UK Basketball notebook

UK hoops notebook: Calipari used to criticism

Calipari predicts that criticism will continue to come his way

Herald-Leader Staff WriterSeptember 13, 2009 

He's charismatic. He's charming. He's accomplished. He's smart and funny.

For all that, John Calipari sure draws a lot of criticism.

More than once during his tour to promote his self-help book, Bounce Back, Calipari acknowledged that he and his successful basketball programs attract derision.

He noted the phenomenon when the New Jersey Nets fired him as coach.

"When there's something with me, it becomes aggressive," he said as the tour began. "It must be how I am. I try not to be that way."

Calipari did not explain what quality he believed he possessed that irritated others.

But he's predicted again and again that the criticism will continue in 2009-10.

"Two years from now, there will be another situation I'll have to bounce back from," he said.

During an appearance on the Mike Francesa radio show on New York's The Fan last week, Calipari noted how his most successful Memphis team (2007-08) did not lack for skeptics. So, too, will his first Kentucky team, he said.

According to a transcript provided by the Francesa show, Calipari said of criticism leveled at the Memphis Final Four team, "It's not fair to them. But they all look at this, all of them are looking at this and saying 'No one's taking away from us and what we did.' "

Actually, in a judgment rendered this summer, the NCAA Committee on Infractions took away the 2008 Final Four appearance and the team's record 38 victories as punishment for playing an ineligible player, star freshman Derrick Rose.

Memphis is appealing that decision. Calipari told Francesa that he did not know during the 2007-08 season that serious questions had been raised about Rose's entrance exam score. That contradicted reporting that Memphis had been aware of the risk of playing Rose.

To combat its critics, Memphis went internal. It's a strategy Calipari apparently wants to adopt this coming season.

"We created our own happiness," he told Francesa. "I'm telling my Kentucky team right now, we're going to get it from all corners because right now it's on. We're gonna get it from all corners. We have to create our own happiness, and it's gotta come from us. ...

"That team loved each other. I gotta create that in this team."

Meanwhile, more fuel for the us-against-them theme came last week when columnist Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe criticized Calipari's inclusion in a function called Celebrate UMass Basketball.

"John Calipari is not something UMass needs to be promoting," Shaughnessy wrote. "Now or ever. ... If I were a UMass alum, I'd have bounced back the invitation with a letter of protest asking, 'Why are we honoring this guy?'"

Shaughnessy wrote of the 1996 Final Four appearance that UMass had to vacate because Marcus Camby later admitted accepting money and gifts from an agent.

UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon argued on behalf of Calipari, saying the former coach still supports the school's basketball program.

But McCutcheon conceded that Memphis having to vacate the 2008 Final Four appearance made for bad timing.

"Obviously the situation at Memphis is not a real positive thing in light of the timing of this event," McCutcheon told Shaughnessy. "But it's imperative that people realize Coach Calipari was not implicated in any of the issues at Memphis."

To which Shaughnessy wrote, "Right. Cal never leaves fingerprints. He makes a clean getaway, then steps into a better job. If he wins the national championship at Kentucky, he'll probably be President of the United States by the time the Wildcats are forced to vacate their Final Four."

'Special guest'

UK basketball bills ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards as a "special guest" at its women's clinic Oct. 7. "I'm not really sure what that means," she said last week.

But Edwards is sure that a large number of Kentucky fans haven't forgotten her sideline exchange with then UK coach Billy Gillispie at Mississippi last season.

Asked if she still gets feedback from UK fans about Gillispie scolding her for what he called a "bad question," Edwards said, "I do. Whenever I'm out and about."

For instance, she got feedback as recently as late last month at Saratoga Raceway. Edwards' duties for ESPN include coverage of horse racing.

"I had people who just happened to be at the track come up and say something: embarrassed, appalled," she said. "Every single person has been positive. Very nice people."

Edwards sensed that the UK fans' comments were "heartfelt, warm and sincere.

"Total strangers still coming up to me and apologizing for his behavior."

Gillispie scolded Edwards during a brief halftime interview for asking a sensible question about leading scorer Jodie Meeks not making a basket in the first half.

Rather than personalize the exchange, Edwards put that Jan. 27 game in the context of a turning point. "It started the whole ball rolling," she said of the Shakespearean downfall experienced by Gillispie.

She recalled that UK took a 5-0 conference record into the game. With Gillispie coming off a 2007-08 season in which he was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, he rode tall in the saddle. Who knew that UK would call Gillispie a "bad fit" in firing him two months later?

UK's invitation to attend the women's clinic as a special guest is not an attempt to make amends. Knowing she would be in Lexington for horse racing shows staged at Keeneland on Oct. 3-4, Edwards called UK to ask if she could watch practice. "To brush up on my X's and O's," she said.

ESPN has not announced who will work league games this coming season, but it appears possible UK fans will again be seeing Edwards reporting from the sidelines.

Edwards spoke highly of new UK coach John Calipari. "I can't say enough good things," she said.

Pelphrey gets support

Former Kentucky player John Pelphrey got a voice of support from the University of Arkansas chancellor on Friday. It came at a time Pelphrey probably needed a kind word.

Earlier in the week, the Arkansas program was rocked by news that a female student accused three players of rape at a fraternity party.

No charges were filed, but the accusation capped a turbulent early tenure for Pelphrey as Arkansas coach.

"We're standing behind Coach Pelphrey," Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday. "I think we're going through some pretty serious growing pains, growing the program and changing the program, and that would have happened regardless of who the coach would be.

"I think he's got to be given time, and then the problems we're seeing will be taken care of."

Problems on and off the court have plagued Pelphrey, who will be entering his third season as Arkansas coach. He played for Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino at Kentucky in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In that time, the Paintsville native became one of the program's famed Unforgettables, a designation given four players who remained at UK after NCAA sanctions caused several higher profile players to transfers.

Pelphrey's problems as fledgling Arkansas coach include the loss of would-be star Patrick Beverley after the 2007-08 season. He cheated on a class paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

As a result, the Razorbacks finished a league-worst 2-14 in Southeastern Conference play in 2008-09.

Pelphrey suspended or lost to transfer four newcomers during or after last season. Marcus Monk, a regular contributor, had to leave the team because of an NCAA rules violation.

Arkansas also had the lowest Academic Progress Report of any SEC basketball program last season: 888.

"There have been some unfortunate things happen," Gearhart said. "But the way I would look at it is that when these things have happened, (Pelphrey) has immediately tried to attack the problems. He's immediately tried to correct them. He has exercised discipline, and he has exercised leadership.

"Instead of trying to make allowances for them, he's taken care of them in a very serious way.

Top classes

In honor of this year's inductees to the Basketball Hall of Fame, sportswriter Frank Dell'Apa of The Boston Globe pondered whether it was the classiest of classes. Any group that includes Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Jerry Sloan makes a strong argument for best class ever.

But Dell'Apa offered other classes worthy of consideration. Several former UK players were included:

"The 1993 class was probably the most complete — a frontcourt of Walt Bellamy, Julius Erving, and Dan Issel, plus guards Dick McGuire and Calvin Murphy," Dell'Apa wrote. "The class of '96 could compete against the '93ers, with a frontcourt of Kresimir Cosic, George Gervin, and George Yardley, plus guards Gail Goodrich and David Thompson. Cosic was a top collegiate center at Brigham Young and was twice selected in NBA drafts but never performed for an NBA team, instead spending his career in Europe."

Here are the Globe sportswriter's top six Hall of Fame classes, based on talent and accomplishments. Three include former UK players:

1978: Paul Arizin, Joe Fulks, Cliff Hagan, Jim Pollard.

1990: Dave Bing, Elvin Hayes, Neil Johnston, Earl Monroe.

1993: Bellamy, Erving, Issel, McGuire, Murphy.

1996: Cosic, Gervin, Goodrich, Thompson, Yardley.

2008: Adrian Dantley, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Riley.

2009: Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton.

Curtain Cals

Here's a few more highlights from the TV show that officially unveiled UK's schedule last month:

■ Calipari said he'd like UK to play neutral-site games in Cincinnati, Louisville and Nashville.

Plus, he added, "I'd like to go to Atlanta and St. Louis to really spread the wings of this program."

He voiced his hope that UK plays in Madison Square Garden on a regular basis. There had been talk of a double-header involving power programs, but UCLA cannot participate the next two seasons.

■ Calipari embraced the series with North Carolina.

"Roy (Williams), I love," he said. "He says, 'I'm not afraid of Kentucky. Bring it.'

"It's an exciting series. We want to continue that series."

■ Calipari did not embrace the suggestion that Kentucky would be the favorite in SEC East.

"Everybody seemed to have players put their names in the draft and come back," he said "Except us."

He lauded three SEC East teams that had players withdraw from the draft and/or bring experience: Tennessee (Tyler Smith), South Carolina (Devan Downey and Dominique Archie) and Vandy (A.J. Ogilvy, Jermaine Beal, Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley).

Get well wish

Van Florence, longtime aide-de-camp to UK basketball coaches, is scheduled to undergo spinal surgery on Monday.

This will mark the 18th major surgery for Florence, who retired as president of the Committee of 101 service group after last season.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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