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Rumors Swirl That Calipari Will Leave Kentucky After This Season

john-calipari-would-you-trust-this-man-faceEach spring the sun comes out, flowers blossom, birds chirp, and John Calipari is rumored to be headed to the NBA.  Every.  Single.  Year.

Only this time the Coach Cal rumors are arriving a bit early.

According to KentuckySportsRadio.com, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said yesterday on “Pardon The Interruption” that he believes Calipari will leave Kentucky after this season.  Then this morning Dan Patrick cited on his radio show a source close to the UK program who says Calipari could leave after the year:

 

Dan Patrick talks about John Calipari 3/04/14

 

Perhaps Calipari is ready to bail out on the UK job because his last two squads have disappointed.  The 2012-13 Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament and fell to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.  His current Cats — once aiming for “perfection” — now have eight losses on the season, five in the SEC and one to a South Carolina team that’s just 4-12 in league play.  That’s not what Big Blue fans want to see.

Calipari might be ready to leave because of those Everest-high fan expectations.  And signing five NBA prospects each year doesn’t exactly lower the bar for a coach.  Especially at a school where anything less than a Final Four trip is viewed as a failed season.

Calipari got the heave-ho via technical fouls during Kentucky’s loss at Carolina last weekend.  He then by-passed his postgame press conference.  A sign that pressure is getting to UK’s boss?  Or just an opportunity for folks to get in some digs?

Kentucky’s coach said all the right things yesterday, taking the blame for the Cats’ recent woes and refusing to “put this on 18-, 19-year-old kids.”  Whether or not he’ll be coaching another group of 18-, 19-year-old kids in Lexington next year is anyone’s guess.  Hell, Coach Cal could have had someone intentionally leak that he might leave in order to remind Wildcat fans to appreciate what they’ve got.  (Alabama’s Nick Saban did that very thing this past January by allowing Texas rumors to swirl for a week.)

But one thing’s for sure — the Calipari rumors are starting early this year.

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After Winning UK A Banner, Calipari Isn’t Slowing Down

So now that John Calipari finally has a championship banner for his collection — and for now it’s A-OK by NCAA standards — will the coach take a little bit more time to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labor?  Not according to Kentucky’s beloved coach:

 

“What I’m trying to do is spend even more time with the players.  I’m working harder than I have the last 10 years in recruiting, in preparation.  I want to be at all the practices and see all the things going on.  I don’t want to be seen as complacent.  Our whole staff is going harder this season.

I’ve spent more time calling, texting kids on the road.  I’m traveling and spending more time with the current players.”

 

Calipari also told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that he and the Wildcats aren’t working hard in order to defend last year’s title: “We’re not trying to defend anything.  The trophy is in the case.  That’s done.  We’re not trying to repeat.  Kyle Wiltjer played (just) 11 minutes a game last season.  Did you know of the 72 BCS schools, we’re the only school that doesn’t return a player who made a single start?”

While the rest of the world won’t shed too many tears for Coach Cal and his program built on one-and-done NBA stars, you can be sure Cat fans are loving every word their coach is saying.

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Kentucky Headlines – National Championship Edition

1.  Kentucky completed a dominant run through the NCAA Tournament by vanquishing Kansas last night.

2.  The Wildcats did their work as a true team.

3.  Point guard Marquis Teague showed poise beyond his years.

4.  Doron Lamb came up big versus the Jayhawks.

5.  Anthony Davis was dominant despite scoring just six points.

6.  UK’s young team showed their maturity in the end.

7.  John Calipari said he hopes “there are six first-rounders on this team.”

8.  But the Cats were in no hurry to make NBA decisions last night.

9.  Coach Cal says his next goal is to coach a team through an undefeated season.

10.  Kentucky fans and AD Mitch Barnhart asked for glory… and Calipari delivered.

11.  Now he’s ready to reload.

12.  The Wildcat coach has already provided the blueprint for a new age of college basketball.

13.  UK will hold a public celebration at Rupp Arena this afternoon.

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Cats, Calipari Capture Crown Number 8

Something feels a bit more right with the world today.  The reigning national champs in football and basketball are Alabama and Kentucky.  Depending on your own fan allegiances that may be Heaven or Hell for you, but it does feel right.  The two most tradition-rich programs in the SEC in their sports are atop their sports once more.

That hasn’t happened since UK won a hoops title under Joe B. Hall in 1978 and Bama won a football crown the following fall under Bear Bryant.

First, congrats to the Kentucky fanbase.  Call them zealous or fanatical.  Call them spoiled or snobby.  But you must admit no basketball fanbase travels with and supports their team better than Cat fans.  Kansas is the second-winningest program in hoops history yet the Superdome crowd was clearly pro-UK last night.  And Lexington is only about 75 miles closer to New Orleans than Lawrence, Kansas is.

So to those Cat fans who weren’t shot or arrested in Lexington last night — imbeciles — MrSEC’s hat is tipped to you.

Now, some random thoughts rattling around the rim of this writer’s mind this morning:


* Ya think Mitch Barnhart feels pretty good today?  Kentucky’s AD went all in with John Calipari.  Five years ago, Coach Cal wasn’t on Barnhart’s list of job candidates.  But after the complete failure that was the Billy Gillispie era, suddenly the Cats’ athletic director did consider Calipari.  He hired a man who many view as dirty — though the NCAA has never found Calipari guilty of anything — to head up one of the most scandal-ridden programs in basketball history. 

It was a risky move.  For now, it’s paid off as Calipari has not only brought Kentucky its eighth national championship, but he’s made UK the hoops program in America again.  He’s proved to be the perfect fit.  He’s Pitino Part II and it doesn’t look like he’ll be jumping to the NBA anytime soon.

Barnhart took a lot of national heat when he hired Calipari.  Today he must feel all the potshots were well worth taking.


* I guess we know now that a team largely built with freshman can win the NCAA Tournament.  When Calipari began heading down the one-and-done road three years ago, there was debate as to whether a team built with youngsters could hang a banner.

No more.  UK’s starting lineup last night consisted of three freshmen and two sophomores.  Last year, UConn won the crown with three freshmen in its lineup also.

Put the debate to bed.  In the transient sport of college basketball, the teenagers can indeed get it done on the biggest stage.


* But I can’t help wondering about Cat fans’ connection to their players.  You can bet Kentucky’s national championship team will be adored in the Bluegrass State for years to come, yes.  But if Calipari continues to bring in one-and-done types, will Big Blue fans even be able to remember one team from another 20 years from now?

In the old days — and I’m old — fans got to know their team.  They watched individual players grow up over three or four years.  It was easy to say, “Remember that ’83 team with Johnson, Smith, Davis, etc”

Kentucky fans have their eighth title.  No one’s going to be complaining today.  But come 2030 will fans remember who was on the ’10 team as opposed to the ’13 team?  That we don’t know.


*  Calipari’s coaching reputation has improved mightily at Kentucky.  And not just because he won a tournament last night.  Over the past three seasons, UK’s coach has three times taken a group of the nation’s best recruits and molded them into team-first, defense-first units.  In itself that is a remarkable feat.

The players Calipari signs are the best of the best.  They’re used to being coddled from middle school to high school to AAU ball to the recruiting process.  Yet he continues to get them to buy into his team-first mantra.

Immediately after last night’s game, CBS’ Jim Nantz asked Calipari what the national title meant to him.  “It’s not about me,” the coach quickly answered.  And when Nantz began his chat with Davis — the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player — the young big man immediately gave credit to his teammates.

In addition to creating an air of selflessness, Coach Cal gets his players to focus on defense first.  For the most part, these are young men who are used to being The Man in high school.  You don’t get five stars by your name unless you’re putting the ball in the bucket.  A lot.  Yet Kentucky under Calipari has continued to worry about defense more than offense.

Whether you like or dislike the Cats’ coach, you have to respect the way he connects with his young players and gets them to put team over self, defense over offense.


* This Kentucky team was not The John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins Show, either.  Davis was America’s best player.  But he shot 1-for-10 from the floor last night and scored just six points.  UK didn’t miss a beat in their 67-59 win. 

Night after night, UK always found another player who would step up.  Some nights it was Kidd-Gilchrist.  Other times Terrence Jones would lead.  Darius Miller was often the Cats’ saving grace.  And last night Doron Lamb’s outside shooting helped propel UK to victory.

The point being — this year’s team was even “teamier” than Calipari’s previous squads.  Is there any doubt that’s why this is the bunch that brought down the confetti?


* I couldn’t help thinking last night that it must have been a good time to be a Missouri fan.  The Tigers had a terrific year and Frank Haith was named the National Coach of the Year, but a belly-flop to #15 seed Norfolk State brought their season to a bitter end.  The only thing worse would have been to see hated rival Kansas claim a national title.  Instead, it was an SEC foe — a team from Mizzou’s new conference — that broke the Jayhawks’ hearts.  I’m guessing more than one Tiger fan took a little solace in that fact.


* Finally, you have your championship and you can yell, “Scoreboard!” til the cows come home, but UK fans should be prepared for the jibes and taunts of rival fans.  Calipari has seen two previous Final Four teams stripped of their histories.  You can bet the “this one will be vacated, too” remarks will be flying all over SEC messageboards and call-in shows today.

Auburn fans dealt with it after the Cam Newton mess.  Alabama fans have heard it thanks to the T-Town Menswear story.  It’s simply what we do in today’s society.  Heck, the losing party in presidential elections no longer accepts the new prez as their own nation’s leader.  No one unifies under the elected leader, they just continue to fight and undermine.

So be sure that those who detest UK will work long and hard to discredit and downplay this year’s national championship.

That just goes with the territory.

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UK-KU National Championship Headlines

Here’s what’s being said about the truly blue-blooded NCAA Tournament final between Kentucky and Kansas tonight…


1.  Tonight’s battle will be about as tradition-rich as you can get.

2.  It’s a matchup of legendary proportions.

3.  Fans of both teams have been cordial leading up to the game.

4.  John Calipari is focused on tonight’s game, not past losses (like his Memphis team’s title-game loss to Bill Self and Kansas in 2008)…

5.  But a win would end the biggest criticism of Coach Cal’s record.

6.  For that matter, is everyone rooting against Calipari and Kentucky?

7.  As usual, it’s being said plenty’s at stake for the Cats’ coach.

8.  The closer Kentucky gets to the national crown, the less Calipari talks about winning one.

9.  Kansas’ Self knows all about UK after losing to them back on November 15th.

10.  Expect tonight’s game to go to the toughest team.

11.  Kentucky’s freshman are continuing their amazing run.

12.  This writer says a win would make them the best freshman class ever.

13.  Don’t expect Calipari to apologize for building his team with one-and-doners.

14.  In fact, this writer says you can blame the NCAA for one-and-dones.

15.  UK’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has worked to overcome a speech impediment that’s plagued him since childhood.  And he’s done so bravely.  Good for him.

16.  Terrence Jones looks to finish what he started last year.

17.  Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson have been mighty impressive this season.

18.  Davis has made the unibrow cool.

19.  After an embarrassing night following UK’s win over Louisville Saturday, Lexington police are preparing for postgame nonsense.

20.  All signs point to a Kentucky victory…

21.  But if the Wildcats aren’t careful… upsets can happen.

22.  A lot of people stand to cash in after tonight’s game.

23.  And in case you’re wondering, no, you’re not the only one who thinks a 9:23pm ET tip time is flippin’ ridiculous.

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UK And Calipari To Meet Louisville And Pitino In Semis; How Great Would That Game Have Been In The Finals?

The NCAA Tournament — by its sheer design — creates wonderful storylines and incredible sideshows each and every season.  For three rounds, small schools most folks have never heard of take down a few giants.  Then over the last three rounds, the biggest fish swallow up the remaining guppies which leaves coaches to face their old schools, local rivals to meet, and feuding program-runners to do battle with one another.

Thanks to Louisville’s tight win over Florida on Saturday and Kentucky’s blowout victory over Baylor yesterday, all three of those things will occur in New Orleans at the Final Four:


Coach facing old school: Check.  Rick Pitino versus Kentucky.

Local rivals meeting:  Check.  Kentucky versus Louisville.

Feuding coaches doing battle:  Check.  John Calipari versus Pitino.


The only downside to this  Battle of the Bluegrass State?  It’s slated for the national semifinals and not the actual final game.  And let’s face facts, that would be an even bigger, even better storyline.

Kentucky’s run this season has been dominant.  Calipari is looking for his first ever national title.  What could be better for Cat fans than capturing their first national crown since 1998 against Louisville and ex-UK coach Pitino?

On the flipside, imagine the pain Kentucky fans would feel if their latest “best shot” at a title was undone by those same Cards and that same turncoat — in most Cat fans’ eyes — coach.

Even in a sport that gives us electric, emotional storylines every March, such a set-up would provide the potential for the greatest mood swing in modern sports history.  Toss in the fact that there’s little love lost between Coach Cal and Ricky P and the finals would shatter television ratings records across the Commonwealth.

Don’t get me wrong, Saturday’s matchup will still be a doozy and one bitter rival will send the other bitter rival packing.  Calipari or Pitino will still block the other’s pursuit of a title. 

Oh, but if that Kentucky-Louisville game were still a possibility for Monday’s championship game?  Bedlam.  Complete and utter bedlam.  Suicide hotlines would have to add extra staffing.  Police in Louisville and Lexington would have to unbox their riot gear in preparation. 

Saturday will be fantastic for basketball fans inside and outside Kentucky’s state lines.  But a clash in Monday’s finals would have been seismic.  If only those brackets could be redrawn today.

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UK’s Calipari Pushes Assistant Payne For MSU Job

While Murray State’s Steve Prohm has been mentioned most prominently in connection with the head coaching vacancy at Mississippi State, the name of a current SEC assistant has also been kicked around a bit.  Yesterday, John Calipari did some of the kicking.

Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne is a Mississippi native and Coach Cal thinks his aide would be a good fit at MSU:


“You’re not ready to be a head coach unless you’re ready to say no and ready to create discipline in these kids’ lives, and (Payne) is.  He’s probably tougher on our kids than I am and recruiting speaks for itself.  And he grew up there.  He would be a good choice…

He’s going to have opportunities… Someone is going to say, you know what, we need this program to go to another level.”


Calipari already has a number of ex-assistants who’ve moved on to coach elsewhere.  Bruiser Flint washed out at UMass but he almost got Drexel into the NCAA tourney this year.  Josh Pastner did get Memphis to the Big Dance this year, though they washed out in the first round.  And Tony Barbee is about to begin his third year of rebuilding at Auburn.

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UK’s Calipari Disappointed By SEC’s Lack Of NCAA Bids

All season, Kentucky’s John Calipari has tried to pump up the reputation of the SEC.  He’s said good things about one rival program after another.  The simple explanation?  Talking up the SEC helps his own program when it comes to national reputation and discussions of schedule strength.

But already in the NCAA Tournament as the overall #1 seed, there was no longer a need for Coach Cal to praise his leaguemates on today’s SEC coaches’ teleconference.  But he continued to do so:


“I was sick to my stomach when Mississippi State lost, I was sick to my stomach when Tennessee lost, because then I felt Mississippi was gonna have to beat Vandy to get in.  I felt Tennessee, if they had won that (Ole Miss) game, they would have been in.  Some of it falls on us coaches, we have to take care of business, and there are games our teams have to got to win.

The things Tennessee did all year, I’m still convinced they are an NCAA team.”


When you’re so supremely confident that your program is the untouchable best in the SEC — and these past three years, Calipari’s has been — you can probably afford to speak very well of others.  Let’s face it, he’s not had to worry too much about recruiting battles with his rival SEC coaches since taking over in Lexington.  So there’s no reason not to pat ‘em on the back.

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UK’s Calipari Wants Officials To Call “Rough Play”

Since SEC play began, John Calipari has been goading his team to show more toughness in the face of physical play.  While the Wildcats have opened league play with seven consecutive wins and grabbed the nation’s #1 ranking, Coach Cal still isn’t thrilled with Kentucky’s physicality.

Apparently it’s time to call in some help.

Calipari said yesterday that he wants officials to start calling more fouls lest there be an increase in flagrant, dangerous fouls league-wide:


“My whole point is if you don’t call rough play, that’s what it goes to.  You’ve got to call rough play… We don’t want it to be a rough-house, win-in-the-weightroom game.  That’s now how we play.”


Timing is everything.  Kentucky hosts Tennessee tonight, a team that Calapari said out-physicaled his team in a close loss in Knoxville two weeks ago.  The coach said he expects a “hand-to-hand kind of deal” from the Volunteers this time around.  No wonder than that he’s already trying to get the officials to be on the lookout for that type of rough-and-tumble play.

Vol fans will claim Calipari’s being whiny.  Cat fans will claim he’s being wise.  But in reality, officiating probably won’t make that big of a difference tonight.  On paper, Kentucky is third in SEC play in scoring defense while Tennessee is just 10th in SEC play in scoring offense.

If form holds, Tennessee will have to get Jason Bourne-style physical in order to make up for its lack of scorers.

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NCAA Officiating Coordinator Makes It Clear UK’s Calapari Isn’t Up To Speed On The Block/Charge Rule

Yesterday we told you that Kentucky’s John Calipari was upset with the way officials were handling block/charge calls in Wildcat games.  For the season, UK has gotten nine charge calls to go their way… while they’ve been whistled for charging 39 times.  No wonder the coach was upset:

“If I’m in the act of shooting, but I haven’t left my feet, can (the defender) then slide in there,” Calipari asked.  “Because that’s what they’re doing.”

Well, uh, yeah.  The defender can.

Speaking to The Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday, John Adams — the NCAA national men’s basketball officiating coordinator — said what Coach Cal described could be “a legal defender.”


“Most people will tell you, ‘He was moving!’  It’s irrelevant. … There’s no standard of being set at the time of the contact.

To draw a charge, all a defender has to do is face his opponent (and) have both feet on the floor for an instant.  After which, he can move to maintain legal guarding position.”


According to Adams, the defender can move left, right or backward depending on the movement of the ball-handler.  He cannot, however, move forward into the man with the ball. 

Adams has more to say about the block/charge call here… and it’s an interesting read. 

But regardless of the rule itself we still believe that when a block/charge goes in your team’s favor it’s a good call.  When it goes against your team, it’s bad call.  Pretty simple in our view.

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