ESPN debuted another one of their renowned ‘30 for 30‘ documentary’s last night, at 9:00 p.m. ET, and it was billed as “An intimate look at University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, one of the most compelling and controversial figures in sports. Featuring never-before-seen footage as he tries to capture his second national title.”
So after watching ‘One and Not Done,’ I asked myself, what exactly is Calipari’s legacy? Is he simply a great recruiter? Is he a disappointment? Is he a villain? Is he on the same level as Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, and Roy Williams?
Well, to start, hell yes he is a great recruiter. Calipari has erupted during the One and Done Era, getting the likes of Derrick Rose (No. 1 pick), John Wall (No. 1), Demarcus Cousins (No. 5), Brandon Knight (No. 8), Anthony Davis (No. 1), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2), Nerlens Noel (No. 6), Julius Randle (No. 7), James Young (No. 17), Karl Anthony-Towns (No. 1), Devin Booker (No. 13), Jamal Murray (No. 7), and others. Not to mention the fact that De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are lottery picks in the upcoming draft. No other coach or program boasts that type of NBA Draft success since 2006.
But at the same time, is he a disappointment? Slightly. With all of that talent, Calipari should have more than one national championship. Obviously winning it all is a very difficult job, but he took UMass to the Final Four in 1996, Memphis to the title game in 2008, and Kentucky to the Final Four in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Six trips to the Round of 4 and only one title to hoist. At some point, Calipari is going to be labeled as the guy that couldn’t close the deal consistently, even with all of that extreme talent.
For now, though, some have already labeled the Kentucky coach as a villain. He’s ruined the college game. He doesn’t care about education. He’s a cheater. We’ve heard it all. But, in all honesty, Calipari is far from a villain. He took advantage of a rule change and has ran with it. He may not be the biggest advocate for education or have the highest graduation rate in the country, but most college basketball coaches are focused elsewhere.
And yes, he did have wins vacated at UMass because Marcus Camby was ruled ineligible because of his relationship with a sports agent. And he had wins taken away at Memphis because Rose was supposed to be ineligible for an issue with his SAT score. But no, Calipari is not a bad guy or is evil, he has just had some wins removed from his career record for mistakes that other coaches like Jim Boeheim, Steve Fisher, Leonard Hamilton, Jim O’Brien, and many more have also made. It’s (unfortunately) part of the game.
Calipari is not on the same level as Coach K, Pitino, or Williams, but he is equivalent to Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, and Jay Wright. He needs more titles if he wants to ascend to the exclusive club of multiple championship coaches.
In conclusion, Calipari is arguably the greatest recruiter of all-time, but as he told us himself, he’s a dream-fulfiller. He takes kids’ dreams of playing in the NBA, prepares them for seven months, and then ships them off to accomplish their childhood dream of playing at the highest level in the world while financially supporting themselves and their families. He isn’t a villain, nor is he Coach K, but he is a trend-setter, who has changed the game, all while helping 18-year-old boys become millionaires. Not a bad legacy to have.
Photo Credit: ESPN.