Last night I'm sure many of you watched as Kentucky finished it's victory march and claimed it's eighth national title. In my humblest of opinions, this will be marked as a turning point in the landscape of college basketball, the beginning of a new age if you will. By extension, the college basketball we all grew up with died last night.
Say what you will of Calipari, he's made the most of a horribly flawed system. Many sports fans (myself included) find him to be utterly repulsive, that he represents everything wrong with the world of collegiate sports. On the other hand, he's living the American dream right? He's worked his way to the top of the career ladder, and now he can say he's better than all the rest. He's making millions, and he's famous. That's what America is all about right?
Why then do so many of us hate him? I've argued that he's a cheater before, but the more I research into it, the more I find him to be "clean". He's not, don't get me wrong. But he's been very careful to maintain plausible deniability, while distancing himself from his own vacated Final Fours and dodging accusations of wrongdoing like a matador in a bullfight.
He stands at the forefront of basketball recruiting now, many suggest that he's paying players. (Or at least that his players are being paid). I honestly don't believe that's the case. If I were a young athlete on track for the NBA, you wouldn't have to try very hard to recruit me to the Lexington Wildcats. Wait, it's a college team? I thought it was a D-League team? Oh. Alright. University of Kentucky it is. In all seriousness, watch a game of NBA basketball, preferrably a team with some star power. You'll be ooohed and aaaahed and the half-court alley-oops, the nothing-but-net fadeaways, the dunks on every other possession, and the drives to the rim without a dribble inside the three point line. Then, flip over and watch a UK basketball game. It's the same thing!!! Calipari has specifically engineered a
basketball franchise college program to mimic the NBA. Then, he takes his product to the front door of NBA talent and offers to develop them for one year before they head into the league. If you're a blue chip recruit, why would you turn him down? Yeah, there's other prestigious teams to play for, but they play college ball. They run set plays, use the shot clock, play hard-nosed defense, take charges, etc. Seriously do you blame a guy like Derek Willis for choosing UK over Purdue? Painter (or an assistant) sits on your couch and tells you that you're going to have to practice hard just to earn some playing time. He tells you that we pride ourselves on hard work, hard defense, and always scrambling for loose balls. UK on the other hand, tries to fast break after every single rebound. You would think they were playing on a special 20 second shot clock just for them. Their "plays" appear to be completely improvised, and about half of them look like they were specifically designed to make Sportscenter's top plays. I'm not even joking, they should just move the three point line back in Rupp Arena, institute the continuation rule for their home games (oh wait, they already have), split the game into 4 quarters, and just be done with it. For the record, I don't have a problem with a team running an up tempo game. If you have the talent and the depth to put up 90 to 100 points per game, by all means do it. I realize that sports evolve over time. It's just the fact that Calipari does this for the expressed puropse of attracting "one-and-dones" that irks me.
Kentucky has just made a mockery of college basketball. They took a roster of "one-and-dones" (read: "student-athletes" who don't give a crap about being students. Oh, and in response to that ad about how african-american student-athletes are more likely to graduate? Read this.) and beat everyone, convincingly so. We listened and read from our seniors this year about how CMP uses the game of basketball to develop his players into better men, not just better athletes. Do you think coach Cal is doing the same? How could he? He's too busy reeling in the next crop of recruits to
make his millions win a championship.
The days of John Wooden and his Pyramid of Success are over as of today people. Last night we ushered in the new era of college basketball, and it has nothing to do with developing young men into productive members of society. This era is all about winning at any cost, and giving yourself the best opportunity to make loads of cash. Sound familiar? It should, they already have a name for that.