At the end of Monday night’s screening of “One and Not Done,” ESPN’s “30 for 30” feature on the life and times of John Calipari, the Kentucky basketball coach took the stage along with wife Ellen at the Kentucky Theatre.
“That was really hard for me to watch,” said Calipari and you could understand the sentiment.
Put yourself in his shoes. ESPN has said that what was unusual about this particular “30 for 30,” which debuts Thursday at 9 p.m., was that the subject is still well into his career. Usually their largely excellent pieces deal with past events or retired sports figures or moments that have shaped the sports world in one form or another. Calipari is one of those figures, depending on where you stand, for better or worse.
If you have closely followed Calipari from the time he first burst on the college basketball scene as the brash young coach who miraculously put the University of Massachusetts on the map, you won’t find much new in “One and Not Done.”
It’s all there, from the unbelievable job Calipari did turning UMass from an absolute speck of a program into the one that reached the 1996 Final Four, to the Marcus Camby controversy and probation, to his short stint with the New Jersey Nets, to his comeback at Memphis, to the Derrick Rose saga and probation, to his hiring at Kentucky and the “one-and-done” philosophy that gives the doc its name.
Those who had seen an advance copy had remarked on its unsparing nature. It doesn’t blink, though the treatment is fair and comprehensive.
Not to worry, the film features plenty of Calipari proponents. St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli plays a prominent role. Former Georgetown coach John Thompson makes a few compelling appearances. Ex-UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who has feuded with Calipari in the past, gives a grudging testimonial. I particularly enjoyed the comments from Lou Roe, a major part of Calipari’s success at UMass. Lou Roe could play.
To me, the most interesting parts of the movie came near the beginning and near the end.
There are pictures from Calipari’s childhood, from his modest upbringing in Pittsburgh. Seeing where Cal came from tells a lot about where he wanted to go. He was hungry. He was driven. He wanted to succeed. He wanted a better life.
There’s a part where Calipari says he believes he can relate to his players who come from less fortunate backgrounds because he came from a less fortunate background. He knows what it’s like. It’s one of the reasons he pushes his players to go pro early if they have the chance. He knows what’s it like not to have money. Either you believe that or you don’t. (I do.)
Then there’s a moment near the end of the doc where Calipari is in Springfield, Mass., for his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Former players and friends are gathered around him and as Calipari is thanking them, he breaks down. His head bows. He tears up. He can’t speak. That’s right, for once in his life, John Calipari could not speak.
Maybe it’s a pure Calipari moment, orchestrated for the cameras. Watching it Monday night, however, it didn’t feel that way to me. As part of the media around Calipari the day it was announced he was going into the Hall of Fame — the day in 2015 after UK’s Final Four loss to Wisconsin — the coach seemed genuinely touched and appreciative of the congratulations that came his way.
Even if you are well versed in all things Calipari, those behind-the-scenes moments make it well worth watching. I won’t play spoiler with the others. That “One and Not Done” was hard for John Calipari to watch, both the good and bad, is why you should.
‘One and Not Done’
What: “30 for 30” documentary featuring Kentucky Coach John Calipari
When: 9-11 p.m. Thursday