It popped up again this past week. Duke vs. Kentucky. Or is it Kentucky vs. Duke? Doesn’t matter, although specifically the college basketball rivalry has morphed into the coaches as combatants. That being the case, John Calipari is not one to let sleeping dogs lie.
Marques Bolden, are you listening?
To say the competition between the Blue Devils and Cats is for the services of the 6-foot-11 center out of DeSoto, Texas — unsigned and uncommitted with UK and Duke his final two choices — would be missing the big picture. Bolden is merely the latest point of contention, a highly ranked prospect both programs would love to wear their particular shade of blue.
Anyway, back to the events of the past week when Hamidou Diallo, a highly regarded Class of 2017 prospect, told the Courier-Journal he had received offers from Duke and Kentucky, albeit with different approaches. Duke tried to sell Diallo on the set-for-life angle. Kentucky tried to sell Diallo on the path-to-the-NBA angle.
Shortly thereafter, Calipari used his website to post a story in which he called the set-for-life pitch “preposterous” and that he would never do such a thing, that he wants to provide the tools (rods) for players to provide themselves (fish) without relying on entitlements.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Calipari denied he was talking about a person or a program. It was all just a coincidence. He also teased he doesn’t like to spend time with the local media. That’s a shame. If he did, he’d realize we’re not that gullible.
To be honest, the first inkling of a Coach Cal vs. Coach K thing started two years ago. Mike Krzyzewski was and is the head coach of USA Basketball. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim was one of the assistants and told the press that John Calipari had complained to him that Coach K’s position gave the Duke coach a major recruiting advantage. Boeheim disagreed.
Calipari quickly claimed it was all a misunderstanding, though it’s difficult to see any reason why Boeheim would lie. Calipari tweeted, “If — and I emphasize if — they gained any advantage because of that work, I don’t begrudge them in the least.”
This is far from the first time Calipari has ruffled coaching feathers. He’s feuded with John Chaney, Bruce Pearl, Jim Calhoun and, of course, Rick Pitino, to name a few. It might be stretching it to say Calipari is feuding with Coach K, but there’s certainly a rivalry here.
And surely the whole one-and-done thing gets under the Kentucky coach’s skin. When Calipari started openly courting players who would only stay a year or two in the college ranks before heading on to the NBA, it was seen as a bad thing. When Coach K climbed on the one-and-done train — Kyrie Irving in 2011; Austin Rivers in 2012; Jabari Parker in 2014; Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones in 2015 — Duke was complimented for adapting to the times.
Either way, both legendary programs and Hall of Fame coaches are after the same thing: wins, titles and the talent necessary to get that done.
Wednesday, Calipari knew exactly what he was saying and to whom he was saying it. He said he’d be happy for a talented young basketball player to show up in September and join the team. He said Kentucky wasn’t for everyone and you needed to be certain this was the place you wanted to play college basketball. He said it’s not “for funzies” at UK. He didn’t come right out and dare Bolden to be a Wildcat, but you got the message.
Thing is, the program that doesn’t bag Bolden will still be OK. Depending on your particular scouting service of choice, Kentucky has the No. 1-ranked freshman class for next season with Duke No. 2, or vice versa. Most of the preseason prognosticators for next season have Duke ranked No. 1 and Kentucky No. 2, or vice versa.
When it’s that close, however, each side is looking for an edge on the other, or to make sure the other doesn’t get an edge. That’s what this past week was all about. That and Marques Bolden.