With Kentucky’s 68-62 loss at South Carolina a few weeks ago, college basketball was saved.
For the time being, at least.
Biases aside, the 1976 IU team not only remains the last undefeated national champion, but also the perfect group of posterboys for the game. While this is not supposed to be another out-dated — yet still rightful — campaign for Bob Knight and his standards on and off the court, college basketball will never see another coach who shared and obtained his equal desire for academic and hardwood success.
That said, let’s look at Knight and Calipari.
You have Knight, the three-time champion, major-college all-time wins leader, and holder of a flawless violations record. On the other side there is Calipari, the guy who has blown two opportunities at the Final Four and put both of those teams (UMass and Memphis) on probation in the process. One point to the “General.”
How about the philosophy of exactly how to win? Recruiting one-and-done superstars was never an option for a guy like Knight. Players came to graduate and win championships. Whether it’s Marcus Camby, Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans, Calipari has always made sure guys who can win come in right away.
While that alone isn’t a problem, things such as SAT scores (in the Rose situation) and player-coach relationships (see: John Wall) seem to be sacrificed. Knight 2, Cal 0.
In fact, it was the 69-year-old Knight who, just a few months ago, called out Calipari for still being allowed to coach at the college level. While speaking at an event last year on the southside of Indianapolis, Knight took subtle, yet directly blatant, shots as only he could pull off.
“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking, and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” Knight said. “You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.
“And very few people know this, but a kid can play the first semester as a freshman, pass six hours of anything and play in the NCAA tournament without ever attending a class in the second semester. I don’t think that’s right.”
Call it bold. Call it gutsy. Call it the General at his best. But whatever you call it, tie it to something along the lines of perfect.
Not only is it fitting that the prestige of an undefeated season not fall into the lap of a regular season champion like Calipari but also with regards to the Kentucky program.
Back in spring 2007, when the Wildcats fired current Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, Kentucky became part of the problem.
The program forfeited a sure-fire Hall of Famer who won a championship in his first season for an unproven and eventual criminal in Billy Gilispie. To make things better, or supposedly so, they bring in ... Calipari?
While the media seems to always bring out his regular season success at mid-majors, let’s not forget this guy couldn’t get a ring with the 7-foot and current NBA superstar in Camby, or with Rose and his freakishly talented teammates.
And just for giggles, there is Calipari’s baggage that came along with that contract, including country club memberships, frequent brand new cars and a southern mansion.
No matter what Kentucky achieves under Calipari, how long will all of it stand?
Because right now, it’s in the books that Calipari has never led a team to the Final Four.
Again, one point for the General.
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