What’s the old saying? If you can’t get your old successful Italian basketball coach to come back to you, go out and get another successful Italian basketball coach? Well, I don’t think anyone ever really coined that phrase but that is exactly what Kentucky is doing.
Amid all of the rumors of Kentucky trying to land Rick Pitino back at their program, they were aiming for another legendary coach. Anyone that knows anything about college basketball and has half of a brain knew that Rick Pitino would not go directly from the Cardinals to the Wildcats, I was a bit surprised to see Memphis head coach John Calipari had taken interest in the open position at the University of Kentucky.
After moderate success (by University of Kentucky standards) under Tubby Smith and a complete train wreck (by University of Kentucky standards) with Billy Gillispie, I thought that it might be time for Kentucky basketball to re-evaluate itself and look back to hiring within the program. A coach such as Travis Ford or John Pelphrey would be a perfect fit. They both played at Kentucky. They both have led successful careers and are enjoying fine stints at Arkansas and Oklahoma State. They’re both young. In fact, I’m downright confused as to why Kentucky hasn’t courted either one of them.
Wait, I’m not confused at all.
Kentucky wants to win right now. They’re not interested in rebuilding a program because as far as they are concerned, they could win it all with the players they have. Calipari is an excellent recruiter and an established winner. He took UMass and Memphis and transformed them into national title contenders, at least while he’s been at either one of those schools. With young, more unseasoned coaches such as Ford or Pelphrey, there would have to be a margin for error for either one of them. Kentucky would be seen as rebuilding their program, not competing for a title.
Billy Gillispie isn’t a bad coach. I’ve heard a lot of Kentucky fans that would tell you the same thing. He just wasn’t the right fit for the program. When Kentucky hired Gillispie, they thought they had hired a coach of Calipari’s caliber. The man went to UTEP and Texas A&M and turned them around instantly. What Kentucky didn’t realize was that he took those football schools to NCAA tournaments and had hardly any pressure on him. He could have taken A&M to the second round every year and been guaranteed an entire career there.
That’s not the case at Kentucky though.
Kentucky lives and dies for basketball. As much as a Kentucky fan might tell you they care about football, they don’t. It’s just something to pass the time until Big Blue Madness rolls around. Billy Gillispie simply had too much pressure put on his shoulders. He was rebuilding a team, and UK wanted to win instantly. Forget the fact that they didn’t have a point guard, a good forward or any depth. In their minds, Meeks and Patterson, perhaps one of the nations best duo’s, could take them deep into the tournament. That just wasn’t the case though. Billy Gillispie just couldn’t get that point across to the fans either. Billy Gillispie was thinking long term while the fans and boosters were thinking short term.
That’s the the case with Calipari though. While Gillispie was going out and looking and 9th and 10th graders, Calipari will go out and look at 12th graders who want to be going straight to the NBA, recruit them, use them for a year, then move on. Calipari has seen great success at Memphis by treating the program like a semi-automatic gun where every year is a different bullet. He simply reloads, reloads, reloads. He took Memphis to the national championship game, just imagine what he could do with Kentucky.
While nothing is official, it seems certain that Calipari will be the next coach at the University of Kentucky. He will more than likely find instant success, and be named the savior that UK thought they were getting when they landed Billy Gillispie.
Calipari at UK will only enhance basketball in the state of Kentucky. While Pitino has Louisville in a prime position to be a national title contender for years to come, you can bet your bottom dollar that Kentucky will soon be where they once were, at the pinnacle of the college basketball world. The UofL-UK rivalry will soon become a slugfest and the most dramatic rivalry in the country. Two of the best recruiters in college basketball will be situated only an hour apart.
Our state will no longer hear the sound of Gillispie’s deep Texas drawl and soon sound like two New Yorkers arguing over a girl at a bar. Regardless of how annoying this may get, we’re about to witness a complete war. You better believe that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is about to become the center of the basketball universe. The North Caroline-Duke game will look like a church league intramural match compared to the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry.
Welcome to a new era of basketball.