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UK Basketball: A (Big Blue) Nation Under Attack

If you, dear reader, are like me, when you initially read the New York Times article written by Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, pointing a dirty finger at Eric Bledsoe, his mother, and high school coach, as well as the teachers and administrators of Bledsoe's alma mater, A. H. Parker High School, you had to shake the cobwebs out of your head, and re-read the report to ensure you hadn't just awakened from a dizzying nightmare.  But no, it wasn't a nightmare, it is real, and it is responsible for the Big Blue Nation setting the Commonwealth's DEFCON level to a nerve-rattling 2.

Not only is there an authentic concern for the health of last year's 35-win season among the Kentucky faithful, even more so, there is a concern, legitimized by numerous opinion pieces published throughout cyber-space, about the puzzling attacks on the character of UK coach John Calipari.  Concern, because even though Calipari has never been accused of any wrongdoing by anybody, he still is the recipient of derogatory, derisive invectives (the most popular being 'sleazeball') meant to cast him as a cheater extraordinaire, and slippery by nature.  So naturally, by association, the Kentucky basketball program, for the first time in over two decades, has been plotted a rogue, do-anything-to-win collection of coaches, administrators, and fans.  And if many of the "national" and "rival" media are to be believed, we Kentucky fans don't care what NCAA statutes are fractured by the coaching staff, as long as the 'Cats pile one victory on top of another.

Of course, riding shotgun as the the scribes drive the bus, are the fans of UK's rivals.  The entire Bledsoe situation has proved to be easy fodder for the simple-minded, who set aside facts, and merely ape that which they are told by some to be true.  So attacking the sanity and genuineness of UK fans has become, over the last few days, the vogue vocation which to undertake.  This example, lifted straight from the very fine Tennessee blog Rocky Top Talk, is fairly representative of the sentiments of many anti-UK sports fans, and writers around the country:   

"Tru and most of the group there (A Sea of Blue) have lost it.  They have convinced themselves that all of this shows that Cal ends up in these situations because basically he's the only coach in the NCAA basketball who is willing to give poor, downtrodden black kids a chance to leverage themselves out of the mean streets."

"Apparently no dissent of any kind is tolerated over there -- it  used to be a pretty solid site, but over the last year, it has become steadily more creepy.  I get a sort of "Stepford Wives" vibe." 


"Stepford Wives?" ... now that's classic.  What this poor soul fails to comprehend, though, is evidenced by this partial sentence -- " ... but over the last year, it has become steadily more creepy.  I get sort of a 'Stepford Wives' vibe"-- The writer seems to have conveniently forgotten that her time-frame, one year, coincides with the hiring of Calipari as Kentucky coach.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but after witnessing the recruiting hauls Cal has made, coupled with a season sated with 35-wins, there hasn't been an abundance of negative events about which to write and talk.   

But regardless, yes, all of us Kentucky fans have been programmed to robotically defend the UK basketball program, and whomever the coach may be, regardless of charge, or facts presented.  Furthermore, we deny any and all wrongdoing on its face.  We don't care if our coach has or is currently cheating, and we don't care if our coach sends a recruit financial incentives via the US mail delivery system.  So why should we care if the university changes a player's grades in an effort to keep an athlete eligible for competition.  Afterall, we don't care if our players are out raping and pillaging our mothers and daughters, or beating to a pulp our sons.  And we especially don't care if our assistant coaches are offering improper benefits to a recruit, or if our booster's handshakes are a little too heavy.

We are delusional, and without scruples.  Blasted!  We've finally been collared.

Now, we return to reality: What the writer of the above comment, and many, many others fail to recognize, is that the overwhelming majority of UK fans DO NOT want anyone associated with any Kentucky athletic program to cheat, in any way.  Whether it be a head coach, assistant coach, player, administrator, or booster.  UK fans love UK athletics, it's simply a part of our DNA, and we are unfortunately well-schooled in the high price a win-at-all-costs posture can inflict on an athletic program.  Plus, it becomes very difficult to recruit gifted players, and win championships while one is on probation.

Simply put, if a University of Kentucky coach is proved to have participated in cheating, I, along with most other UK fans, want the offending coach terminated.  Period.  Not only is cheating obviously dishonest, but it sets an abysmal example for the younger fans of the 'Cats, and is unnecessary when one leads one of the greatest college basketball program in the history of the sport.  Another Eddie Sutton, we do not need.  So believe me when I write, if I, or any other right-thinking UK fan felt that John Calipari, by virtue of his actions, was a despicable, cheating ogre, I would be the first to darken the pixels calling for his resignation or immediate termination.  I can't more strongly state my position.

But really, what has Calipari done?

Has Calipari been found culpable in a case of academic fraud as Clem Haskins (Minnesota) and Jim Harrick (Georgia) were?  Has Calipari been found culpable in giving a player $6,000 in cold, hard cash, as Jim O'Brien was at Ohio State?  Has Calipari been found culpable in providing improper financial aid, and attempting to thwart the release of drug tests, as Dave Bliss was at Baylor?  Has Calipari been found culpable in okaying gifts to seniors whose eligibility had been used up, as Roy Williams did at Kansas?  Has Calipari been found guilty of dozens of NCAA violations over many decades, as Jerry Tarkanian was at Long Beach State, UNLV, and Fresno State?  Has Calipari been found to have a lack of oversight over any program he has ever led, as Jim Calhoun recently was in the illegal phone calls/text message scandal at UConn?  Has Calipari been found to have made hundreds of illegal phone calls to recruits as Kelvin Sampson did while at both Oklahoma and Indiana?  Has Calipari been found to have paid for a recruit as Tim Floyd did while at USC?  Has Calipari been found to have had contact with a recruit during a 'dead period' as Denny Crum did while at Louisville? 

The answer to all of the above questions is a resounding, NO.  All Calipari has done is drop a dime on his own UMass program when he discovered Marcus Camby had accepted money from an agent prior to using up his eligibility ... Calipari turned his own program in to the NCAA ... truly the act of a sleazeball coach, heh?  All Calipari has done is sign a player, Derrick Rose, who may have had a stand-in for his attempt at passing the SAT.  How Calipari should have known about something that might have happened during Rose's senior year, and outside the scope of his everyday academic life, is a question for the ages.  And finally, the case of Eric Bledsoe: In this scenario, Calipari signed a kid who, while in high school, may have had his family's rent paid by someone other than his mother (the grades issue is a non-issue).  Was this occurrence, if it really did happen, something that was well known in Birmingham high school circles?  Should Calipari have known that Bledsoe's indigent family may have received financial assistance from either coaches or others?  At this point, I surely don't know, in fact, if anyone knows such a thing, they aren't making their feelings known in a public forum. 

And what's so ironic about the Calipari as criminal mastermind theory, is that all of the above cases, combined, don't rise to the level of Duke's Mike Kryzewski signing a player, Cory Maggette, who later admitted he took a large amount of cash ($2,000) from Myron Piggie, his AAU coach, while he was still in high school.  Thus rendering Maggette ineligible for Division I collegiate competition.  But those who believe everything they read see Coach K as having integrity beyond question, while Calipari serves as a punching bag to those with an ax to grind.  When the fact is, neither coach should be held responsible for acts that took place beyond their control, and without their knowledge.

So, all of you sports writers, and fans of rival schools, let's see the beef before you castigate Calipari as a cheating sleazeball.  It's the den of the dense where leaps in logic are made in order to condemn someone who has never been accused by the NCAA or any other body, of misconduct, dishonesty, or undesirable behavior.  And until a preponderance of evidence is unveiled, displaying Calipari as a lawless, four-flushing, rogue beguiler, the Big Blue Nation will continue to support Calipari and his initiative to keep Kentucky basketball on top of the mountain ... looking downward on the green eyes of the accusing wannabes.

Thanks for reading, and give 'em hell Cal!