I have to tell you, this was among the most awkward and painful-to-watch interviews I have ever seen John Calipari do. It is also among the least interesting, content-wise, which is extremely rare for Coach Cal — he can make the most mundane and pedantic subject fascinating. But it is interesting from a broader perspective.
I think this was, in a way, Calipari at his best. He refuses to answer Davis’ question, and instead embarks on a long filibuster talking about how his objective is to help young men succeed, and the philosophy informing his coaching career. The thing that interests me about this is that Calipari has addressed these Final Four questions before many times. He is clearly unhappy at being asked to address them again, and makes an obvious conscious decision not to.
But even more obvious to me is that he not only intends not to answer the question, but intentionally did so in a way to consume most of the interview time explaining his perspective on coaching, why he does it and what motivates him. We in the Big Blue Nation have heard this thousands of times, of course, and there is nothing new, groundbreaking, or even the least bit newsworthy in his answer.
Calipari answers the question he wanted to hear, not the one that Davis asks, and because of that, you wind up wondering if he’s ever going to even tangentially address Davis’ question. It’s really distracting and awkward-looking, and Calipari’s body language screams annoyed weariness with the subject.
I can’t read Calipari’s mind, but I can read his face and his words. He’s done dealing with this question. He’s not going to answer it ever again (and yes, "ever" may be an overstatement) and this is a message to interviewers that they are going to waste valuable interview time asking it. To be fair, this is the first time in a while I have seen this brought up, and I do think it’s about time to let the past die. Those vacated Final Fours are a historical fact, and it’s my impression that Calipari is inviting people to draw whatever conclusions they want, but he’s tired of helping his detractors see the truth that they have no intention of looking at anyway.
The big reason is that the correct answer requires throwing his former players under the bus, and looking like a self-serving excuse-maker in the process. That's not what Coach Cal wants to be — he wants to be forward-looking and positive. He’s not going to condemn or blame his former players, he’s never done that, and that isn’t going to change. The question will still get asked from time to time, but you can likely expect filibusters and non-answers for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever.
For those of you tempted to bash Davis for asking the question, I can’t tell you how to think, but I can tell you what I think. I like Davis. I think he is one of the nicest men in the college basketball commentariat and I believe he genuinely likes Coach Cal. He’s trying to be a serious journalist here, even though, with respect to him and with no offense intended, I don’t think that’s the best look for him at this point in his career. He can’t pull off that role very well yet; his youthful appearance makes him look small and obsequious when asking tough questions of older men, and his humor comes off as more frat boy than sharp and incisive. But I do appreciate the effort and intention, and as I said, I like him, Duke pedigree and all. Apologies to Davis if this comes off as damnation by faint praise; I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.