John Calipari: Eyes Wide Open

One man's theory ...

With speculation and rumors running rampant, not only in the national media, but locally as well, about the future of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, it's time for UK fans to embrace the Calipari U-Haul moving truck watch.  Instead of bemoaning the fact that the UK coach is being mentioned as a candidate for every NBA coaching job this side of the Pacific Ocean, we should celebrate the fact that in Lexington resides the most sought-after college basketball coach since Rick Pitino danced the sidelines of Rupp Arena in the idyllic days of the '90's.

You see, part and parcel of being successful in any vocation is the sure arrival of a head hunter charged with persuading said talent to jump over the fence to allegedly greener pastures.  Just check the exhausting list of mid-major coaches who enjoyed success at their schools, only to "move up" the coaching hierarchy to a more financially lucrative contract.  Some succeed, others are not so fortunate, but all have one thing in common: They left behind job security, for a shot at the (perceived) big time.  And history tells us the bigger move of jumping from a college job to the NBA carries with it not risk, but almost certain, abject failure: Lon Kruger, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, John Calipari, Leonard Hamilton, Mike Montgomery, Dick Vitale, and P. J. Carlesimo all leapt into the NBA abyss, only to emerge with tarnished reputations, bruised egos, and the knowledge that coaching the professionals is not the same as coaching college kids.  In the last 30 years only Larry Brown (1,089-885 in the NBA; 219-78 in college) has tasted long-term success in both college and the NBA (although his 1980 Final Four with UCLA and 1988 national championship with Kansas were both tarnished by major NCAA violations).

What Kentucky fans should realize is that Calipari learned his lesson well with his less-than dazzling 184 game stint with the New Jersey Nets, but more importantly, Cal has no interest in being LeBron James' whipping boy.  Sure, Calipari and James are buds, but just because someone is friends with another, doesn't mean they want to live with them.  And co-habiting is what Calipari and James would be doing.  Maybe not in a literal sense, but the two would be tied together at their respective Nike's.  And closely tying ones future to another is never a good idea, especially when friendships based on sport often come with an expiration date.

Furthermore, Calipari knows he has it made in spades at Kentucky.  He's the Basketball King of the Commonwealth, and there is no better place to be the Basketball King than in Kentucky.  Which is something the sports reporters in New York and Chicago fail to grasp.  To them, we're all just a collection of hicks barely smart enough to come in out of the rain.  The big city scribes declare; Surely Calipari would rather coach under the bright lights of TNT, than in backwoods Lexington.  Those who espouse Calipari to the NBA underestimate and miscalculate the power of Kentuckians to shower love and admiration (as well as dollar bills) on the Commonwealth's Basketball King.  Compared to the uncertainty of the NBA, Calipari and Kentucky are a rock-solid lock to endure, entertain, and win for as long as Cal wishes to coach the blue and white. 

Unfortunately, though, for former UK coach Rick Pitino, his blind ambition ruined his chance of becoming legendary.  It was ambition which blinded Pitino to his bird in hand; It was ambition which blinded Pitino so thoroughly, it rendered him unable or unwilling to cement his legacy as one of the true greats of the game; It was ambition, propelled by the almighty dollar, which led Pitino down the path of mediocrity, instead of allowing him to thrive where it is he belonged; It is ambition so potent that it propped Pitino up on a pedestal so lofty, he lost all usefulness.  Ambition, like greed and chocolate, can be a good thing, until one becomes overly ambitious, and forgets what it is that made them desirable.

Calipari won't make the same mistake.  And because of that, UK fans should revel in the fact that Calipari is ours.  The NBA can throw multiple millions at Calipari, and the Association will still fall short of what UK and the Commonwealth has to offer.  The NBA can attempt to lure Calipari with bright lights, along with the enticements of mega-cities, and the Association will still fall short of what UK and the Commonwealth has to offer.  One doesn't even have to take into consideration the lethal weapon of a roster Calipari has masterfully constructed for at least the next two seasons.  The Kentucky coach will be bringing in Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, Stacey Poole, Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, and Eloy Vargas over the next two years, planting the seeds for a championship. 

Simply put, Calipari has it all: An adoring fan base, who happen to be the most passionate in the sport ... And at the snapping of his fingers, any amenity he desires.  Calipari has reconstructed Camelot, and with that feat comes the riches and appreciation of a people capable and willing of showing their love for the "re-constructionist."  And finally, the last piece of the puzzle, and what matters most to college basketball coaches and fans ... victories.  Seriously, does anyone doubt that the future will be filled with "W's" lined up like school girls at a Taylor Swift concert?  Calipari should be secure in the knowledge that the 'Cats will be big winners as long as he is manning the helm. 

But the NBA is so full of itself and its bastardized version of basketball, that they will continue to chase the contented and adored.  About that there is no doubt.  But the advances made by LeBron and the Bulls, Knicks, Nets, and Heat (if indeed there has been any) will fall on the deaf ears of a man who knows what he has, and appreciates the honor that comes with being the University of Kentucky basketball coach.

The Calipari chase, though, is understandable, as ultra-success breeds envy.  The have-nots will always aspire to pilfer that which they seemingly can't have.  And, make no mistake, no one is immune from envy, evidenced by UK longingly looking at Florida's Billy Donovan, a couple of times, in hopes of snagging him from the grasp of fun in the sun, and an athletic director who washes his fleet on command.  Now though, the pendulum has swung, as pendulums are wont to do, back in favor of the 'Cats.  And it is ours who is chased, cajoled, and queried about his interest in leaving the Bluegrass for the Benjamin's.

But, don't bemoan the fate.  Embrace the fate, just as one should embrace the hate.  For once again, the center of the college basketball universe is Lexington, Kentucky.  And UK's John Calipari won't be blinded by his ambition ... Rather, he goes into the process with eyes wide open, learning from his predecessors the value of contentment.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!

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