John Clay

If John Calipari is a players-first coach, why is he knocking the grad transfer rule?

Drexel fired head basketball coach Bruiser Flint after 15 seasons at the Philadelphia school.
Drexel fired head basketball coach Bruiser Flint after 15 seasons at the Philadelphia school. The Associated Press

John Calipari is just taking up for one of his own. We get that. Bruiser Flint was his assistant at UMass and took over as head coach when Calipari left for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. On Monday, Flint was fired as the head coach at Drexel. On Tuesday, Calipari criticized the firing.

In doing so, however, Calipari took a shot at the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule. Damion Lee, Drexel’s best player, departed after last season for Louisville, where he helped the Cardinals to a 23-8 record. Without Lee, Drexel finished 6-25, and Flint lost his job after 15 seasons at the Philadelphia school.

“But what happened was, the NCAA has a rule that a kid can leave a program like Drexel after being coached and molded for three years and go to another school without having to sit out,” Calipari told Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News. “If (Damion) Lee is there, they’re in the NCAA Tournament. We’re not even talking in these terms, but that happened. It’s not about the school (Louisville) that took him. It’s about we let it happen.”

Calipari went on to further knock the rule. In the past, he has argued that grad transfers should be made to sit out a year before playing, which he said would cut down on the number. There, are however, a couple of holes in Calipari’s reasoning.

For starters, even with Lee, Drexel was just 11-18 the season before. Flint’s teams were 245-217 at the school. He never made the NCAA Tournament. His teams posted losing records in three of his last four years and did not have a winning conference record since 2011-12. The Dragons made the NCAA Tournament just once since 2007.

And it sounds a bit odd for Calipari, with his “players first” mantra, to be knocking a rule that benefits players. If a student athlete has earned his degree and has eligibility remaining, he or she has the opportunity to go to another school for graduate work and to continue competing in athletics.

Quarterback Russell Wilson did it, leaving North Carolina State for Wisconsin. Oregon’s quarterback last season, Vernon Adams, came from Eastern Washington. Trey Lewis, another U of L guard this season, was a graduate transfer from Cleveland State. In 2012-13, Julius Mays did it, leaving Wright State for, yes, Kentucky.

“We took a kid because I saw Duke did it. Even then, I was like it disgusts me that we’re doing this,” Calipari told Jerardi. “It’s just bad for business, bad for kids.”

Once again, a coach can leave a school and go to another school if it is in the coach’s best interest, but a player cannot? Not even a player who has already earned a degree? That’s not players first.

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