Despite criticism, Calipari thrives at Kentucky
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Not everyone can play for Kentucky coach and Moon native John Calipari.
Calipari is a taskmaster who pushes his players relentlessly. But with sacrifice and elite talent come great reward for the Wildcats.
On Saturday, Kentucky faces Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Wildcats' third Final Four appearance in four years.
Kentucky's freshmen-dominated lineup features six McDonald's All-Americans, some of whom — like Kentucky freshmen from previous seasons — will add to the growing list of standouts punching their one-and-done ticket to the NBA.
Since Calipari took over at Kentucky four years ago, 12 Wildcats freshmen have entered the NBA as first-round draft picks, including No. 1 overall selections John Wall (2010) and Anthony Davis (2012), No. 2 selection Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012), No. 3 selection Enes Kanter (2011), No. 5 pick DeMarcus Cousins (2010) and No. 6 selection Nerlens Noel (2013).
This year's team could lose freshmen starters Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young and Dakari Johnson to the draft. In preparation for their departures, Calipari welcomes four newcomers who will appear in Wednesday's annual McDonald's All-American Game: center Karl Towns Jr. (Metuchen, N.J.), power forward Trey Lyles (Indianapolis), shooting guard Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss.) and point guard Tyler Ulis (Matteson, Ill.).
“We've got four kids in it. Four great, great kids,” Calipari said during a Final Four teleconference. “They're terrific basketball players.”
For all of his success, including taking Kentucky and Memphis to a total of four Final Fours in the past seven years — he also led Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996 — Calipari laments that he's a magnet for criticism.
Two of those Final Four appearances, 1996 with UMass and 2008 with Memphis, since have been vacated.
“You're scrutinized because people are attacking me,” Calipari said he tells Kentucky recruits. “You're going to get scrutinized because they want to come after me.”
Calipari became defensive when asked why he has been able to attract so many elite players.
“Wait a minute,” said Calipari, a Pitt assistant from 1985-88. “When I was at UMass (1988-96), we had one McDonald's All‑American, Donta Bright. When I was at Memphis (2000-09), we may have had three over my years there. We weren't getting top‑50 players at UMass. We were winning. We were a terrific team. I had to coach guys four years. At Memphis, I was coaching them three to four years. We were becoming a good team.
“Now I'm at Kentucky. There's a combination of the parents understanding Kentucky, what it is, and the young people only know three years. The kids we recruit, they don't know five years ago. They know the last three years.”
Calipari said major college basketball changed when five of his Kentucky freshmen were selected in the first round of the 2010 draft. That was a first.
“When John Wall and (Eric) Bledsoe and Cousins and (Patrick) Patterson went in that draft, (Daniel) Orton, five first‑rounders, it changed the whole direction,” Calipari said. “It wasn't like we planned it. I never thought Eric Bledsoe was one‑and‑done. No one thought that.”
Like Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA championships with teams featuring superstars, Calipari has mastered how to incorporate elite players into his team. Of the 28 freshmen who went to the NBA since 2009-10, just less than half (43 percent) played for Calipari at Kentucky.
“What's happened is these kids understand they have to come together, and we're honest with them,” Calipari said. “This is the hardest place to come and play basketball. Every one of these kids averaged 25 (points), were McDonald's All-Americans in some form or fashion. All of a sudden, you're asked to do way less. If you want to be the only guy who can play, don't come here. If you want to take all the shots, go somewhere else. If you want to be on a team where the coach only highlights one or two guys, you better be one of those two guys. If you want to go there, go.
“That's not how it is here. Every game is the Super Bowl. What we're doing has never been done.
“That's a heck of a sale, isn't it?”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt’s potent rushing attack could slow down the passing game
- Root Sports prepares for Pitt/WVU telecast overlap
- Pitt notebook: Average yards allowed good, but there’s room for improvement
- Pitt notebook: Receiving depth up in the air
- Pitt’s secondary has room for improvement
- Pitt notebook: Boyd has breakout performance in loss
- Pitt notebook: O-line coach still uncertain who will start at center vs. Iowa
- Pitt star running back Conner adjusting to higher profile this year