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Kentucky Basketball: Sportswriters Attacking The Kids As Well As The Coach

John Calipari is, justifiably to some, a lightning rod for criticism.  It will never matter to many in the media that Calipari has never been accused by anyone, let alone the NCAA, of any wrongdoing.  But his association with two scandals, the Marcus Camby matter at UMass (for which he was expressly exonerated and even praised by the NCAA) and the Derrick Rose matter at Memphis seem to be all that is needed for some to consider him the epitome of what is wrong with college basketball.

Comes now John Mutka, a sports columnist with the Chicago Gary Indiana Post-Tribune, with another screed excoriating Calipari.  We have seen so many of these that I normally wouldn't even trouble to comment, let alone dedicate a front-page article to a rebuke.  After a while, you just embrace the hate and shrug your shoulders.  But this one is a little different in that Mutka takes dead aim at the young men that come to play at Kentucky:

If coach John Calipari’s players valued education as much as basketball, the Wildcats would welcome back Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb from the starting lineup that took UConn to the wire. Right now, all four underclassmen are considering the NBA Draft. Only Lamb seems likely to return to campus.  If others stay, it might be because the NBA collective-bargaining agreement expires June 3 rather than love of learning.

I can live with editorial writers attacking Calipari -- he is a grown man with a long history that people can mine for fodder to justify their opinions, however bereft of logic or thin of fact.  But when you start attacking the young men that come to school to play here, I am not going to sit still and take it.

I am positive Mutka has no idea that Brandon Knight came to Kentucky with a 4.3 GPA from one of the best schools in Florida, and started his first year of eligibility as nearly a college sophomore due to the massive number of advanced placement courses he took while at Pine Crest in Ft. Lauderdale.  Accusing Knight, along with the others, of not valuing education is as laughable as the intellectual unseriousness of this entire article.

I will of course allow that not every player relishes schoolwork and loves higher learning.  The reality is, though, that no college degree is worth what these kids can earn in the NBA.  The only people who would counsel them to remain in college rather than earn millions of dollars playing the game they love are people like Mutka, the scolds who use education as a rhetorical cat 'o nine tails to flay the skin off coaches they dislike.  You would think that Mutka is smart enough to know that those truly interested in education can come back anytime and get a degree, which they will no doubt hang on their wall and point to as an accomplishment.  Which it is.

But the vocation of these young men is going to be basketball, and that is a rare gift.  It is not going to be a CPA, or a lawyer, or a surgeon, even in the case of Brandon Knight, who could have gone to any school in the country including the Ivys and MIT.  But Knight knows, despite his prodigious academic talent, that his even more prodigious basketball talent is worth much more than he could earn with any academic degree or combination of degrees.  This is not devaluing education -- it is accepting the reality of American society in the 21st century, and placing education in its proper place within that reality.

But it gets worse:

Unfortunately, thanks to  coaches like Calipari and Kelvin Sampson, mercenaries who have no interest in acquiring a degree continue to infiltrate our campuses, making a mockery of the term student-athlete. Give them bed and board, pamper them for a year or two at most, then bring in the next batch of  NBA wannabes.

Whenever I see the word "mercenaries" applied to young men like this, it makes my blood boil.  No doubt some of these kids would rather go straight to the NBA to play.  So I guess what Mutka wants is for Calipari to make them swear that the NBA is of no interest to them before offering a scholarship.  Otherwise, under what defensible argument are we supposed to forbid these "mercenaries" from coming to colleges?  Of what use would that be to their "education," since the NBA cannot take them?  Are they supposed to wander about flipping burgers until they meet the NBA age standard?  Play for the D-league?  What good is a "mercenary" who is too young to sell his skills to anyone except colleges in return for an education, even a year or two?

Mutka, at least in this piece, is an unethical troll who deserves nothing but derision from every college sports fan.  One-and-done players are purely a creation of the NBA, and Calipari's job as head coach at Kentucky is to field the best team he can.  I haven't seen the grades for this year yet, but my bet is that "student athlete" will certainly be the correct term to apply to our young men, even if their career as students is cut short by modern reality.

Let's finish up with this:

If the NCAA really cared about cleaning house, shady characters would be banned from coaching, and recruits would be required to spend two years in college. Instead, Calipari earns more than $3.9 million a year and freshmen like John Wall quit going to class when basketball season ends. It’s an obscene figure, more than the combined salary of   UConn’s Jim Calhoun, Butler’s Brad Stevens and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart.

Heh.  This Mutka guy is far too ignorant, or lazy, to be writing for a living.  John Wall not only finished both his semesters here, he had a 4.0 in summer school and a 3.5 in the spring, which Mutka alleges he skipped.  I'm not sure what his fall grades were, but I believe they were well over 3.0.

Second, why would the NCAA ban Calipari from coaching -- what basis would they use?  Mutka's word?  Calipari has done absolutely nothing to warrant such a punishment.  Jim Calhoun has done far, far worse, and so has Roy Williams, yet Calipari should be banned? Both Williams and Calhoun violated NCAA rules personally.  The worst Calipari can be accused of is having had some of his players break the rules without his knowledge.

Finally, the NCAA cannot require anyone to go to school for two years, it is impossible under any law or regulation of which I am aware.  Only the NBA can forbid its teams to take players younger than a certain age, and that only -- not years of college -- and can only do that through the collective bargaining process.  I know Mutka is old enough to remember the Spencer Haywood case.  That's one cognitive error and two factual ones in one paragraph.

This is the kind of thing that really drives me nuts.  Not only is it mean-spirited and gratuitous, it's pure misinformation, dissembling, and ... well, I am loath to categorize the column as one big lie, but taken as a whole, it is at least one big error.  There are so many factual mistakes, ad hominem attacks and non-sequiturs, it boggles the mind that any knowledgeable sports fan could read this column and not laugh out loud at the writer's incompetence.

Or maybe it just speaks to the intelligence (or rather, lack thereof) of those who do.  Do us all a solid Mr. Mutka -- retire before you ruin whatever reputation you think you have.