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Derek Anderson's Shot at Kentucky Wildcats Coach John Calipari is a Brick

Derek Anderson was a great player for Kentucky, but his criticism of John Calipari is a brick.

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No doubt you’ve all heard about former Wildcat Derek Anderson’s comments regarding John Calipari. If not, Kentucky Sports Radio has a pretty good synopsis here, along with a link to the original commentary on ESPN 360 here in Louisville with Drew Deener.

I just want to make a few points about Derek’s comments, with the first and most important being that Anderson was a great player at Kentucky, loves the school and the basketball program, and is not by any means a clueless Calipari detractor. He is a card-carrying member of the Big Blue Nation. As such, he is entitled to his opinion, unpopular though it may be in much of Kentucky fandom, and still deserves our respect. It is not by any means a crime to wish that players spent more time in school, nor is it wrong to desire that a coach try to convince them to do so. Derek’s experience is almost 20 years removed from the present day, and nobody can blame him for wishing players did what they used to do "back in the day."  Many of us have pined for the good old days more than once.

There are surely some people who agree with him wholeheartedly, although I reckon them to be an almost insignificant minority of the Big Blue Nation when it comes to the way he presented his case, which is essentially that Calipari should stop helping players make their own decisions and try to convince them to return.

Now, let’s get down to points. First off, this passage:

"If Coach Cal wanted to keep these kids and develop them, he should tell them that. He’s just running them in and out. It’s not him, it’s not just him, it’s the parents. If my son is supposed to go second round, ‘Son, you need to stay in school, get your degree in case something happens, and also finish the job. Make sure you make these people know you can actually play.’ They’re just running them out of here. Like Dakari Johnson. I hope he makes it, but he’s a 7-footer who can’t jump. What’s he going to do with no degree when he’s done in two years?"

It’s a misapprehension of Calipari’s program to suggest that he "[runs] players in and out." Calipari recruits them with the understanding that he will not act as an impediment to them reaching their dreams. If he substitutes his judgment for that of NBA scouts and the player’s parents, he does the young men a grave disservice, and just because Rick Pitino or others may be willing to do just that does not mean Calipari should. These guys are of the age of consent, and capable of making their own decisions. Instead of "kids," as Anderson and others would treat them, Calipari treats them like men — something they manifestly deserve.

It is not Anderson’s place to tell a parent what they should advise their child to do. He does not know the individual circumstances of the family, and without that knowledge, how is it possible to accurately judge the right decision?

Also difficult for me to comprehend is how this comment squares with the players who did come back. Last year alone, returning players created a glut of talent at Kentucky that forced Calipari to coach in a way he was completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. I guess last year he forgot to run the guys off for some inexplicable reason, if we accept Anderson’s construction. He also forgot to run off Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Willie Cauley-Stein and others, including Dakari Johnson.

By the way, did it escape his notice that no matter how long Dakari Johnson stays at Kentucky, he will always be a 7-footer who can’t jump? Does he think leaping ability can somehow be taught or developed? Calipari’s good, but even he’s not that good.

Anderson’s second comment of note was criticism of Calipari’s coaching:

"Last year, when we went to the Final Four with [Julius] Randle and them, it was because of pure talent, and the reason we lost? Coaching. Why did Louisville beat [UConn] by 30? They pressured their guards. We let the kid Shabazz Napier–he walked the ball up and just shot in our face the whole night. I’m like, ‘did you not watch the tape of Louisville beating them? They pressured these guys.’"

If there is anything we know well around here, it is second-guessing the coaching decisions of Coach Cal. I can’t complain about Anderson doing what I have done for the last six years, can I? He is perfectly within his rights to make this comment.

I think Anderson’s criticism falls flat mainly because as an expert on the college game, I know that pressing a team like 2014 UConn with Aaron and Andrew Harrison (freshmen at the time, by the way) would’ve been a recipe for disaster against the much quicker Connecticut upperclassmen Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. You don’t have to be an expert to know that, though, you just have to have a decent handle on the game. You don’t press players like that unless you have guys that can keep up with them. Louisville did, and Kentucky didn’t.

To me, this looks more like an attempt to build up Pitino by criticizing Calipari. Pitino was Derek’s coach, he played a pressure game back then, and it’s only natural for him to believe in its superiority, and for him to think Pitino’s method is better. While Anderson is certainly qualified to comment on Calipari’s coaching, he does need to keep in mind that Coach Cal is a Hall of Fame coach, and that Anderson has never won a single college game in the role of head coach.

Mike DeCourcy today was much more harsh in his assessment of Anderson’s comments than I am, largely because I am a Kentucky fan and have an inherent bias toward reading the comments of former UK players in the light most favorable to them. DeCourcy lacks this cognitive dissonance. Consider:

The hilarious thing about this statement is that one of the teams Kentucky beat on the way to the 2014 championship game was – wait for it – Louisville. Coached for all 40 of those minutes by Pitino.

So Anderson is suggesting Kentucky lucked through games against Kansas State (Bruce Weber), Wichita State (Gregg Marshall), Louisville (Pitino), Michigan (John Beilein) and Wisconsin (Bo Ryan) – every single one of those coaches with a Final Four on his resume — but then got totally outcoached in the very end.

That make sense to any of you?

Anderson’s declaration that Kentucky should have employed a pressure defense ignores that the Wildcats, with the Harrison brothers and James Young on the perimeter, were not really built as a fullcourt pressure team. It would have been rather curious to junk the gameplan that got UK into the final to throw a press on a team whose strength was its two elite guards, Napier and Ryan Boatright.

Finally, this, where Anderson suggests there is a right way and wrong way to coach, and Calipari is doing it wrong:

I love Coach, I think he’s a great guy, he helps people out, he brings us back, he’s treated me with nothing but respect, but I’m talking about coaching. I’m not talking about personal, I’m talking about coaching. If you’re going to coach these kids, let’s make them play the game the right way."

The "right way?" Who’s right way? Bo Ryan’s way? Mike Krzyzewski’s way? Pitino’s way? Tom Izzo’s way? Help me out here, Derek — what is the right way to play college basketball?

John Calipari at Kentucky is 190-38 (.833) despite having the highest personnel turnover rate of any coach in college basketball and perennially one of the youngest teams in the country. For his career, he’s at .781, better than Dean Smith, Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Pitino, Phog Allen, Lute Olsen, Larry Brown, Ryan, Izzo and a whole host of coaching legends.

Contra Anderson, Calipari’s obviously doing coaching right, and his players are playing the right way. Facts are stubborn things, and these facts are indisputable. Anderson may prefer a different method, but you cannot argue with Calipari’s consistent results, and the results of his players.