Sorry, John Calipari is the best coach in college basketball — and it's not even close as Final Four looms
ARLINGTON — The Best Coach In College Basketball doesn't give sanctimonious speeches about the priceless value of a college education. He doesn't give self-serving talks about churning out future lawyers, doctors and public servants.
No, John Calipari knows he's developing elite-level basketball players. He's comfortable with that. The University of Kentucky's coach embraces it. He's built a program selling it in living rooms.
Which is no small reason why he's turned himself into the very best coach at this level.
He's pushed and cajoled Kentucky to ultra-close wins over Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan — teams that all played Final Four-worthy themselves.
Oh, Calipari makes some noise about not appreciating the "one and done" label at this introductory North Texas Final Four press conference Thursday. But he doesn't want to change the system of freshmen basketball stars leaving college after one season.
Are you crazy? The Master Of The One And Done just wants to relabel it into something nicer sounding, something more marketer friendly.
Typical Cal. Sure, he's a little two-faced, but who isn't in major college athletics when you think about it?
Calipari is less fake than most big-time college basketball coaches and high school stars recognize this. They trust the man whom the rest of America and the NCAA (see Calipari's vacated Final Four runs with UMass and Memphis) often clearly can't quite stomach.
This is a big reason why Kentucky's new-age Fab 5 freshmen are still standing in the Final Four. All the Dick Vitale-favored, supposedly pristine coaches — many with even more heralded freshmen — are home, watching. And you can bet they'll be grinding their teeth if Calipari and his kids are cutting down the nets on Monday night.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski couldn't get past his first NCAA tournament game with Jabari Parker. Kansas coach Bill Self failed to guide supreme talent Andrew Wiggins — the likely No. 1 pick in this June's NBA draft — past the tournament's first weekend. North Carolina's Roy Williams lost to a crippled team in his second tournament game.
Arizona coach Sean Miller blew a game for the Final Four with Aaron Gordon, just minutes from earning a ticket to the supersized wonders of Jerry World.
Yet, John Calipari's here with an eighth seed. He's pushed and cajoled Kentucky to ultra-close wins over Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan — teams that all played Final Four-worthy themselves.
"We got here through an absolute mine field and happened to not step on a mine," Calipari said Thursday.
That's coaching — whether anyone wants to admit or not.
Kentucky's Basketball Empire
Calipari is no miracle worker. He does a good job of making sure he has more talent than anyone. That's recruiting — which also happens to be a huge part of being an elite college basketball coach.
Calipari is less fake than most big-time college basketball coaches and high school stars recognize this.
Kentucky came into the season as the No. 1-ranked team in America. One could argue the Wildcats vastly underachieved during the regular season and are simply finally playing to their talent level in March.
The problem with that argument is it completely ignores the fact that most super talent-packed teams that struggled and sputtered to a double-digit regular season loss total would have been long shot before the Big Dance ever began. A self-important Krzyzewski or a Williams would have ground this team down to dust, pushing harder and harder until there was no confidence left.
Calipari let his talented, Texas-heavy team — Kentucky stars Julius Randle (Plano) and Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Houston) give the Wildcats a starting lineup that's 60 percent Lone Star State — breathe and grow. Even Coach Cal's often-mocked, simple designed plays out of timeouts — telling freshman Aaron Harrison to just rise up and take a 3-point shot to beat Michigan in the Elite Eight for example — instill belief.
It's more the stuff of a self-help coach than a brain surgeon.
"How did you know I was seeing a psychiatrist?" Calipari cracked at one point in his press conference.
Calipari annoys other coaches, annoys the NCAA, annoys self-righteous college basketball commentators — it's what he's always done. I once watched Calipari scream at Michael Jordan as he coached the New Jersey Nets in a playoff series they had no chance of winning against His Airness. Jordan never let him forget it the rest of the series either.
John Calipari always brought the theater. Now he brings the coaching skill to match. He's almost proudly lugged all that baggage with him to North Texas and you can be certain that the Best Coach In College Basketball's impact will be all over this Final Four.
"I used to be the young," Calipari said. "Now, I'm the old guy."
It's good to be the best — no matter how many people hate you.