‘Winning’ only adjective that actually fits Calipari


Choose your adjectives carefully regarding John Calipari. Someone will have an issue with your choice.

Recruits trust him. Many media members don’t. Some might call his top-flight recruiting hauls shady, but it’s impossible to deny his charm and track record. Not buying his attire and demeanor? Try telling that to former enemies who are now friends.

Perhaps most fitting — at least before Charlie Sheen corrupted it – would be winning. That’s Calipari, beyond anything else.  His teams win.

That’s why he’s at Kentucky. That’s why he makes roughly $4 million a year. But the winning isn’t why he’s the most controversial coach in America. He’s controversial because of the other adjectives, though, as S.L. Price recently wrote in Sports Illustrated, “Calipari is what’s wrong with college basketball, but not everyone can agree on what, exactly, wrong is.”


The vacated Final Fours are where most start.

Calipari’s one of 12 coaches to take two teams to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four, yet the NCAA later vacated both those appearances because of rule violations. But the vacated appearances aren’t that simple.

Massachusetts’ 1996 run was stricken from the official record book because star center Marcus Camby accepted at least $28,000 in money, jewelry, prostitutes services and car rentals from two agents while in school. The school had to repay money earned from its four tournament victories. Camby left for the NBA. Calipari did the same.

Yet Camby said Calipari knew nothing about the gifts and Tom Yeager, the chair of the NCAA infractions committee agreed. Yeager wrote a letter to Calipari in 2004: “There is no doubt that you were unaware of the violations involving student-athlete Camby. In a sense, you were an ‘innocent victim’ in this.”

Most scoff at this notion. “How could he not know?!” There’s much a coach doesn’t know about his players, and much of it is out of his control. That shouldn’t overlook UMass’ fate, but it shouldn’t completely damn Calipari, either. After all, even John Wooden had booster issues.

The second vacated Final Four came at Memphis in 2008. This time it was an inadmissible test score.

Star point guard Derrick Rose couldn’t meet the required SAT score after taking it three times in Chicago. When he went to Detroit and passed, the test was later ruled invalid. Gone were an NCAA-record 38 wins and a spot in the championship game.

The NCAA didn’t implicate Calipari in its final ruling, but it didn’t slam the door shut like Yeager did with his letter. He may have escaped official sanctions, but it was more than enough for common sentiment to come to one conclusion: Cheater. (We said it, too.)

But wait. There’s more context.

Calipari’s previous Final Fours are stricken from the official record, yet he’s hardly the only coach in that category.  Nine coaches have “unofficially” been to Final Fours, including two Basketball Hall of Famers in Jack Ramsay and Larry Brown. And that’s just Final Fours.

In all, 34 schools have had NCAA tournament appearances vacated, which covers 37 coaches.  Five of those coaches – Brown, Ramsay, Lute Olson, Ralph Miller and Calipari’s opponent Saturday, Jim Calhoun – are Hall of Famers. Three other coaches who’ve won NCAA titles – Jim Valvano, Jim Harrick and Jerry Tarkanian – made the list with two different schools.

(This doesn’t include coaches who’ve had players that broke rules, but the NCAA ruled in the school’s favor, or players who had questionable high school transcripts, but were ultimately cleared.)

As John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote Thursday, that’s a fact omitted at nearly every turn when Calipari’s past is mentioned. It’s not an excuse – a coach should be responsible for what happens in his program – but important to note because Calipari’s usually the one dealing with the disdain.


He’s been fighting that perception long before he reached the Final Four, too. 

Calipari famously feuded with other coaches while at UMass. Calhoun refused to schedule the Minutemen for various reasons. Temple coach John Chaney was once so enraged by Calipari, his reaction’s become legendary.


While at Memphis, Calipari constantly fought the image of a dirty program because he brought in high-profile recruits. Some (DaJuan Wagner, Shawne Williams) didn’t stick around long. Years before it was commonplace, Calipari encouraged talented players to go pro. Who was he to deny them millions?

It boosted his recruiting profile, but hardly made Memphis the No. 1 holding ground for would-be pros. UConn, Arizona and Duke all produced more pros. And the school continually did well in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, or APR. Not that it helped him shed the slick image.

From the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in 2008:

Calipari was none too pleased when Memphis, largely because of its perceived lack of “program cleanliness” ranked 29th out of 29 teams in [a Basketball Times] survey. According to Basketball Times editor and survey panelist John Akers, Calipari was also “clearly annoyed” to come in 18th out of the 29 coaches, behind the likes of Southern Illinois’ Chris Lowery (sixth), Creighton’s Dana Altman (11th), Kentucky’s Billy Gillispie (12th) and Xavier’s Sean Miller (17th).

Calipari dismissed the survey and its results out of hand when asked about it recently.

“It was done by a bunch of writers who have not been in my corner since I’ve coached,” he said. “If a guy has an agenda, what do I care what he writes?”

That’s how Calipari’s tried to deal with his image in recent years. Ignore it and go on with his winning. (The winning, I would think, helps one ignore everything else.) Calipari’s also done his best to cultivate friendships among former enemies, too. That includes Chaney.


Then, there’s the Xs and Os. Calipari’s long been viewed as a recruiter first, coach second, a guy who you didn’t want on your sideline as the game wore on. Recruiters are slick and all smoke and mirrors. An Xs and Os guy? They’re the teachers of the game.

Yet, when Calipari outmaneuvered both Roy Williams and Thad Matta in a span of three days last week, it marked an important first step to changing the Calipari narrative.  The Wildcats (29-8) have talent with Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, but they also rely on former benchwarmers like Josh Harrellson.

Last year’s Elite Eight squad undoubtedly had more talent. But this year’s team is in the Final Four – and Calipari’s the main reason why. But it’s not about his coaching, it’s about his past.

To a point, that’s fair. Wondering if Kentucky will join UMass and Memphis isn’t unreasonable given his record. But at what point do we stop doubting? In three years? Five years? School president Lee Todd says this year’s Final Four banner is never coming down. He may be right.

In two years at Kentucky, the school’s dealt with probes into two players Calipari recruited: John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. Neither resulted in Kentucky violations.

Maybe that’s what so interesting about Calipari’s current situation. He’s at one of the nation’s proudest college hoops programs and shouldn’t have to be viewed as an outsider at an upstart school. Yet the doubts remain.

From Dan Wolken’s column in The Daily:  

What Kentucky offered Calipari, in his mind, wasn’t about money (he left behind more) or wins or recruits. It was a chance to be cleansed, to come from the shadows and bathe in the light of the sport’s elite, to push his way into an establishment that had always left him on the outside. Even more than basketball, it was the completion of his lifelong struggle to get to the other side of the tracks. …

Only, it hasn’t happened that way at all. Two months after taking the job, an NCAA investigation into Derrick Rose’s SAT surfaced at Memphis, eventually making him the first coach ever to have two Final Fours vacated. … No matter how hard he tried to run from who he is, Kentucky didn’t change a thing about Calipari. He’s still rich, still winning and still the most controversial coach in America. It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Calipari supporters might question why I included a Wolken column. He used to cover Memphis while at the Commercial-Appeal and isn’t seen as a Calipari supporter. But that column – whether the ultimate point is correct or not – sums up the sentiment toward Calipari.

People don’t trust him. Some never will, no matter if he spends the rest of his days at Kentucky graduating 100 percent of players and never takes another five-star prospect. Two vacated Final Fours made up people’s mind. The natty suits, charming demeanor and sly smile rub some the wrong way.

He’s not a villain. He’s not an angel. He’s somewhere in-between, much like any big-time college coach. And right now, he’s winning at a place that’s accustomed to winning, and winning big.

Maybe that’s what irks people most.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

caitlin clark
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers.

Iowa’s junior guard, though, saved her best performance for the game’s biggest stage, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history to get Iowa to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year. She received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Voting was done before March Madness began.

“It’s a huge honor,” Clark said. “I picked a place that I perfectly fit into and that’s allowed me to show my skill set. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean something. It’s not the reason you play basketball, it’s just something that comes along with getting to do what you love.”

The Iowa coaching staff surprised Clark by sharing that she won the award while they were visiting the Iowa Children’s Hospital – a place near and dear to her. It also has huge ties to the Hawkeyes athletic department.

They put together a video of some of the children in the hospital congratulating Clark on an outstanding season, and in the middle of it, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder popped on the screen to tell her she won.

“I’m there for inspiring the next generation and being there for the people that you know are going through a hard time,” said Clark, who grew up in Iowa. “Being able to give joy to people that watch you play and watch your team play is amazing.”

She averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark has 984 points, the sixth-most in a season by any player in Division I women’s history. She also has over 300 assists.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” Bluder said.

Next up for the Hawkeyes is undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals. The Gamecocks are led by Aliyah Boston, last season’s winner of the award. She garnered the other eight votes this season.

“There’s so many great players, more than just me and (Aliyah),” Clark told the AP. “You can go on and on and list the tremendous players. I think that’s really good for our game when there’s a lot of great players. That’s what is going to help this game grow more than anything else.”

Whether it’s hitting deep 3s from the Hawkeye logo at home games, hitting off-balance game-winning shots or throwing pinpoint passes to teammates for easy baskets, Clark has excelled on the court this year to get Iowa to a place it hasn’t been in a long time.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays,” Bluder said. “It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against Top 25 teams. That’s when her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

Clark is the second Iowa player to win the AP award in the past few seasons, joining Megan Gustafson who won it in 2019.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.