In what should be considered a school embarrassment considering the wealth of 5-star recruits and the literal wealth paid to those 5-star recruits, the #5 seed Kentucky Wildcats were sent home by the #9 seed Kansas State… uhhh… also Wildcats last night. As clearly demonstrated in his post-game press conference, where inappropriate words like, “proud” and, “of our season” were bandied about, John Calipari does not feel adequate shame for coaching one of the most, if not THE most, talented rosters in the country to the point that a sweet-16 berth was legitimately surprising.
Let’s start with the fact that Kentucky was a #5 seed in the first place. As is tradition, Kentucky began the year with the biggest and most talented freshmen in the nation. Maybe they didn’t have one stand-out of a Trae Young, Mo Bamba, or Deandre Ayton caliber, but overall they once again had an insanely talented freshman class. John Calipari managed to turn that bucket of gold he was thrown into an exceedingly-okay team. I would argue that he stripped away all previous coaching which those young men had experienced and left them with only their pure athletic talents, which again were very considerable. In this manner Calipari lowered expectations to the point that his squad garnered a #5 seed and made a “surprise” run to the sweet-16 with only 5-star and 4-star recruits. I even read an article that mentioned Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a surprise on the team because normally 4-star recruits don’t get playing time and transfer out. What a survivor.
But wait, isn’t it harder to coach freshmen? Even if they’re very talented, doesn’t the fact that John Calipari is teaching freshmen give him an out? Well, maybe, if this composition of team wasn’t exactly what he’s been coaching since he moved to Kentucky. Calipari is the progenitor of one-and-done basketball. He’s disgusted by a gifted basketball player above the age of 19. He cards players to make sure they’re UNDER 21 before he drops bags for them. And yet, Calipari subtly dropped the, “this is the hardest coaching job I’ve had” line this year, preparing for what he knew would be the consequences of his hubris.
The greatest shame Calipari should feel is not for the squandering of his players’ talents, but for the way he and his team conducted themselves after losing. Immediately after the game the Kentucky Wildcats walked off the court without shaking hands, congratulating their opponents, or even acknowledging they were beaten. This is the most classless and base act imaginable. I don’t put this on the players, they’re 19 and 20 year-old guys learning how to conduct themselves. It’s Calipari’s job to set the tone and teach those guys that basketball is bigger than the game. You leave it all on the court and do everything to win, but when the final horn sounds, you acknowledge your opponent and celebrate the fact that a great game was just played. To see a coach so full of himself, so self-assured of his and his team’s greatness, that he feels it is below him to congratulate what is in his mind an “inferior” team is disgusting.
When the hammer falls and John Calipari is once again embroiled in NCAA violations, maybe then the shame will creep in. But then again, it never has before, and Calipari has repeatedly found his program on the wrong-end of violations (I’m not sure there’s a right end but that felt good to write). For now, the slime-ball that is John Calipari walks into the sunset, care-free and with a shit-eating grin spread wide across his face. For shame Coach Cal, for shame.