Calipari the coach underrated, under-appreciated


By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com

Living in the heart of Kansas Jayhawks country as I do, the name "John Calipari" is like a swear word.

The Kentucky head coach angers Jayhawks fans almost as much as the Missouri Tigers and Bill Snyder do.

After all, Calipari often clashes in recruiting battles with Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self. And quite often, with the recent exception of Perry Ellis, Calipari is the winner in those battles.

Of course, this often elicits cries that Calipari is "only a recruiter" and that he "wins at all costs." It's not just KU fans who are guilty of that, as North Carolina, Duke and UCLA fans often whine about Calipari.

But whoever doubts Calipari the head coach is dead wrong and lacks true basketball knowledge.

Where do you start with Calipari?

First, he took Massachusetts and Memphis to Final Fours. That Massachusetts team was nothing special beyond Marcus Camby. Massachusetts the program has not been anything special since Calipari departed from there years ago.

Having watched a ton of Conference USA this year due to former Sumner Academy Sabres guard Neil Watson being on a 22-4 Southern Mississippi team, I've witnessed the decline of Memphis basketball since Calipari left.

While the Memphis program is still getting some legit future NBA talent, the basketball record has not held up to the Calipari standards.

The Tigers are just 19-7 this season and have lost 27 games in the past three years since Calipari left. In Calipari's final four years at Memphis, the Tigers lost just 13 games.

Since Calipari arrived at Kentucky in 2009, the Wildcats' record has been 90-13.

Most of those 90 wins at Kentucky have come off the backs of freshmen and sophomores. Each year, Calipari has had to reload and put his stock in a group of freshmen and if he's lucky, one or two sophomores who decide to stay at Kentucky.

This is often overblowned as "talent being talent," but go back to Thomas Robinson's sophomore year. His stat was this: 2.5 points a game, 2.7 rebounds a game. Of course, that came in limited action and also came when the Morris Twins and Cole Aldrich were there.

Still, it shows that even the best players in basketball are not ready and the best programs in America are not ready for freshmen and sophomores to carry a program.

Calipari is making it work at Kentucky and he made it work in his final few years at Memphis.

When Calipari wins with "one and dones" after an uproar about how his system of winning is bad for the sport and how it wouldn't work, the goal posts are moved again and the claim is "he's supposed to win with all of that talent."

As someone who knows high school athletes, I witness how egos can change players. Most of KCK's players are good, but sometimes, simple letters of correspondence between a university and them can lead to inflated dreams about how they'll be ranked on Rivals, Scout and ESPN.

Imagine the egos of Top 10-20 recruits around the nation who Calipari recruits. They have Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana, Duke, Florida and Arizona knocking on their doors.

Yet, Calipari sells them on his system, puts the team together and usually cranks out a 30-win season annually.

Just take a look at this Kentucky Wildcats team and how he sold them how to play defense.

Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency, has the second best defense nationally when it comes to the shooting percentage of opponents, 21st in the nation in scoring defense and they rank top of the nation in the amount of blocks they have based on the percentage of defensive possessions.

Selling defense and the need to play defense to high-profile freshmen is not a very easy thing to do.

Calipari, however, makes it look easy.

For that reason, it boggles my mind why Calipari usually gets no run in the coach of the year race - ever.

As good as both Jayhawks head coach Bill Self and Missouri Tigers head coach Frank Haith have done, both coaches are relying on juniors and seniors. Roy Williams at North Carolina is doing the same thing.

Relying on seniors and juniors is considerably easier than relying on a group of freshmen and sophomores each year.

It's time for college basketball fans universally to give Calipari the respect his record and success deserves.