With recent news that Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, and today Tyus Jones will enter the 2015 NBA Draft, we have hopefully come to the end of a sad and hypocritical era of media criticism of John Calipari. It is truly pathetic that all it took for this to happen was for Mike Krzyzewski to put his imprimatur of consent to the idea that college coaches should try to recruit the best players regardless of their NBA intentions. As self-evident as this concept seems, it has been drawing censure for six consecutive years from sports journalists around the country, 100% of it aimed at Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Now that Krzyzewski has recruited and won an NCAA Tournament championship with three "one-and-dones," it is suddenly okay for coaches to do this. Only 12 months ago, it was worthy only of contempt, derision, and disdain. Column after column appeared smiting Calipari for destroying college basketball. Bob Knight announced that it was "a disgrace." Most in the commentariat were falling all over themselves concern-trolling the entire nation and using Calipari as their example of the sad state of college basketball, even as he was in the middle of an unprecedented run of success.
Mike DeCourcy set the table for this particular piece last November with his insightful and prescient column fittingly titled, "Will Duke’s one-and-done deep dive end age limit hypocrisy?" It seemingly has, but at what cost? Where now are the criticisms of Krzyzewski, the thousands of column-inches of words decrying his complete immersion into what was previously considered the Dark Side? Where are the laments for Krzyzewski’s teams of old that did it with juniors and seniors, as we saw with Coach Cal? Consider this:
So what will [Bob Knight] say now? What will all of them say, all of those who behaved as if this were John Calipari’s rule, his personal province? Because this morning, the university that has collected three apparent one-and-dones, three top-10 prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, is not Kentucky. It is Duke.
What will they say, indeed? Well, that question has now been largely answered, but the mendacity has merely changed its focus from scorn directed at Calipari to lauding Krzyzewski for "adapting" and "changing focus.".
This is hypocrisy in another form. Many of the writers lauding Krzyzewski are doing so at the expense of their own arguments, their own expressed opinion that when Calipari is winning this way, it is somehow evil. They don’t write that Krzezewski has embraced Calipari’s evil, but rather that his touch turns "evil" in to necessary, even good. Consider this somewhat tongue-in-cheek article from Greg Logan of Newsday:
The uniforms were blue and white, and three of the starters were freshmen, including two likely NBA lottery picks. But that wasn’t Kentucky coach John Calipari’s "one-and-doners" facing a veteran Wisconsin team for the NCAA national championship Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That was Duke, the paragon of virtue in college basketball, the place where "student-athlete" is a term that doesn’t provoke snickers. And it was Mike Krzyzewski, transforming himself into "Coach Konvert" and placing his faith in a bunch of 19-year-olds to produce his fifth national title.
It’s more about lauding of Krzyzewski’s "accomplishment" and "adaptation" than anything else. The sycophantic response of the media to this event has been risible in the extreme, but totally predictable. For more of the same, consider this from Stewart Mandel:
But if Calipari is the one-and-done devil, why doesn’t Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — the sport’s universally recognized paragon of virtue — endure any of the same flak? His team might not be 38-0 like Calipari’s, but he would not be here without a trio of soon-to-be-out-the-door freshmen.
In fact, his team this year is actually more dependent on freshmen than Kentucky’s.
Does that mean Coach K has turned to the dark side? Nope. He’s just adapted to the current climate of his sport, albeit a little more slowly and less flamboyantly than Calipari.
Somebody help me with this argument. How is it the Dark Side when Calipari does it and not the Dark Side when Krzyzewski does it? Can anyone, anywhere, explain how this dichotemy is logically possible? I mean, I have seen special pleadings before, but this one takes the cake.
But for abject lickspittle fanboy-ism, nobody can top Kentucky’s favorite foil, Pete Thamel writing for Sports Illustrated:
Krzyzewski maintained that that his reliance on freshmen has come more from opportunity than envy. Some of that can be tied to USA Basketball, as Krzyzewski can easily monitor if players like Okafor, Jones and Winslow can handle Duke’s culture and demands as they move through USA Basketball’s youth system. Even if he’s not coaching them. "There seem to be more guys like that," Krzyzewski said of talented recruits ready to handle Duke. "It just worked out that way."
This is flat-out nonsense, a torture of Krzyzewski’s comments. It was never about opportunity or envy; it was a great coach realizing that he could no longer compete with the best of college basketball using the methods he preferred. Nobody, not Calipari, not Bo Ryan, not Roy Williams and not Mike Krzyzewski wants to lose their best players after only one season. Unfortunately, it is hard, if not impossible, to be at the top of the sport without players who might do just that. Krzyzewski, to his great credit, simply refused to be left behind when he had the kind of program that didn’t have to be.
And of course, we have the anti-Calipari contingent, led by Pat Forde, out there doing a happy dance not so much that Duke won, but that Kentucky did not:
A guy whose program was the province of four-year players in the early ‘90s has now beaten Kentucky’s John Calipari at his own game – the one-and-done game. The first titles were won with Christian Laettner as a junior and senior, which never would have happened had he come along later. This one was won with four freshmen in key roles, at least a couple of which are likely to be gone to the NBA this summer.
You could expect little else from Forde, who upbraided Calipari last year with his infamous (and ultimately, crow dinner) "You made your bed John Calipari, now lie in it" article. We all know how that worked out.
I could go on with more examples, dear member of the Big Blue Nation, but I know you’ve seen them, read them, or heard about them. And if you imagine that this will truly be the end of the Calipari hate, you are wrong, but the critics will now lose a major talking point. Krzyzewski has done Kentucky fans a favor by neutering a number of Calipari’s critics, forcing them to stick with what is now ancient history as the best way to attack him. That will always be around, and we embraced that hate a long time ago.
But the one-and-done criticism, at its heart, was always wrongheaded, insincere, and rooted in envy and confirmation bias. It was the most disingenuous of arguments from day one, arguing the bizarre and nonsensical notion that ethical schools should somehow decline to recruit the more talented players who might be "one-and-done" in favor of the NCAA ideal of 4-year student-athletes. They never actually managed to say exactly that due to the racial and class bias inherent in such a stance, but it was strongly implied by most of its proponents.
In the final analysis, I don’t want anyone to think this article is intended to criticize Krzyzewski — to the contrary, I am more inclined to praise him. It’s not his fault the media slavishly set him on an ivory tower. The criticism rightfully belongs with the misguided and anachronistic among the sports media, and the hypocrisy they have fomented and inflicted upon us for lo, these past six seasons.
Even if they won’t say it, Calipari is now fully revealed as a trailblazer in college basketball, a man who saw the future before anyone else. That future is by no means set; the early-entry draft rules have changed before and nobody would be surprised if they changed again. When they do, you can expect Calipari to lead the charge when it comes to doing what he thinks is best for his players, and his team.
Kudos to Coach K for his vision, belated as it may be. Razzies to the media luddites for having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the complete and utter exposition of their hypocrisy, the admission of which still mysteriously eludes them.