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John Calipari Isn't the Future, He's Now: On Andrew Sharp's Column on Calipari's Title


SB Nation writer Andrew Sharp posted a column today regarding John Calipari and Kentucky entitled "John Calipari Is Not the Future." The premise of Sharp's argument, in short, is that while Calipari is a renegade and possibly a sleazebag on the recruiting trail for his brazen courting of one-and-dones, he's a masterful coach who has done wonders with the talent he's brought to Lexington and whose isolation offense is attractive to young stars. I found this to be a compelling, insightful article on many levels.

First of all, I think a lot of us want to believe that Calipari is a poor in-game coach and developer of players who wins on sheer talent alone, and that he gets that talent unfairly. Yet it can't be denied by any serious observer that he did a masterful coaching job this year. As Sharp writes, he took his group of blue-chip recruits and got the absolute best out of them, even better than could have been expected:

So Cal can focus on coaching the players on defense, keeping them together as a team, and making them better as individuals. If you think that's all a bunch of intangible nonsense, go back and watch tape of Marquis Teague against Kansas in November, and then compare that to how he looked in Monday night's National Championship game. He's a completely different player, the same way Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went from a lottery prospect to maybe the number two pick in the draft. Over four months with Calipari, Anthony Davis became the most impressive NBA prospect we've seen since Kevin Durant.

I was further impressed by the cohesion and drive UK exhibited, which flew in the face of the notion that Calipari teams are full of selfish babies who don't care about the good of the team. This was a team, and a very good one, at that. Lastly, I really like Sharp's point about what Calipari's offensive style does for his recruiting success; even if you believe that Calipari cheats, you have to admit that a large portion of his recruiting success owes to the fact that his style is very attractive to big-time recruits.

Where I found myself disagreeing with Sharp was with his broader comparisons of Calipari / Kentucky to other programs. Taking issue with an article suggesting that now everyone will start trying to mimic Calipari's methods, Sharp claims that, first of all, teams won't mimic Calipari because they can win without mimicking him and his recruiting tactics, and two that they can't mimic him because he's a great coach, one of a kind. I don't disagree that he's an excellent, unique coach. I do, though, think that Sharp is relying on the same tired narrative that I took issue with the other day: that Calipari is willing to do things in recruiting that others, such as Sharp's beloved UNC Tarheels, won't. I appreciate the overall nuance provided by the article, but I'm still not buying this part of it. As Gregg Doyel pointed out Sunday, Calipari's recruiting tactics are not exceptional; they're the norm, but a lot of other coaches don't admit to that because they want to mask the fact that simply don't do them as well as Calipari. That may very well be, as Sharp indicates, because Calipari's offense gives him a good sell with the top recruits. However, Sharp stills seems to want to imply that programs like Kansas and UNC are run more honorably than Calipari's program, and that the difference in ethics is part of the equation here. That's where I disagree, for the aforementioned reasons, and I think that any truly rigorous conversation about Calipari needs to begin by acknowledging that the supposed differences between UK and the other marquee programs aren't as stark as they might seem.