as a team and be successful. This is where Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson come in. There is no question in my mind that K would not even miss a beat if he ever were to go to the NBA. Calamari is another question. He whines about K being the USA coach, yet, he has not shown the basketball community any reason to invite him to the table.
    Fifth reason, basketball players are more skilled and less skilled than they ever were. Yes, it is a different game from the game I grew up with. There was no such thing as a 1-5 man. As the game evolved, Pete Maravich made a statement, Kareem Abdul Jabbar made a statement, Bill Walton made a statement, Julius Erving made a statement, Spencer Haywood made a statement, Michael Jordan made a statement, Christian Latener made a statement. I could go on and on as there are countless others that could be named that have had a major impact on the game of basketball. One player that I never really liked was Dennis Rodman. Rodman was one of the best rebounders in the NBA, similar to Bill Russell, at least in terms of rebounding. One thing that both men understood about rebounding was anticipation. Yes, boxing out helps. But if you can anticipate where the ball is going to go if the shot does not go, meaning if you can figure our where to position yourself, you are ahead of the game. Does one really think that Rodman could magically be in the right place at the right time to, consistently, pull down 20 plus rebounds night after night?
    Here is the fundamental problem that basketball at the college level faces until either the young players give something, the NBA gives something and the NCAA gives something. Otherwise, the game will always have bottom feeders like Calamari giving college basketball a bad name. If you remember when Bobby Knight was calling games, it took awhile for people to notice that he never said Calamari’s name. When he called a Kentucky game, he always referred to Calamari as the coach of Kentucky.
    The NBA is fully aware of the situation they have created and continue to create. Their answer was to establish a 19 year old limit. Sooner or later this will either be removed or taken to court and challenged for the discriminatory rule that it is. For every Kobe Bryant, you will have 10,000 which fall by the wayside if they were to look to the NBA right out of high school. Then what? Once a kid would go through the draft, and fail to make a team, then what? Let’s assume that a kid was on the horizon for a college scholarship. For whatever reason, the kid assumes that he can walk on water and just ignores all other factors and goes full speed ahead towards the NBA and subsequently sinks faster than a lead sinker. Where is his future then? On the other hand, if I were a Kobe Bryant, for what would I need college for? Any more than a kid that sells his software program/app for $17m when he is 17. Should he have waited until he was 19?
    Look at Jason Williams, he left after three years. Was he ready for the NBA? Hardly, once he showed up, he was kind of mediocre. Maybe he would have been a better player if he were more mature. Meaning, he knew that he shouldn’t have bought his motorcycle. Yet, he did it anyway. Look what happened. Parker, goes into the NBA, can’t get through the year and tears a tendon. Of course, you could say that this can happen to anybody. Winslow, on the other hand, is like a freight train, he started slow in college, but once he got going, you cannot stop him. Okafor, definitely not ready. His playing was erratic and too immature. One thing that you need as a professional athlete is thick skin, which he has yet to develop. Then there is the 108mph incident. No, definitely not ready. Nor was he ready to walk into an NBA team that was in the gutter.
    Then there is Grayson Allen. Thank God he is not going early. Yes, this is a very talented kid. I am not totally familiar with his background, but he probably played high school football. He needs maturity and continunuity. He is getting there. Strong attitude, great heart for the game. He just needs to modify his attitude so he doesn’t become the Bill Lambier of college basketball. In terms of work ethic, I do not know of any athlete that works harder than Allen. Now, the reality of the situation. Allen is staying to get his degree instead of becoming an instant millionaire. Playing basketball is a short term career. The bigger and heavier you are, the more chance for structural injuries to occur. So what comes after basketball? Another Iverson or a Julius Irving or a Magic Johnson? The idea is to have a game plan for your life, something beyond basketball. What is the statistic? 78% of NFL players end up in bankruptcy? So, you want to play in the NBA, be a millionaire, then loose it all to go back and live with your parents or big one of the women that you treated like garbage when you were a big man on the block to give you a roof over your head?
    Coach K built his program on a four year by four year basis. This is what almost all coaches have done. Calamari comes along and builds his program at Kentucky on a year by year basis. I cannot see where he cares for the future or gives a damn about his players. My issue with the one and done situation is what comes after?
    This is my problem with Calamari. I do not see the continuity in him or his program with his former players. Yes, he has an NBA mill, but, so far, he has yet to establish himself as a Coach K or Coach Smith. Look at the former players who have played for K and are coaching many colleges. Some played in the NBA, some didn’t. The man takes care of his players. Nobody knows what happened to Cherokee Parks, other than the fact he went off the deep end. If he ever needed help, K would be the first to help him get back on his feet.
    In a way, there is a curse about being an athlete, just like being a musician, or an actor. If you don’t have any other skills or are just plain lazy, you will starve during lean times. If you become too one dimensional, you are not good for anything else. There is no doubt that Pete Maravich was the greatest college basketball player ever – so far. Maybe his record will someday be broken as records are made only to be broken. Difficult to happen if players do not hang around long enough to break a record. What is not said about Pete Maravich is that he was, let’s say functional literate, but when it came to book smarts, on the dumb side. Only two things mattered to Pete, basketball and women. Had he paid more attention to his school work, he could have passed the entrance exam at NC State. Since it was father and son deal, this is why the deal went down at LSU where the score on the entrance exam was of little concern. If you have a successful sports career, you better hope that you didn’t make enough, but saved enough for old age.
    When I was growing I knew and met a number of professional athletes. My father went to Davidson and the Duke so I have a connection with both schools. He was instrumental in getting Lefty Driesell hired on at Davidson. He was a member of local sports club. I went there a few times with him to the luncheons. One time he got Mike Malloy as a guest speaker for the group when Mike was playing for the Virginia Squires. Then there was another guy, a guy named Billy Scripture. In high school, we had a substitute show up in our science class. It was Billy Scripture. None of us could believe it. Here was a guy, one of the toughest men ever in professional sports. An ACC man to boot. None ever with more heart. He just could not crack the ice to get into the big league but he never got the chance he deserved. Was he good enough? Yes, without a doubt. It’s almost like someone in professional baseball blackballed him. Anyone else would have given up. He never did. What an athlete. What an inspiration. Point being, in those days, you were an athlete because you loved it. You were good at it. You would do anything to be able to play your sport. The great majority of sports figures had to have part time work to survive or a very understanding and sympathetic boss. There were very few Babe Ruths or Wilt Chamberlins of the day. The grim reality was that you had to work to survive. Then along came Julius Irving. He paved the way for athletes to make a living playing sports. Of course, the ‘hardship’ portion was all bullshit. It was just a way to get him through the door since he wanted to leave early.
    Before, I finish, I would like to say that the overall skill level of basketball players has improved, but not so in the area of fundamentals. I think that basketball players of yesteryear were in better shape overall. The game was played at a faster pace, unless you played for Frank McGuire. Suddenly, you had people meddling in the game, wanting to make things ‘fair’, where the alternate ball position deal came in. Then nobody wanted to play center. Everybody wanted to be a power forward or a point guard. It is difficult to find someone that wants to learn how to play basketball with their back to the hoop. It is difficult to find a true center. Yes, there are players out there that have center skills, but they are not centers. As an example, player to player, if you were to put Shaq up against Wes Unseld, I would give the nod to Unseld even though he was smaller height wise. He was a true center.
    Calamari is an opportunist. I hope that he soon one day wakes up and smells the coffee. Doubtful as the leopard is nearing sixty. It is young lives that he is playing with. The parents of these kids do not know any different either. He goes on the road with his medicine man show and lures them in. Yet, how do you go back and explain to the kids that played for him that their participation in their college games are nothing but vacated losses. Anymore than you could explain to Penn State players why their hard fought victories were vacated for something that they had nothing to do with?
    So what else does Calamari have left in his tank other than to take shots at K to induce players to come to him? He has never dealt from the top of the deck so what else can one expect from a bottom feeder. If you look at Calamari, he is K’s junior by ten years Let’s look at Calamari in ten years and see what he looks like. If you stand them next to each other, they look about the same age wise. No, K does not dye his hair. If he did, there would not be gray hairs present on his head. He is in great shape for 68. His issues are structural. Knees wear out, hips wear out. K is the type of guy to go do something himself first before he asks others. So what it the guy picked something up and got a hernia? I don’t know why he has a hernia, but one thing I know for sure is that a hernia operation and a knee replacement are both very painful. Not to mention having both procedures being done back to back. One thing I am sure that Calamari has yet to take into consideration is that K was coaching the entire season in pain. No doubt these things have been bothering him for sometime. I cannot blaming him for putting things off as long as you can. I think even a bad knee is better than an artificial one until it gets to the point that your body gives you no choice but to do something about it. You never heard K complain about his pain once. I am sure that Calamari would have let every sports reporter in the nation know that, if I were him, he was coaching in incredible pain. He probably would have sold tickets to watch his operation on line, if he were to have one.
    If I were a perspective young man trying to figure out where to go or what to do, I remember a point in one of the Indiana Jones movies where Indiana Jones was in a cave with an old knight and a Nazi. The Nazi picks a cup and dies a horrible death, the old knight says, “he chose poorly.” Then it was Indiana Jones’ turn, he picked, he drank and the old knight said, “you have chosen wisely.” One was prepared, the other was not. One followed facts, the other followed glamor and glitter.

  • Bill Harrillsays:

    Please note that this is my opinion concerning Mr, Calamari. I felt that I had to post since it seems like you are not getting enough commentary on your site.

  • Thanks for the addition, commentary is optional – people are reading it and commenting on twitter so that works for me.

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