UK basketball notebook: Calipari critic becomes an ally

Herald-Leader Staff WriterApril 7, 2012 

Kentucky Coach John Calipari acknowledged the crowd as he cut down the net after the Cats defeated Kansas in the 2012 NCAA Tournament championship game.

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On the premise of you've got to know wrong to fight wrong, Kentucky Coach John Calipari might be the ideal person to lead the momentum to reform the so-called one-and-done rule. Calipari has made UK synonymous with players who made college a one-season way station before heading to the NBA, a wait necessitated by the pro requirement that prospects be 19 before entering the draft.

The result is UK wins, as evidenced most recently by last week's national championship. But critics of the one-and-done rule say it takes the college out of college basketball.

With Calipari calling for specific reforms to make it more likely such players stay in school longer than a year, he's won a surprising ally in David Ridpath, an assistant professor of sports administration at Ohio University and an outspoken critic of one-and-done.

"I find myself agreeing with John Calipari more than I ever thought I would," Ridpath said last week. "I thought he was right on target, and I was thinking, 'Gosh, I agree with this guy.'"

While long claiming he didn't like the one-and-done rule, Calipari went several steps further during this post-season. He proposed specific ideas to help persuade players to stay in college. For instance, he called for the NCAA to pay insurance premiums for freshmen so the players won't risk NBA millions by staying in school. He also called for salary increases on initial NBA contracts for players who stay in school longer than a year and/or reducing the length of rookie contracts that call for scaled salaries. The latter idea would speed such players toward their second — and more lucrative — contract.

A mutual friend, Bob Marcum, the athletic director at UMass when Calipari coached the Minutemen, convinced Ridpath to believe in the UK coach's sincerity.

"I'm gaining much more grudging respect for him," Ridpath said, "because I think he really does have his heart in the right place."

Ridpath noted that Calipari, or any UK coach, faces great pressure to win. Calipari's record, which includes vacated Final Four appearances in 1996 (UMass) and 2008 (Memphis), invites "suspicions," the professor said.

But Calipari's opposition to the one-and-done rule won over Ridpath. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," he said.

Ridpath suggested a panel made up of such notables as NBA Commissioner David Stern, NCAA President Mark Emmert, elder statesman C.M. Newton and coaches like Rick Pitino of Louisville and Calipari might be able to make reform happen.

Ever the go-getter, Calipari spoke of such reform being enacted by this weekend.

"Probably not," Ridpath said, "just because these things typically move at a glacial pace."

Cal to Knicks?

Despite his denials (or maybe because of them), speculation about John Calipari leaving Kentucky for the New York Knicks continues.

A Basketball Bennie, to borrow one of Calipari's terms, at the Final Four said that a national championship could serve as a sign of Kentucky mission accomplished. Calipari always thirsted for new challenges, he said. So...

We shall see. Calipari's track record — eight seasons at UMass, nine at Memphis — suggests he'll stay at Kentucky to build on a three-season record of 102-14. By the way, that equals the most victories in any three-season span in program history. Adolph Rupp went 102-8 in the Fabulous Five era beginning in 1946-47.

After UK beat Kansas in Monday's title game, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote a highly entertaining speculative column about Calipari's time as guiding light of the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s and the chances of a return to the NBA as Knicks coach.

"When John Calipari ruled as general manager and coach, one of the interns within the New Jersey Nets' basketball operations had come to expect his frantic, flustered boss to deliver a most vain order," Wojnarowski wrote. "Calipari became obsessed with the callers to the mid-day New York radio show ripping into him, and orchestrated a counter propaganda program.

"And so was born 'Anthony from Hoboken,' several team sources said. Anthony was a staunch, defiant and fictional advocate for the eventually exiled Emperor of East Rutherford. He made calls to WFAN out of the Nets' offices, telling metropolitan New York that he was one fan who couldn't understand all the criticism heaped on Calipari. ..."

Upon arriving at UK in 2009, Calipari noted that he was older, thus better equipped to shrug off any criticism. Whatever criticism existed, and he gave doubters few opportunities, the UK coach has not taken out frustration on reporters or fans.

"Calipari had complete control of the franchise but little control of himself," Wojnarowski wrote of the Nets' experience. "He is securer in his insecurity now, but a desire to return to the NBA has never left. He has his NCAA championship now, and the New York Knicks have three necessities that Calipari desperately needs: a vacancy, a big stage and a blank check."

Players to NBA?

In speaking to an NBA type Friday about possible Kentucky players in the 2012 Draft, the expectation was:

Anthony Davis will turn pro. Duh. The reigning national college player of the year made history this season. He guided Kentucky to a national championship. He's widely viewed as the first player taken in this year's NBA Draft. As John Calipari memorably promised to wrestle John Wall to the ground to make him enter the 2010 draft, the UK coach would get the mats in place to grapple with Davis should the player want to return. He won't.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Reporters still chuckle about his comment in February about returning to UK as a sophomore. It would shock the NBA if he returned for a sophomore season. UK fans, and basketball lovers everywhere, will be rooting for him to make a big splash in the NBA next season.

Marquis Teague. He's thought to be on the fence, Playing well down the stretch made a move to the NBA more plausible. But the metaphorical iron might be hotter next year. At this point, there is no consensus for him staying in college or entering the draft.

Terrence Jones. It's not as certain as with Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, but the NBA expects Jones to enter the draft. At the Final Four, he spoke with an independent mind. "I was OK with where I was in the (2011) draft," he said. "It wasn't low." He attributed the return as a sophomore to "just to better myself. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to win a national championship." He did that.

Doron Lamb. The NBA wavers on Lamb. The guess is the championship makes it more likely he'll enter this year's draft.

Cal vs. Slive

UK Coach John Calipari made no secret of his disdain for the SEC Tournament. He said he didn't like the idea of any conference tournament, which can interrupt a team's momentum (not to mention tax its dwindling end-of-season resources) heading into the all-important NCAA Tournament.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suggested several rationales for the league tournament.

■ It gives the football-mad SEC a reason to celebrate and promote basketball.

■ It unites SEC schools and teams holding disparate interests.

■ It's a key component of the SEC's lucrative television deal.

■ Arguably most importantly, it gives all SEC players a chance at a championship. "For many kids, it may be the only championship tournament experience for them," Slive said.

Calipari stopped short of calling for the killing of the SEC Tournament. During one of his last radio call-in shows of the season, he said he would lobby at the SEC Spring Meeting to have the tournament finals moved from Sunday to Saturday. Such a move would give the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee time to factor the SEC event into its seeding and bracketing process.

"We can have that discussion," said Slive, who has served on the Selection Committee. "I don't think that's an issue, but I'll look forward to debating him."

When asked about Calipari's outspoken dislike of the SEC Tournament, Slive smiled broadly and said, "There's freedom of speech in the SEC."

Stars aligned

Kentucky-Kansas marked only the 12th time consensus All-Americans competed against each other in the NCAA Tournament championship game: Anthony Davis vs. Thomas Robinson. It hadn't happened since Elton Brand led Duke against UConn and Richard Hamilton in 1999.

It happened in the first NCAA title game: Slim Wintermute of Oregon vs. Jimmy Hull of Ohio State.

There were two such matchups in the 1950s: Bill Russell (San Francisco) vs. Tom Gola (LaSalle) in 1955, and Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas) vs. Lennie Rosenbuth (North Carolina) in 1957.

The 1960s were rich in such matchups: Ron Bonham (Cincinnati) vs. Jerry Harkness (Loyola of Chicago) in 1963, Gail Goodrich (UCLA) vs. Cazzie Russell (Michigan) in 1965, Larry Miller (North Carolina) vs. Lew Alcindor (UCLA) in 1968 and Rick Mount (Purdue) vs. Alcindor in 1969.

Magic Johnson (Michigan State) beat Larry Bird (Indiana State) in 1979. The other such matchups are Eric Floyd (Georgetown) vs. James Worthy (North Carolina) in 1982 and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) vs. Akeem Olajuwon (Houston) in 1984.

Thanks, UPS

UPS irritated at least a few UK fans by fashioning a commercial around Christian Laettner's famous winning shot for Duke against Kentucky 20 years ago. The commercial, which sparked Internet postings by fans, noted how Grant Hill "delivered" (get it? get it?) the inbounds pass to Laettner.

Dale Brown, who scored 18 points for UK that historic evening in Philadelphia, wasn't irritated. He enjoyed the commercial and the reminder of his moment in basketball history. UPS called the UK players to get their permission to use the clip in the commercial.

"Just to know you're a part of that," he said last week. "It's considered one of the greatest games. It's something I brag about all the time to my players and my son."

Brown, who just completed his first season as coach at Division II Clark Atlanta, applauded Kentucky's run to this year's national championship. That it culminated in the Final Four in New Orleans made him think of how his 1993 UK team also advanced to a Final Four in the city known as the Big Easy.

"I couldn't get it off my mind," he said. "I'm so happy for these guys and Coach (John) Calipari."

The Final Four took place on familiar ground for Brown. He grew up along the Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, Miss. He also coached at New Orleans-based Dillard University before moving to Clark Atlanta last year. The move enabled Brown to hire childhood friend Litterial Green, the former Georgia star who was living in Atlanta, as an assistant.

During the Final Four, Brown got re-acquainted with former UK teammates like John Pelphrey, Sean Woods and Travis Ford. Ford agreed to an exhibition game between his Oklahoma State team and Clark Atlanta next fall.

Brown said he's hopeful that UK will agree to an exhibition game.

Fervent prayer

The New York Times did a flattering article last Sunday on how I had covered UK basketball for the Herald-Leader a number of years.

In reading the story, a news conference for the inaugural Wooden Classic came to mind. The participating coaches — John Calipari of UMass, Jim Harrick of UCLA, Rick Pitino of UK and Roy Williams of Kansas — joined John Wooden at the dais in Anaheim, Calif.

During turns at the microphone, each coach saluted Wooden as an iconic coach/teacher and noted his many UCLA championships.

Wooden, who spoke last, said he would pray that God forgave the coaches for their excessive praise. He added, "And forgive me for enjoying it so much."

Happy birthday

To Kyle Macy. The point guard on UK's 1978 championship team — yes, that was 34 years ago — turns 55 on Monday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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