Many Big Blue fans, and even some of the commentariat (notably Dick Vitale) have mentioned that John Calipari doesn't get enough credit for molding talented young freshmen into great basketball teams. In fact, I read many who assume that any great coach could do the same, only better.
Oh, yeah? What about Connecticut Huskies coach Jim Calhoun? When Calhoun landed top five recruit Andre Drummond shortly before the season began, everybody looked at his recruiting class that included such worthies as Drummond and DeAndre Daniels (Rivals #10) to go along with his returning players from last year's national champion -- Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi -- had to be considered a favorite to get to the Final Four, and possibly even repeat.
Comes now this ESPN piece entitled Slipping and sliding into bubble season from Jason King with the following remarkable statement:
In for now, but could be in trouble
Connecticut: The Huskies are 14-6 but have lost three straight games.
Did anyone seriously imagine when this season began that UConn could be, "in trouble" halfway through conference play? This is a team many considered as likely as UK or North Carolina to wind up playing for it all, yet here we are (or at least, King is) talking about them being on the precipice of The Bubble™.
Now, I'm not sure I agree with King that's where UConn really is at this moment, and to be fair, he did say they COULD be in trouble, obviously due to a three-game losing streak. Also to be fair, a lot of people began to wonder about Kentucky about this time last year, only to see them go to the Final Four. So there is still plenty of time for UConn to get back to their pre-season expectations.
Still, looking at the struggles of Drummond and the pedestrian output of Daniels, it's not hard to wonder if they were really that good. After all, who would question the bona fides of a Hall of Fame coach just coming off a national championship?
Far be it from me. I think Calhoun is a great coach. But I think Calipari is showing everyone this year just exactly how unappreciated he really is, and how difficult it is to get this many freshmen not just playing at a high level, but playing at the highest level in the country. Calhoun hasn't been able to get any of his touted frosh playing at this level so far, and many think (and I might agree) that there is no better coach in the country. I'm sure he's not deliberately waiting until nearer season's end, either.
I just think it's about time people realized just how special a coach Calipari is to accomplish this, not just once, but three years running with no end in sight. Say what you want about his past, but his present is pretty remarkable, and not just as a recruiter.
By the way, don't just stop there with King's article -- it's pretty good, and you should read the whole thing.