Every once in a while, something happens in sports that makes you shake your head, and shout out “Seriously ???” to no one in particular. I had that very reaction when I heard that John Calipari was being inducted into the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame.
How could such an august body make such an incredible blunder, and in doing so, spit in the face of everything that is good, true, and beautiful about college basketball ???
So, please allow me to outline why I think that this is the current biggest travesty in the sport …
A. There are only 5 active coaches enshrined in the Hall of Fame:
- Coach K, the undisputed “winningest” coach of all time …
- Larry Brown, currently with SMU …
- Jim Boeheim, of Syracuse …
- Roy Williams of North Carolina …
- Rick Pitino, presently at Louisville …
Does any right-minded college basketball fan, with decades of watching our sport, really think the name of John Calipari deserves to be uttered in the same breath as these greats ???
If you don’t believe me, check out the retired coaches in the Hall of Fame. You will be astounded that this man was inducted, and his career will stand next to theirs.
Oh, and speaking of his career, here are some highlights:
B. When he was the Head Coach at UMASS, their 1996 Big Dance appearance and win were vacated. Regardless of what anyone tells you, the Head Coach is the leader of his team, so he is responsible for this, in full or in part. I’ll bet UMASS paid no attention to his induction !!!
C. Interestingly, to insulate himself from the UMASS scandal, he left UMASS to deal with his failings and grief. He took a job with the New Jersey Nets, where he was an abject failure. The degree of his failure was such that he was fired, and left to accept an Assistant’s job with Larry Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers.
D. Eventually, he found another college looking for a Head Coach. This time, Memphis was his stop, and he brought all his potions. His teams did quite well, that is until crunch time, when they endemically missed Free Throws. Further to the problems, there were vacated wins, and appearances in the Big Dance due to fraud allegations surrounding player recruiting. Once again, he cared not about a player’s academics.
I must stress that I have always considered the Head Coach responsible for everything that goes on with his players, so his complacency must be duly noted. If you don’t believe me, just ask the NCAA, who has created a violation of a “… failure to maintain an atmosphere of compliance …” in their ByLaw #188.8.131.52 which also notes that: “… a head coach is presumed to have knowledge of all activities, including non-compliant activities, occurring within his or her programme …”
Thus, they have striped away any defense of “plausibility deniability”…
Calipari would depart under the cover of darkness, mute about the subject, leaving Memphis high and dry. He cared not about his contract, nor loyalty to the people who hired him out of the abyss of unemployment !!!
They would also suffer the wrath of the NCAA, but in my book, they should have come down hard on Calipari. America has had a “Teflon President” and a “Teflon Don” so I say we now have a “Teflon Coach” who was wrongly inducted in to the Hall of Fame.
By the Way: When Memphis heard of his induction, they very publicly cancelled any observance of his being there. It’s kind of like the Professor in “Moonstruck” who instructed his Waiter to “… take everything away, remove any reminder of her …” This was the angst that still lingers in Memphis !!!
E. It was at Memphis that I gave him the moniker of “Cal-the-Lip” because he, in my estimation, was all talk, so please indulge me if I use this moniker henceforth.
He would recruit kids and tell them he would guarantee they would get to the NBA. He didn’t talk about an education … instead, he talked about an instant pathway to the NBA. Hence, he became the propitiator of the “One-and-Done” recruit. A kid who came to college only because the NBA wouldn’t let him in right out of High School. A kid who only needed to mislead his Professors until the last game of the season, then never to darken the door of a classroom again. His coaching credentials were suspect, but boy-oh-boy, could he sell a kid on a path to those greenbacks !!!
Personally, I consider him immoral, unethical, and nefarious. He is the purveyour of the worst message to kids all over the country – That basketball alone will get you to “The Big Time” where money grows on trees, even if you are a functional illiterate. If you don’t believe me, just look at how many kids actually make it in the NBA versus the kids who never make it.
F. So, “Cal-the-Lip” would take his “Snake Oil Salesman” act, full of potions and promises. He would offer these to kids as an easy fix to stardom, by coming to Kentucky to do nothing but play ball. Grades and studies were for “others,” but not if you were in Cal’s programme !!! He would encapsulate his belief system to each recruit when he said “Win or lose at the college level, I can make you rich.”
Kentucky is a school that has had a variety of coaches thru the years. Most notably was Adolph Rupp, who was an avowed racist, refusing to recruit Black kids until he was essentially forced to in 1969. He was the coach during a famous point shaving scandal that caused the NCAA to give Kentucky the very first “death penalty.”
They had their “ups” and “downs” – The “ups” being Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith (a black coach rumoured to have been fired by pressure from racist alumni), and the “downs” being Tubby’s “successor” – Billy Gillispie and his alcohol problems.
The stage was set. A school hungry for wins and championships would sell their souls to a carpetbagger who would change college basketball for the worst. They hired a guy who was under constant scrutiny because of his basketball milieu … a personality who would always have asterisks all over his bio.
He would strip away the idea that a Student Athlete is a student first, and an athlete second. Matriculation was no longer important or a goal, just a path to the NBA. He essentially set the idea that college basketball is nothing more than a developmental league for the NBA, and no one noticed that, or cared because Kentucky won !!!
G. Remember now, that while “Cal-the-Lip” escaped from any type of punishment, those appearances and wins still stand vacated. They were never expunged, regardless of what Kentucky’s Publicity Department tells you !!!
H. Last, but certainly not least, was that infamous moment in 2010. After a mediocre season, “Cal-the-Lip” accompanying four (4) of his “one-and-done” players and one (1) Junior to the NBA Draft. They were all drafted. Afterward, he uttered:
“I’d like to say it is the biggest day in the history of Kentucky’s program … the biggest day for the University of Kentucky.”
Even Kentucky alums scoffed at his assertion. The most succinct comment was from Dan Issel, an iconic Hall of Fame Kentucky alum. He said:
“The dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” “If the goal is to be a feeder team for the NBA, maybe that was the greatest day. I thought the goal was to win a National Championship.”
Of course, he was forced to retract the statement, but I maintain that what a man says in an unguarded moment is a window to his mind, heart, and soul. Cal is not interested in anything else but being, as Issel said, ” … a feeder team for the NBA …” That is NOT what any sport, especially college basketball, ought to be about.
So, there you have it, my reasoning that college basketball. I simply do not understand why guys like Dick Vitale would elevate the equivalent of Rasputin to Hall of Fame level. Sure, Vitale would obsess on him because he showed up at gala “Jimmy V Foundation” fundraisers, but is it really faire ???
What grand contribution to college basketball, or basketball in general has “Cal-the-Lip” actually made ??? He won games, got plenty of his kids into the NBA. That is not what college sports and the Student Athlete is all about. The NCAA puts all those feel-good commercials during college games, but then they turn a blind eye to a charlatan like this guy ???
I think it is so terribly wrong that I asked Ro if I could please publish this article, with it being outside our normal focus, because SOMEONE needed to say it !!!
I’m open to any and all comments about my position, but please remember that we expect proper decorum. In other words, if you’re a gentleman or a gentlewoman, we welcome you and your thoughts on this.
Thank you for listening !!!
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