Kentucky definitely getting its money’s worth out of Calapari
Posted by sawdog on March 28, 2010
Take a good look at the title of this blog one more time. Kentucky definitely getting its money’s worth out of Calapari. I stressed it for one reason. A CBSsports.com columnist by the name of Mike Freeman wrote the exact opposite. As in Kentucky doesn’t get its money’s worth out of Calapari.
We are now about one year removed from Kentucky’s hiring of John Calapari. If I’m Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, and not Mike Freeman, it’s my job to conclude whether or not Kentucky is getting their money’s worth out of Calapari. So in chronological order, roughly, let’s consider what Calapari has done in less than one year at Kentucky.
- Immediately connect with the lifeblood of the program–the fans. His press conference was a clinic in bringing the masses together and saying all the right things. To paraphrase, “I’m coaching at a place where they only hang banners for national championships. This is what you live for.”
- Secure recruiting commitments from DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and John Wall, in addition to keeping Jon Hood and Daniel Orton from seeking a transfer. Instantaneously Calapari is credited with perhaps the greatest single recruiting haul in college basketball history, drawing comparisons to Michigan’s Fab Five from the early 1990’s. Considering the knock on Kentucky’s program in recent years were the failures on the recruiting trail this is a remarkable instant turnaround.
- Deliver a state-of-the-commonwealth address at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness that made national headlines. Again, to paraphrase, “…to return Kentucky to it’s rightful place atop the mountain….” Although a bit cheesy and overly presidential, the man knows how to reach his audience. The state fervor for basketball was alive and well on October 15th, 2009.
- Oversee a perfect non-conference record, against big name schools, while starting three freshman and playing experienced holdovers few minutes. This is an exercise in overcoming inevitable youthful mistakes and coaxing any egos that may exist from juniors and seniors that aren’t crazy playing sparse minutes. The freedom he gives John Wall early on gives the freshman a chance to learn the game on the fly and showcase his explosive raw talent. The result is the perfect storm of media hype: Kentucky’s program fused with the most breathtaking athlete in the country. John Calapari is the common bond that made this happen. Kentucky, as the saying goes, IS BACK.
- Calapari brings uber-talented DeMarcus Cousins along next. The big man goes from ill-tempered spawn of Rasheed Wallace to what many considered the most dominant big man in college basketball. It cannot be overstated. It does not matter how talented a roster is, it’s only as good as the coach’s ability to make them play together and develop team chemistry. If there was anything higher than an A+ on the grade scale, Calapari would score it here.
- In response to the Haiti disaster Calapari organizes a last second telethon with help from statewide television stations. The proceeds are staggering. The people of Kentucky and fans from other states and worldwide locations donate nearly one million dollars in under 24 hours, and the final tally approaches 1.5 million dollars thru the course of the season. Calapari never mentions this generosity beyond the extent of the next game. He did it because he knew he could and he knew it would help Haiti instantly. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Despite the often infuriating and hair-pulling demand of molding freshmen into big time collegiate basketball players, Calapari manages this team to SEC regular season champions and SEC Tournament champions. Kentucky had not won either of these crowns in five years.
- Kentucky receives a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 32-2 record. It is the first #1 seed for Kentucky since 2003.
- Kentucky throttles three opponents–including a trendy upset pick by many across the nation in Cornell University–in route to the Elite Eight.
And this is where my disagreement with Freeman’s column comes into play. Mr. Freeman sees a Kentucky program that did not get its money’s worth because they face-planted in an Elite Eight game in Calapari’s first year. I follow that logic and think it’s a joke. Considering the bullets typed out above the title of Freeman’s work is laughable. And it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I have to remind Mr. Freeman that Kentucky got John Calapari below market value. Memphis’ AD offered Calapari more money than Kentucky to stay. Calapari said thanks but no thanks. “You don’t have to offer me any more money, it’s Kentucky.” That’s the infamous quote recited by thousands of Kentucky fans this season. Kentucky got a bargain on a coach who instantly transformed a traditional power back to the leading headline in college basketball, captivated fans across the nation to tune into Kentucky’s progress, and finished the year as one of the top teams in the history of the program.
Kentucky is definitely getting its money’s worth.