Kentucky's Calipari, UConn's Ollie get unique 'buy-in' from players
The past several days at the Final Four, I've noticed a profound similarity between the two men who lead these teams: The bond they have with their players is both authentic and deep.
Go ahead. Laugh if you want. Talk about how Coach Cal and Coach Ollie are only after the money, like every college coach. Rail against the corruption you assume runs rampant in college sports. Chuckle at the idea that Coach Cal could develop any sort of real relationship with his one-and-done players when they're on campus for less than a year.
But let me tell you this: When you speak with the players of both Kentucky and UConn, it's clear that these young men have all, as the coaching cliche goes, "bought in" to their leader. It's clear that, when Shabazz Napier tells about crying on Ollie's shoulder when Napier was struggling as a sophomore, he's not blowing some sort of One Shining Moment smoke. It's clear that, when Coach Cal teases his freshmen on stage, he cares for these kids off the basketball court.
For a story earlier this season, I spoke with a handful of Cal's former Kentucky players about their relationship with their ex-coach. Here's what Brandon Knight, one of Cal's early one-and-done players, told me: "He treated all his players like his sons. A lot of coaches today, they don't speak to their former players. I hear from Cal all the time."
"He's good at finding out what makes guys tick and finding out what situations make them their best and help the team," Knight continued. "He does a great job of knowing what players can and can't do."
Reid ForgraveFox Sports
Ability to motivate sets Cal apart
This is not a secret, except to the people who want to dismiss John Calipari as a recruiter, an accumulator of talent, nothing more. How does he win so much? His players are better than your players. That's how he wins so much. That's the silliness you'll hear from those who want to dismiss this 597-game winner as a guy who sends five great players onto the floor, rolls out a ball and watches what happens.
But the truth, and the secret, is that John Calipari has a gift for motivation that borders on hypnosis. The way he motivates his players, the way he unlocks their potential and has them ready, is as freakish in its own part as the way 6-foot-9, 250-pound Julius Randle spins into the lane like a tiny point guard, and the way Marcus Lee can jump over every other enormous, great athlete on the court for putback dunks.
A Kentucky victory would be tough pill for Gators to swallow
As painful as it might be, the time has come for all of us to give the devil his due, er, blue and bow down before the greatness of Kentucky Coach John Calipari.
The Big Blue Nation and its Kentucky Childcats are back in the national championship game, validating and vindicating Calipari as college basketball's most unstoppable renegade. In another era, he was known as Tark the Shark, but in today's world his name is John the Don — the unscrupulous Godfather of One-and-Doners.
After the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators finished their unbeaten march through the Southeastern Conference with a 19-point blowout of Kentucky a few weeks ago, I wrote a column saying this was proof positive that Florida Coach Billy Donovan's way trumped Calipari's way.
"This was a victory for a college basketball program over an NBA factory," I wrote then.
A month later, the Gators tearfully exited the Final Four while Kentucky jubilantly danced and pranced into the championship game.
It doesn't seem fair or right, but it will be Kentucky's freshmen who have a chance to achieve the greatest memory of all — the national championship. It doesn't matter now that the Gators beat UK three times and marched through the SEC unbeaten; it's Calipari and the Cats who will be the toast of college basketball if they beat UConn.
This, of course, would be the Gators' worst nightmare and the most objectionable development to hit intercollegiate athletics since Lane Kiffin. The Gators may have won three of the last four SEC championships, but Kentucky and Calipari are on the cusp of a second national title in three years. If that happens, it will legitimize everything that Calipari — the dark prince of the hardwood — symbolizes.
Mike BianchiOrlando Sentinel
Knowing how much experience matters, look what UK is doing
I realize that the school's rich basketball history — not to mention the smug demeanor of its head coach — will prevent Kentucky from ever being regarded as a true underdog tale.
And yet the courage of sending five freshmen onto the court to do a man's job should be regarded as one of the great all-time achievements in sport. It doesn't even matter that John Calipari manages to cherry pick the best of the nation's recruiting classes year after year.
In sports — hell, in life — experience counts.
Sometimes having the best teenagers in the world on your side is no good against talented and determined 21- and 22-year-olds. Monday night's game is about nothing less than that.
Tim CowlishawThe Dallas Morning News