Comes now Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports, who has often shown himself to be negatively disposed to John Calipari and Kentucky, with an article ostensibly about Calipari’s "succeed and proceed" motto, and Kentucky’s depth. These two things seem to have a rather tenuous relationship unless you consider the success of Coach Cal getting players to "succeed and proceed" a major recruiting plus — which, of course, it is.
So let’s get right to the fun! According to Gottlieb:
On the other hand, Cal embodies so much of the "used car salesman" stereotype of college basketball that turns people off. Sometimes I feel like we’re all in on the joke, at others I worry about how few people see through the facade of statements, ‘Calitudes,’ if you will, that I would guess not even John Calipari believes.
I’m willing to take Gottlieb at his word that he doesn’t hate Calipari or Kentucky, but it’s pretty clear he dislikes both. There’s no non-pejorative way to take the simile with purveyors of pre-owned transportation. It’s also hard to feel the love from the suggestion that Calipari is being dishonest, and that he doesn’t take his own statements seriously.
I’ll cop to the idea that Coach Cal sometimes carries his marketing shtick to annoying levels, but he does believe in what he’s doing, and that belief is reflected in his remarkable level of success. You don’t get to where Calipari is by BS’ing everybody with platitudes, but that’s exactly what Gottlieb tries to argue.
The transparency of the Calitudes is becoming more and more obvious. "Succeed and Proceed" is his cute attempt to change the "One and Done" narrative. I don’t hate Kentucky or Coach Cal, but I hate the effort to cash in on the concept because I hate the concept. I think one and done has done more harm to the overall coachability of college and high school basketball players than anything, with the exception of all the wannabe agent/runners who fill kids’ heads with junk from the moment they get a whiff of interest from the NBA.
For a young, relatively intelligent guy, Gottlieb is astonishingly mired in a Antebellum worldview. It’s unnecessary to rehash the unpopularity of the "one and done" concept, particularly among the basketball commentariat who seem to feel that they gain more credibility by insisting that anything short of a four-year stint in college is a wasted person. It’s almost as if to Gottlieb et. al., a college education is the modern equivalent of a high-school diploma, and anyone with less than that will surely be flipping burgers for fast food companies or pulling mid-shifts at local gas stations for the rest of their lives. As a person without a college diploma, I resent and reject that thinking not just from rational contemplation, but also from direct experience.
Why is it so hard to comprehend that even a brief stint in the NBA, never mind a first-round draft pick, can pay for a return to college ten times over and set a young man up for a life of success? Saying you hate early entry into the NBA is equivalent to saying you hate the possession arrow on held balls or the 3-point line. It’s a valid, but pointless and hopelessly unmodern opinion, informed by obsolete assumptions about what young men come to play college basketball for. Love or hate the "one and done," it is the way things are done now, and blaming Calipari for renaming it to reduce the negativity of how it is perceived, a perception which is driven mostly by Luddites like Gottlieb, is substantially similar to rants against the "horseless carriage" a hundred years ago.
Regarding coachability, Calipari himself has given lie to that argument, as he has proven over and over that young men with the "succeed and proceed" mentality, if you will, are anything but uncoachable if you approach the problem with honesty and integrity, instead of in the authoritarian, deceptive manner favored by some college coaches, and apparently, Gottlieb also.
Let’s move on, though, we could do this all day. Consider this:
Coach Cal has cornered the market on NBA-minded talents who see Lexington as the best possible place to play college basketball while prepping for the draft. There is NOTHING wrong with Kentucky using one and done to win, then recruiting more and more talented players. But to me, "Succeed and Proceed" is Cal’s effort to hide from a system he benefits from, no matter who created the system.
Ah, now we get to the root of his problem — semantics. It’s true Calipari uses "succeed and proceed" to describe what he does rather than the widely-loathed "one and done." And this is a bad thing because Gottlieb thinks that whatever you call it, "one and done" should be loathed, and no true fan could love it. He despises the fact that Calipari’s construction might make it even modestly more acceptable — perish the thought!
But what is "one and done" except a bit of doggerel generated by sportswriters for the benefit of fans? "Succeed and proceed" may be contrived, but it is surely a more positive message, and not just because "one and done" has been so widely reviled, but also because it contains the elements of success and life progression. Surely Gottlieb isn’t opposed to either of those concepts?
Then you have Cal’s "combine." Talk about a complete waste of time. It isn’t that NBA scouts didn’t attend – Cal’s vortex sucked all of us in. But NBA scouts will hopefully make their determination on a Kentucky player’s virtues based upon Big Blue’s 40 games, not an organized practice in October. Cal reportedly tells people Coach K has an advantage by coaching Team USA (which I believe to be true, by the way), then creates his own advantage by having ESPN broadcast what amounts to a Kentucky infomercial. It’s simple enough to be genius.
What to say about this? According to Gottlieb, NBA scouts are so flush with time that they have nothing better to do than waste it watching future NBA players get put through their paces. Apparently, NBA scouts, who presumably know a thing or two about the game they scout for, think that maybe this might just be the very thing they are paid to do. Also, for some reason, the money-making machine colloquially known as "ESPN" found the combine such a "waste of time" that they broadcast it on live television. Perhaps this is an implicit dig by Gotlieb at his former employer, suggesting they threw away their valuable broadcast time on a whim.
It seems that everyone except for Gottlieb — scouts, ESPN, recruits and fans — doesn’t understand just how useless this combine thing was. I propose an alternative explanation; that it is Gottlieb who doesn’t get it, that his predisposition to dislike "one and done" or whatever he wants to call it completely obscures his ability to rationally examine anything related to it.
Then Gottlieb suggests that Calipari was merely trying to one-up Mike Krzyzewski. Really? I’m not quite sure how that works. There was nothing at all stopping Coach K from putting on a "combine," waste of time or not, and NBA scouts would have shown up in at least the same numbers as at Kentucky and the same benefits that inured to Calipari and Kentucky would have been enjoyed by Duke and Coach K. Given that, this smacks of a simple parroting of earlier members of the sports commentariat making this same invalid argument. In fact, his whole piece by Gottlieb is one, giant "No true Scotsman" fallacy.
Gottlieb seems to think that rather than embrace the "succeed and proceed" or whatever he prefers to call it, we should essentially dissemble, minimize any effort to expose young players to the NBA and try to convince them to come back to school when, at least in some of the cases, that would clearly be contrary to their best interests. Nice guy, that Doug Gottlieb, just don’t give him a chance to coach your sons who have legitimate NBA aspirations.
Now we go on to the "Kentucky has too much talent" part of the piece. We discussed the other day that there is some research support to the idea that as high-level talent on a team increases, the returns diminish to the point where the talent becomes a drag on success. I reasoned that Calipari solved this apparent problem by forming two teams within his squad, thereby diluting the talent to the level where the problem no longer exists.
Gottlieb has a rather cynical take on it, however:
This season, Calipari is spinning the ‘too many dudes’ sentiment around his team, presenting it as a ‘platoon’ system. He even has pundits drinking the Kool-Aid about how Kentucky’s second team could be others’ first team. Whether that’s true or not, it’s beside the point: depth is overrated in college basketball, especially if you don’t press. (Kentucky isn’t really wired to pressure, as they are bigger than they are quick or fast). Moreover, kids need touches and shots, and my in-depth research reveals you can only play with five players and one basketball. Kentucky does have strength in its depth, but Cal having to sell it suggests it is going to be tricky to keep everyone happy.
Let’s start with the importance of depth. It is surely true that all the TV timeouts and such have reduced the effectiveness of depth from the standpoint of tiring out an opponent unless you press, and it’s perfectly true that Kentucky isn’t built to press constantly.
But Gottlieb reckons without the psychological effect of having to face wave after wave of fresh players, and not just fresh ones, but similarly talented brigades with different skill sets. It’s hard to get used to that, especially when it happens at every single position. The reason Gottlieb doesn’t get it is because it’s never really been done to this extent in major college basketball. I think he’s going to be surprised at the effect it has, and I know because I have had the benefit of seeing it in action in the Bahmas. Evidently Gottlieb didn’t.
Also, Kentucky is wired to press some this season, just not on both squads. Gottlieb appears to see this as a zero sum game, where in order to be effective, a deep college team must run a Rick Pitino-like pressing attack. I don’t think this is true, and neither does Coach Cal. I guess we’ll see who’s right later on.
Gottlieb styles himself a serial dissenter from the conventional wisdom of basketball prognosticators, except when it comes to "succeed and proceed," where he hews closely to the party line, and is apparently even one of its more extreme elements. He has always had barely-hidden disdain for Calipari and Kentucky, and it was reflected last season when he left Kentucky out of his pre-season Final Four, the only writer at CBS sports to do so. He might have looked like a genius March 1st, but he wound up looking like a fool on April Fools Day.
This is more of the same passive-aggressive folderol we have come to expect from Gottlieb, a man who has made enemies of Jim Boeheim and enraged Tom Izzo, two coaching legends, after making intemperate comments about them and/or their respective teams.
Having said that, I think it’s important to point out two things: One, that John Calipari really does believe in getting players to their dreams with all deliberate speed, and that dream is to be drafted into the NBA. Two, Calipari’s use of the platoon system and "combine" are designed strictly to further his "players first" objectives. Yes, other benefits do come from those things, but if nothing else, Calipari has been adamant about his insistence that the best interests of his players are his top priority, and all others are secondary. Calipari has walked that walk, and it serves him very well. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is either a hater or a self-deluded, cynical fool.
Which one is Gottlieb? Do I dare? Yes, I do; "I deride, you decide."