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Is John Calipari Just a Billy Gillispie 2.0?

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The search for a new Kentucky head basketball coach is rapidly drawing to a close with reports that John Calipari of Memphis has been contacted and is considering an offer. Billy Gillispie was fired last week after two lackluster seasons and a “growing disconnect” between his and the UK Athletic Department’s view of his role. Billy Donovan, head coach at Florida, surfaced as an early prospect before publicly denying any interest in the position.

Since that statement all of the talk has centered on John Calipari. Calipari is considered the “smart” hire for the Kentucky program. He has built a winner at Memphis (in the lowly Conference USA). Many forget the mess he left at UMass or the disaster his NBA career was with the New Jersey Nets.

The Nets record is forgivable because the NBA has chewed up and spat out many a good college coach (see Rick Pitino who left Kentucky for the Boston Celtics and quickly made his way back to college via Louisville).

The UMass program he helped build has never been the same since he left and the scandal that ensued from infractions and sanctions levied against the program. According to this report in the May 9, 1997 edition of The New York Times, UMass was penalized because Marcus Camby accepted gifts from a sports agent before the end of his collegiate career.

Calipari also was fined by the N.B.A. for deplorable comments (he used a racial epithet against a member of the media). However, he issued a mea culpa for his remarks and no other incidents have been reported.

His time in Memphis has been a great success and has gone without investigation or incident. Calipari, as many of his coaching counterparts, employs the idea of recruiting top level talent to play for only a short period of time, and then jump to the NBA (or other professional ranks). This means the program usually has some of the top talent. It also means, he has to recruit other players to balance out the graduation rate requirements.

Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie for, among other reasons, not being more willing to represent the university. He was about advancing his career and winning games. He did those two things without the public scandals that dented Calipari’s reputation and career in the 1990s. Now, UK is zeroing in on a guy not concerned with graduating players from school as much as he is concerned with producing next-level talent for the pros. How is that positively representing the university to anyone other than the N.B.A.? Call me old fashioned, but it is short-sighted to see that tactic as “the only way to win” these days.

I admit, quality pro prospects playing four years in college basketball are rarities these days, but to just be a talent mill undermines the very concept of “student-athletes.” That’s really another discussion for another day, but a strong academic institution like Kentucky has to be aware of what they are getting with Calipari, if they do indeed hire him.

Calipari may be a great coaching candidate and, if hired at Kentucky, I expect he will win a lot of games. However, Calipari is clearly about one thing – advancing his reputation and winning basketball. Those are not bad qualities, but when you fire a coach who was about those two things and bring in another one who is more of the same, it is hard to expect that this story will end well in the bluegrass state.

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About J. Newcastle

  • bball

    you are an idiot. they are not alike at all.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Calipari has a better W/L resume, but I can see the similarities Jay is pointing out here.

    Gillespie didn’t see himself as an ambassador for the program or the university. Calipari doesn’t seem to concern himself with the “student” part of ‘student-athlete’ nor do his programs have spotless records when it comes to NCAA rules.

    If winning is the only criteria, Calipari may well be an upgrade.

  • J.Calipari

    I left little ol Memphis for the great, BIG BLUE NATION, I am proven (inlike Billy) and am going to win 3 zillion championships, yes 3 zillion. That is all

  • Andrew J. Stivers

    You cannot be serious.

    Coach Cal is arguably the best recruiter in the country and has the big game experience to lead a team deep into the tournament. Billy is a nice guy who had had some success but held neither attributes. He also didn’t have the personality to handle the pressure that being a coach at Kentucky requires.

    You clearly haven’t been watching NCAA basketball for the past decade and seen the differences–try and keep up.

    Andrew Stives

  • Jay Skipworth

    Mr. Stivers,

    Did you even read this? I spell out what a disaster Billy Gillispie was as a hire and coach for Kentucky. He’s much better at a program under the radar where he can recruit, make a run every 3 or 4 years, and then reload.

    All I am saying is that Kentucky should just say, “We went after the hired gun” instead of all of this garbage about finding a representative of the university.

    Calipari is a slick salesman. I have no doubt he’ll win at Kentucky. I’m simply saying that this whole finding a coach who cares about student-athletes and tradition and blah blah blah is disingenuous.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Okay. He wins. The rest of college basketball is being disbanded. John Calipari has been signed at Kentucky. Game over. UK has now beaten the game of basketball. Competition is over. Resistance is futile. Move along.

  • George

    The only problem is that Calipari cannot win the big one…the national title..Kentucky may regret this decision if their goal is to with the NCAA tournament..but then again, he may win the title one of these days!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    George, make up your mind.

  • Dan

    You make some valid points but I don’t feel it is fair to call Gillespie “scandal free”. He may have never been caught breaking NCAA rules, but he is known for his lewd public behavior while drunk. Additionally, “playing nice with the media” was something that he did not do well, and is required of a UK BBall coach.

  • UKfan

    Some Uk fans still get Coach Cal mixed up with Billy Gillespie. Coach Cal is the one who might end up with the problems. Remember Eddie Sutton? Let’s just hope we don’t get Shame II anywhere near soon.

  • John C

    Great prediction man. As of today, back-to back-to back elite eights, two final fours and a national championship. By this June, he will have put 15 players in the NBA draft. Oh yeah, and they’re getting it done in the classroom.

    What the hell were you talking about? haha