Most of you know that I love me some John Clay. He does very good work in his column for the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he is usually fair and provocative without the see-I'm-not-a-homer defensiveness of his talented but curmudgeonly colleague, Jerry Tipton.
On his blog Sidelines today, Clay takes on John Calipari's article of yesterday on CoachCal.com that purported to redefine Kentucky as a non-traditional program. Let's look at Clay's points in his own words, but be sure to read his whole post, it is quality work as always:
I thought John Calipari came to Kentucky because of the great tradition.
I thought that "the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball" is the program’s slogan.
Now, when it serves UK’s purpose, it’s a "nontraditional program."
First of all, recall that I warned you that the media would take umbrage with Calipari's comments. Cal has a history bravado and hype that will come back to haunt him, and this is a perfect example of just how.
In defense of Calipari, I would point out to Clay that much has changed in three years, and not just in terms of Kentucky's success. When Calipari came here, he did not imagine he would be able to recruit at the level he now enjoys, and that his roster would completely turnover, for all intents and purposes, every single year. This is as new to him as it is to the rest of us.
So holding him to words uttered under a different set of circumstances may look logically consistent, but it fails the test of reason. Circumstances are different now, and new circumstances often demand a fresh approach.
Next, Clay offers this:
The coach doesn’t want to play in Bloomington. That’s the bottom line. He can spin it any way he wants, but what it comes down to is that he doesn’t want to go back to Assembly Hall. Indiana is more than willing to come to Rupp Arena next season. But Calipari doesn’t want to go to Bloomington the next.
This is right, but let's be honest here, he has an excuse. Indiana's behavior this year directly threatened two of his players in a very ugly way. Darius Miller was nearly trampled, and Marquis Teague had to be escorted off the floor and was the subject of some extreme verbal abuse that crossed the line. We hear complaints all the time about the Twitter lunatics that go far off the reservation when UK loses a recruit, and they are justified. This was significatnly worse, by all accounts.
But leaving that aside, what tradition is there in an Indiana home-home? There is just as much tradition in neutral sites in this series. So given the fact that IU gave Calipari an excuse to move back to neutral sites, then allegedly intimated to UK earlier in the year that would be fine, who really deserves the blame here?
But make no mistake -- I think Clay is right. I am not taking umbrage with his conclusion, but rather amplifying on it with details he omitted.
Here’s what bothers me about that: Tom Crean took over an Indiana program that was in shambles. It was on probation. It lacked talent. Crean suffered three losing seasons before he got the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 this past season.
He had young teams, inexperienced teams, non-competitive teams. But not once did he say he wanted out of the series, that the Kentucky-Indiana game was "putting his players at risk."
Why is it now suddenly different for Kentucky?
This is a fair question, and one that neither Calipari nor I can answer as a matter of "fairness." Calipari can answer it only one way -- "Crean knows what's best for his program and I know what's best for mine."
The good news about that answer is that it is unassailable. Calipari is in charge of Kentucky, and is presumed to know the best interests of the program from a coach's point of view. It is clear that Mitch Barnhart either agrees with him, or is unwilling to challenge him on this point.
I am not sanguine about Calipari's "non-traditional" argument, as I think it is unnecessary even if it is true. He doesn't need it to defend his IU decision, and frankly, all the media carping in the world isn't going to turn the Big Blue Nation against him. He has a lot of latitude in this matter, and after IU's misbehavior last year, he has a built-in excuse that doesn't really need to be defended.
But you can expect to see the appeal to tradition, and to "fairness," over and over again. The national media are retweeting Clay's story like it's holy writ, and while it looks solid on the surface, it isn't quite as structurally sound as most might think on first reading.