John Clay: Calipari, Pitino build differently, arrive at same championship level

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 27, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Louisville

    When: 4 p.m. Saturday Where: Rupp Arena Records: No. 18 UK (9-3), No. 6 U of L (11-1) TV: CBS-27

In the world of extreme sports fandom, which would accurately describe the respective diehards in this Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry, there is no such thing as opposing viewpoints being of equal merit.

Here on the brink of the annual Cards-Cats clash, the debate material has to do with the way you build a college basketball team.

What we have is a contrast in construction.

Louisville, under Rick Pitino, has built its team with the type of players who are normally in a college program for three or four years and who progress with experience.

Kentucky, under John Calipari, has built its team with the type of players who are normally in a college for one year and who progress to the NBA as quickly as possible.

Which is the best way?

Says here it doesn't matter which way. Surely, this state is the embodiment of that.

"I marvel at what John does," Pitino said after losing to Kentucky in the 2012 Final Four. "I couldn't do it. I can't say hello and goodbye in seven months. It's just not me."

Never mind that early on at Louisville, Pitino went hard after Sebastian Telfair, a guard who ended up jumping directly from high school to the pro ranks back when you were allowed to do so.

Two seasons ago, Pitino was considered the favorite for point guard Marquis Teague, who ended up signing instead with Kentucky. Teague played one year before moving on to the pros.

"You know, I wouldn't care if the pros say the young man is a one-and-done and he goes," Pitino said during last year's NCAA Tournament run. "But I don't go in the home and say, 'You're a one-and-done and my program is a one-and-done program.' I don't do that."

Neither does Calipari. What the Kentucky coach says is that he will do everything in his power to help a player reach his dream. And for the players he recruits, the NBA is that dream.

There is a reason, Calipari said, "I'd like to say it's the biggest day in the history of Kentucky's program" after having five players selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.

"(There are) a hundred different ways of coaching, a hundred different ways of playing, how you approach this," Calipari said Friday. "I mean, we've had four-year guys, too. We've had three-year guys. But we've also had guys that have been one-year guys, and the good news is our guys have gone to the league and done well."

The most recent example is Terrence Jones, who was not a one-and-done, but a two-year player at Kentucky who is now starting to shine with the Houston Rockets.

"Terrence Jones and I talked yesterday," Calipari said, "and I said, 'You got 21 and 14 and three blocks and you weren't on the ticker — and you said I held you back."

Pitino is the master teacher whose recent surge at Louisville has come with the help of players like Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, ones who did not play a lot as freshmen but under the coach's tutelage developed into terrific college players and notable pro prospects.

"I like the emotional attachment of the players," Pitino said in 2012. "Every person's different. I marvel at what (Kentucky) can do with that. I could never do it because I just emotionally get too attached to these guys. I want to see them grow as people — not that (Calipari) doesn't. I'm sure he does."

Calipari is the master recruiter, who runs a "players-first" program who loves to (a) sign the best possible player and (b) embarrass the critics who say you can't mold selfish AAU stars into a selfless team.

"I'm proud of what we've been able to do here for the players," Calipari said. "I'm proud of what we've been able to do for the program.

"But there's all kinds of ways of doing this and everybody knows I'm not into this one-and-done stuff. I don't like it, but I'm not going to hold players back. I'm not going to — when it's time to leave, the rules are the rules, and I play by them."

The last two NCAA champions are Kentucky and Louisville, two teams who won the same title in different ways.

Can you really say that either one is doing it the wrong way?


Kentucky vs. Louisville

When: 4 p.m. Saturday Where: Rupp Arena Records: No. 18 UK (9-3), No. 6 U of L (11-1) TV: CBS-27

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service