Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats Win Title, But Questions Remain
John Calipari finally won the top prize in college basketball. (Icon SMI)
By Michael Scotto
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
The Kentucky Wildcats are the 2012 NCAA Tournament champions, but despite winning the national championship there are as many questions as answers for the school's program. Will the championship be revoked down the road due to another John Calipari NCAA violation? Will Calipari stick around to find out or bolt for the NBA? Who will be left for Calipari, or another coach, to instruct? Where does this Kentucky team rank among the greatest college teams? Is this Kentucky team in a class of its own?
The architect of Kentucky basketball is coach Calipari, who despite the NBA caliber talent on his roster, remains the face of Kentucky basketball. Calipari is a master recruiter who lands top talent in exchange for a quick ticket to the NBA and coaching that will prepare his players for the next level. While Calipari has proven himself on the court, it's his behavior and track record off it that hovers over him like a dark cloud and will continue to do so. In 1996, Calipari lost his NCAA Tournament run and Final Four appearance with UMass because Marcus Camby was ruled ineligible due to contact with a sports agent. After a brief stint in the NBA with the Nets, Calipari returned to the college game and further controversy. Calipari lost his entire 38-2 record with the Memphis Tigers in the 2007-08 season after making it to the championship game due to academic fraud. Maybe Calipari learned his lesson and the third time will indeed be the charm at Kentucky, but his track record suggests at least one scandal at every school he's coached.
Despite Calipari's past scandals Kentucky will enjoy its championship moment before beginning to focus on next year. Calipari must first decide if his future includes Kentucky next year. As a member of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the most powerful sports agencies, Calipari has become a hot coaching commodity among NBA general managers. Despite being a proven winner in the college game, Calipari had a rough stint in the NBA with the Nets. Calipari has longed for another chance to coach at the NBA level and this may be his best chance. After winning an elusive NCAA title, Calipari may decide to leave the college game on top with the rest of his highly touted Kentucky prospects.
Rumors have swirled the Knicks and Nets are interested in his services among other NBA teams. Nets owner Jay-Z was seen at the NCAA Tournament watching Calipari's Kentucky team in action. The Nets may look to make a big splash in the form of a coaching change before the move to Brooklyn. The Knicks on the other hand lost Mike D'Antoni to resignation as Mike Woodson took over on an interim basis. Owner James Dolan stressed that Woodson would coach on an interim basis with no guarantee after the season. Missing the playoffs or an early playoff exit under Woodson would open the top coaching position in the number one team in the number one media market for Calipari to consider.
Speaking of the highly touted young Kentucky squad, the core of this year's national title team will be gone. Senior guard Darius Miller graduates as Kentucky's leader in games played. Freshman sensation and Naismith Player of the Year winner Anthony Davis is expected to declare for the NBA Draft and become the top overall pick. Former St. Patrick's high school star and freshman small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is also expected to leave and be a lottery pick. Terrence Jones, who to the surprise of many returned for his sophomore season to win a national title, will undoubtedly leave as a late lottery first-round pick. Fellow sophomore Doron Lamb has been mentioned as a late first-round pick and his stock is as high as ever after leading all scorers in the national championship game with 22 points. Finally, Marquis Teague will look to join his brother Jeff in the NBA after guiding Kentucky to the national champion as the floor general.
Whether or not Calipari and the core of the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats bolts for the NBA should not take away from what the team accomplished this season. Not since Michigan's "Fab Five" has a team led by such youth throughout its starting lineup been as dominant and electrifying to watch on the college level. Calipari and former Michigan coach Steve Fisher also were dominant figures both on and off the court recruiting top young talent, coaching their players to their fullest potential, and dealing with scandals off the court.
To put this 2012 team into context think about this statistic: Kentucky lost only two games all season and by a combined eight points. In retrospect, eights points separated this team from perfection and immortality in the history books of college basketball. If the championship trophy, the legacy of John Calipari on the court, and the core of future NBA talent doesn't convince you this team is among the greatest college teams in history, that statistic should.