News and Tribune

July 3, 2012

HUNTER: Calipari’s got it figured out

By PERRY HUNTER
sports@newsandtribune.com

HENRYVILLE — John Calipari becoming the head coach at the University of Kentucky couldn't have put two entities together that were more made for each other than those two.  

UK and Coach Cal are a match made in heaven. Whether you like it or not, UK is one of the — if not the — elite basketball schools in the country with fans that Cal calls “crazy.” And Coach Cal is not afraid to sell UK for what it is known for — a basketball school.

With UK's Anthony Davis going No. 1 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going No. 2, Coach Cal is lord over the NBA draft. In his three years at UK, he has sent 11 players out the door in the first round of the NBA draft and had two top picks. The success he has had, from an Elite Eight to a Final Four to the 2012 National Championship, all the while using one-and-done players, is exactly what UK fans want and is exactly what someone who is willing can do to take advantage of the current rules.

Do I think Coach Cal is developing these guys into NBA players? He isn't hurting, but what I do believe is that the recruiting that he does makes him the best in the college game. He isn't selling academics, academics, academics, then basketball. He is selling them both equally, and maybe with more of an emphasis on basketball. 

And it is working.

Let's be honest. Coach Cal is probably doing nothing wrong when it comes to recruiting (we can never know about anyone). But what he does is promise the top high school picks that they will go pro, and really, you cannot argue with his success rate on the court or in getting the players to where they want to go. I don't like how he does things sometimes (call me old school on this one) but he isn't doing anything wrong. He has just circumvented the NCAA's belief that college is about academics for top athletes. 

It isn't.  

The NCAA is making millions off of these people who aren't allowed to take any type of salary, which isn't right (call me new school on this one).  

(Sidenote: I read once that top math, science and other students get paid to attend elite universities. This way, when they graduate and get a Nobel prize or do some other groundbreaking historical thing, the university will be associated with them. Interesting, huh?)

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said that at UK you won't have somebody “standing in the way of you accomplishing what you want.” I agree completely. And as much as I disagree with how Cal does things at UK, he is winning. And how is it any different for athletes in other sports, or even non-athletes?  

What is the job of college? To ultimately prepare you to make a living. If you can do that after one year, you do it. 

If a college baseball player leaves early for the draft, you don't hear many people getting upset about it. If a college freshman is a brilliant computer programmer and can get a job after one year making a million dollars, you don't hear anyone complaining about that. But you do with college basketball players. I will let others smarter than me (a whole lot of people think this) figure that out, but I have often wondered why there is a different standard.

Wrapping up, if I were a UK fan, I wouldn't like having a new team every single year, but I would enjoy winning and Coach Cal has had good guys (minus one or two) representing UK while they were there. I will put John Wall, Doron Lamb, Anthony Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and others up against anyone when it comes to being role models on behavior on and off the court.

So good luck, college world. Because while Coach Cal is at UK you have a combination of the perfect storm. It is ridiculous fiction, according to Bilas, to believe that colleges are pursuing basketball players first as students. Coach Cal has proven that he is pursuing basketball players who will be drafted into the NBA, and he tells them so, and he does so while still winning games and championships.

 

Perry Hunter is a history teacher and the former boys’ varsity basketball coach at Henryville High School. You can read his blog online at coachperryhunter.blogspot.com.