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Kentucky Basketball: Jeff Sheppard's Comments On John Calipari

Jeff Sheppard made some remarks yesterday that got a lot of attention, and raised some eyebrows.


Comes now media reports that Jeff Sheppard is being, you know, all critical of John Calipari and stuff, specifically the "one-and-done" nature of Kentucky basketball under Coach Cal. Taken in isolation, that would not be really newsworthy, as many former players have regretted the "one-and-done" system, as well as a number of fans. We have largely come to grips with it, but it seems safe to say that most UK fans would prefer for players to stay longer for all kinds of good reasons, if it were feasible for them to do so.

Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal reports on Sheppard's remarks about the "one-and-done":

He praised Calipari’s success in his remarks to the crowd, calling his four-year run "remarkable," but added, "I personally think maybe there’s a little bit too much emphasis on celebrating first-round draft picks. I’d rather be celebrating national championships." Calipari has produced both: the 2012 national championship and 10 one-and-done players who became first-round picks in just four years.

But what really has the Big Blue Nation in a bit of a tizzy is this comment:

"As crazy as it sounds, I can walk into the University of Louisville’s basketball office and feel more comfortable there because Coach Pitino’s there," he told the crowd in Ohio. "When a player plays for a coach, there’s a very special bond there. So when I go to Kentucky, I didn’t play (for) Coach Calipari – and as a matter of fact, I played against him … and he and Coach Pitino are still rivals, so for me, he’s … he’s the enemy. He’s not the enemy, but that’s how it (feels)."

This is a horse of an entirely different color, and even though Sheppard tried to walk back those comments later, the damage had already been done. It's one thing for a UK fan to criticize "one-and-done," that's something that almost everyone in America, including Calipari, has criticized extensively.

Sheppard seems to suggest that Calipari's (and Kentucky's) main rival, Rick Pitino, runs a program more to his liking. No matter how hard Sheppard tries to reel that one back in, it's not going away, and it is absolutely awkward. If you think for a minute that comment will not be used against Kentucky on the recruiting trail, you're nuts. This is 2014, and comments like that one resonate throughout the Internet.

I like Sheppard, and I know he was just trying to be honest. He intended to focus not on Kentucky, but rather on the nature of the "one-and-done" rule. I get that. Unfortunately for him, and for Kentucky, he took it beyond anodyne criticism into comparison, praising Kentucky's arch foe at the expense of his former team.

I know that wasn't his intention, but that's unambiguously what he did. So I have to be equally honest and say that Sheppard's unguarded remarks were not helpful, and not as thoughtful as one might hope. The Kentucky-Louisville divide has never been wider than at this moment, and while I appreciate that Sheppard does, and should, have a great relationship with Rick Pitino, he has to be careful not to alienate his fans, of which I am one.

Mike DeCourcy has an interesting take on Sheppard's comments:

"The last thing I want to do is take away from the run that coach Calipari has put together over the last several years," Sheppard said. "It’s been phenomenal. I personally think there’s maybe a little too much emphasis first-round draft picks. I’d rather be celebrating national championships."

But hasn’t UK been celebrating both since Calipari arrived?

Indeed it has, and I expect we will be continuing to do so for some time.

Jeff will be on KSR today (by the time this gets published, that probably should be "has been on") and will no doubt try to clarify his comments further. Of course he will be forgiven for any perceived slight, and should be.