No, nothing is "officially official," but my, how the mood of the Bluegrass can change: From sullen and downtrodden at the thought of a protracted search for a new head coach for Kentucky, to cautious elation at the mere mention of Memphis coach John Calipari's name as a potential candidate for the job.
And with the possible forthcoming announcement that Calipari will be the new head coach at UK, many fans, and media members alike are hailing the potential hire as not a home run, but rather a grand slam.
I would have to agree, but of course the determining factor in whether a Calipari hire is a grand slam selection won't be known for at least another year: If one recalls, Billy Gillispie coming to UK two years ago was greeted with praise and happy days are here again... not so fast my friend ...
But in Calipari's case, his body of work is much more substantial than Gillispie's, and his media savvy and fan friendly nature (i.e. he's not allergic to speaking to various organizations and boosters) are much more apparent than the previous UK coach -- Calipari has been a head coach either at the NCAA Division I level, or the NBA, since 1988 (he assisted his mentor, Larry Brown, with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000). Contrast that bountiful experience with the fact that Gillispie had a total of five years experience as a head coach before taking the UK job, and one surely recognizes the difference between potential, and ...
... achievement: Calipari has won at the highest level of collegiate competition -- The NCAA Tournament: Calipari sports an impressive 25-11 record (.694) when it matters most, two Final Fours ('96, '08), and three Elite Eight appearances ('95, '06, '07). For those keeping count at home, that's a minimum of an Elite Eight run in '95, '96, '06, '07, and '08. In between his '96 Final Four with UMass and his Elite Eight with Memphis in '06, Calipari was occupied with coaching the New Jersey Nets, and rebuilding a moribund Memphis program.
Overall, his lifetime winning percentage of .761 (445-140) falls in line with what one would expect from a potential Big Blue head coach.
Dribble-Drive Motion Offense
Some may, or may not know that Calipari employs the Dribble-Drive Motion Offense. This offense can best be described thusly:
"The Dribble-Drive Motion is first and foremost a motion offense, complete with its own discipline, rules, and philosophy. The basic philosophy is the ball-handler tries to push the ball for a layup. If there is no help, he continues for a layup. If there is help, he finds the open man for either a shot, if on the perimeter, or a dump-off to the post. Driving lanes are created by great spacing and constant hunting of open areas for kick-outs."
Very similar to the Spread Offense in football.
Although Calipari did not invent this style of offense, the credit for that goes to former Pepperdine head coach Vance Walberg, but he has perfected its execution. So much so that many people now refer to the Dribble-Drive as the "Memphis Attack."
*This type of offense is not completely foreign to UK fans. Former UK head coach Rick Pitino used a variation of the Dribble-Drive Motion in his eight years in Lexington. He enjoyed a fair amount of success, if I remember correctly.
If Calipari matriculates to UK, it should be an exciting, fun style of basketball to watch. The combination of UK's tradition and facilities, along with this player-friendly offense, should ensure that Calipari has his pick of top-flight high school talent. Nearly as important; UK fans will once again have a fast-paced, high octane offense running the hardwood of Rupp Arena.
There has been much speculation and conjecture around who Calipari may bring with him if he comes to UK. No one has any solid answers at this point, but let's take a look at the possibilities:
- Current Memphis Tiger players, and former UK targets, sophomore Roburt Sallie and freshman Wes Witherspoon, have reportedly expressed interest in following Calipari to UK, if he decides to take the job. Of course, Memphis would have to release them to come to UK, and even then, they would not be eligible until the 2010-'11 season (I'm not crazy about current or signed players leaving one school, to follow a coach to his new job -- Ethically ambiguous is the best way to describe how I feel about this practice).
- ESPN overall #1 player in the country Xavier Henry, a 6'6," 210 lb shooting guard reportedly has an "out" clause in the Letter of Intent he signed with the Tigers in the fall. This clause would force Memphis to release Henry if Calipari decides to leave the school. One can only speculate that Henry would then come to UK with Calipari, if that is how this high-drama ends. Henry's older brother C. J. Henry, a former #17 draft pick of the New York Yankees, is currently on the Memphis roster.
- DeMarcus Cousins, a one time UAB commitment, verballed to Memphis on March 8 of this year. The 6'9" 250 lb power forward is listed as the #2 overall Rivals.com high school prospect. Obviously, he may choose to reconsider his verbal commitment if Calipari comes to UK.
- Rivals.com overall #1, John Wall, a 6'4" 184 lb point guard, who earlier committed to Baylor, but later backed-off that verbal, has reportedly been the apple of Calipari's eye for some time now. The "love" has been requited according to most sources, but Duke, Kansas, and Baylor are still players for the probable one-and-done performer.
- 2009 prospect Eric Bledsoe, another guard (6'0" 160 lbs), also lists Memphis as one of his potential destinations. Bledsoe is rated as the #12 point guard in his class, and the #67 player overall by Rivals.
Who knows how all of this will play out if Calipari comes to Kentucky, but one thing is for certain, the UK roster will most likely receive a considerable upgrade for the '09-'10 basketball season. Of course, retaining current UK signees Daniel Orton, Jon Hood, and G. J. Vilarino should be a priority for any new coach.
It Ain't About the Benjamin's
I'm sure Calipari will take every bit of UK's reported eight-year, 35-million dollar offer, but the money, or more accurately, the mountain of money awaiting him in Lexington, will not be the primary reason he takes the job, if he indeed accepts.
No. Calipari will take the job because he knows that winning at Kentucky is unlike winning anywhere else in the country. The "Roman Empire" of college basketball has a habit of deifying it's college basketball successes, and he knows that he can succeed wildly at UK.
He's thinking like us: "If I can bring in great talent to Memphis, what can I do at UK?: I'll have the best facilities in the Craft Center and Rupp Arena, the most passionate fans, and endless opportunities to be adored."
As it stands now, Calipari is a big fish in a small pond, competing with the Memphis Grizzlies for the public's attention and adoration. Conversely, Kentucky gives him the best opportunity to showcase his coaching acumen on the biggest stage in college basketball. What more can one ask for? Simply put ...
... it's a priceless opportunity.
Thanks for reading, and Go Mitch, get your MAN!