UConn takes the shining moment away from Calipari
Posted April 8, 2014
Fans in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill prefer holding their nose when it comes to Kentucky and their head coach John Calipari.
Each group has their reasons. Whether it's the decades-old competition the Wildcats have with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils or that one time the coach flirted with the idea of running with the Wolfpack (even touring their arena under the cover of darkness), success is not something folks around here wish for Kentucky.
It's not much better nationally. College basketball fans roll their eyes at the "40-0" shirts popping every preseason, ridiculous tattoos highlighting championships yet to be won and all the other silly things that emerge from a clique known as Big Blue Nation. There's the proclamation of every incoming freshman class to be greatest ever assembled by Calipari. The presence of World Wide Wes makes the entire operation unsavory for many observers. Then you've got Drake hanging around the program, which typifies the front-running nature of it all.
UConn denied Drake's favorite team of the moment from getting those trophies Monday night. Everyone who gleefully enjoyed Calipari's second championship bid at Kentucky coming up short can give thanks to superior guard play by the Huskies.
There would be no game-clinching three by Aaron Harrison this time. UConn applied enough defensive pressure throughout the contest to keep him and his brother Andrew in check. They combined for just 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting.
Compare their games to Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The duo essentially did what they wanted to do on both ends of the court, forcing turnovers early in the game and finishing with 36 points between them. Napier was an impressive 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, including a crucial three that kept the Huskies out in front, 51-47, with 6:54 left in the game.
Napier was awarded the most outstanding player of the Final Four. He also dropped the most outstanding line after the buzzer sounded, using his one shining moment to take a shot at the NCAA.
"I wanna get everybody's attention right quick," Napier said to Jim Nantz. "Ladies and gentlemen, you're looking at the Hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you banned us."
UConn was kept out of the NCAA Tournament last season due to a lagging APR.
Napier wasn't done talking about the NCAA after the nets were cut down and the masses moved to the locker room. He told Gary Parrish from CBS Sports, "They call us student-athletes, then they take us away from our school."
The senior, who won his second NCAA Championship with the Huskies, encapsulated the entire Final Four weekend in Dallas. As the spectacle gets larger, this time in Jerry Jones' incredible sports palace, the disconnect between money and amateur athletics gets bigger along with it. These games can't be enjoyed for what they are any more. Any conversation quickly reverts to NCAA largess.
And it always comes back to Calipari. The Kentucky coach is the shiniest object in the room, from his embrace of freshman players to NBA rumors.
Calipari has seen previous Final Four appearances at Massachusetts and Memphis vacated, yet those circumstances spoke to larger issues of NCAA governance that are now being addressed in the current news cycle. He's also taken great advantage of the current one-and-done rule, which is mutually exclusive to the antiquated notion of amateur athletics. The NCAA is doing a fine job destroying it on their own.
And unlike UConn, the Wildcats were back in the NCAA Tournament after a year off because Calipari's team simply wasn't good. The Huskies were barred from postseason play altogether due to academics. Go ahead and debate which is worse.
Regardless, the perception of "getting away with it" persists for Calipari.
Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun intimated as much on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Monday morning, saying "Calipari's] way, one-and-done, most institutions are not going to allow you to do what Kentucky does, but that’s okay."
Then again, most institutions don't attract the level of talent that Kentucky or Calipari can. All he's doing is taking advantage of the current system imposed by the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. Duke, North Carolina and Kansas recruit from the same pool of players and never have to deal with any of the angst directed at Kentucky.
Perhaps detractors aren't comfortable with the way Calipari veers off the tired idealist script. While he's clearly serving his own interests and managing a roster like every other coach, Calipari does it under the guise of upward mobility for the players. It's a different type of hustle, much like his new mantra of "succeed and proceed," that embraces the idea of players cashing out instead of leaving money on the table.
That's not to say another coach, like Mike Krzyzewski, would be against players doing what's best for them. Just look at Duke's recent track record with Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and potentially Jabari Parker or his stance against the NBA barring high school players from the draft. Even Roy Williams will bless an early departure when his NBA intel says it makes sense.
Calipari's tune about the Lakers could change in the coming weeks. If you're part of the camp that doesn't like the way this coach runs Kentucky's program, and to a certain extent runs college basketball's news cycle, pray the Mamba pulls Calipari to the pros.