John Clay: Blaming Calipari is a Big Blue overreaction

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 20, 2013 

With Kentucky basketball, every action brings an overreaction.

If you are a columnist covering Kentucky basketball and Kentucky basketball loses a game in a tournament (NIT) in a setting (the 3,000-seat Charles L. Sewall Center) as Kentucky basketball did Tuesday night to Robert Morris 59-57, this shows up in your in-box.

"I have followed Kentucky basketball for 64 years. I now live in Florida. But I have never seen the likes of what happened last night. Coach Cal should be fired and C.M. Newton should be ashamed of what they did to this Kentucky team. It is a disgrace to Kentucky basketball."

And this: "John Calipari needs to stop pontificating and start coaching."

Trite but true: What a difference a year makes.

"If there's doubters, have at it," the Kentucky coach said in the post-game news conference Tuesday night in his native Moon Township, Pa.

Those doubters would be absolute fools.

Did Calipari do a great coaching job this season? Of course not. He'd be the first to tell you that. He did just that after his team lost by 10 points at a sub-.500 Georgia in the last road game of the regular season.

He admitted Tuesday night that he let his core principles slide this season to the point that the program was nearly "hijacked," as he put it.

A teacher friend told me she sympathized with Calipari in that an instructor, no matter what he or she does, can't always get every student to listen. The difference, of course, is that a coach such as Calipari picks his students.

Does Calipari love to talk? That goes without saying. Do all of the coach's tweets and blog posts and projects and fundraisers and ideas and theories and suggestions grow a bit tiresome at times? Of course.

It's all part of the Calipari package, and he ain't changing.

"No, nope, no," he said Monday when asked that question.

Nor should he change. To use a Cal saying, let's keep it real here. The guy knows what he's doing, and it would be foolish for anyone to think that one bad season makes a bad coach.

If anything, the disappointments and shortcomings associated with the 2012-13 campaign should only heighten your appreciation for the rare gift of the 2011-12 team. If it were easy, every talented young team could do it. As we found out this year, every talented young team can't do it.

In four years, Calipari has taken Kentucky from the depths of Billy Gillispie to an Elite Eight appearance, a Final Four appearance (with a team that was of questionable Final Four quality), a national championship and now a first-round knockout in the NIT by a team from the Northeast Conference.

To stay hungry, everyone needs a good humbling.

In Tuesday's post-game news conference — in which Calipari was great, by the way, honest about his team, classy in congratulating Robert Morris — the coach was asked whether maybe Sean Woods wasn't right when the former Cat and current Morehead State coach said early in the year that he didn't like the vibe of this Kentucky team, that he sensed a feeling of "entitlement."

"Maybe," Calipari said.

Now there's a balancing act. It's hard for a team not to feel entitled when it lives in a new, specially built dorm mere footsteps from its practice center, when it has a luxurious locker room in Rupp Arena that would make even Mark Cuban drool.

And Calipari has had his own balancing act. Before winning a title last year, he had never been on top. Now that he has lived it, he will learn from it.

Why Tuesday night, the coach was already coming up with a bogeyman for next year, saying they had to prove you could win a national title with a young team.

Didn't Kentucky prove that last year?

When it's Kentucky basketball, you have to prove it every year.

Keep calm, and let Calipari carry on.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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