John Calipari is an easy coach to dislike.
If the fact that he has slid by unscathed as the programs that he ran prior to Kentucky had Final Fours vacated isn’t enough, the fact that he is the face of Big Blue Nation and completely unapologetic for recruiting players with the main goal being to get them fast-tracked to the NBA while rumors swirl about the NCAA violations he commits on a daily basis is probably enough to put him on your bad side.
Perhaps the harshest criticism that Coach Cal has taken over the course of his career is the fact that he cannot coach. That he’s a recruiter, a coach that simply rolls the balls out onto the floor and allows the talent he has amassed to take over. As one columnist put it, Coach Cal runs “a glorified AAU team.”
And that is, perhaps, the most inaccurate critique of Coach Cal. When it comes down to it, Coach Cal can coach. As Luke Winn (and John Ezekowitz before him in the College Basketball Prospectus season preview) noted, the past two seasons, he has changed the style that his team plays during the season to highlight the strengths of his team. More specifically, he’s slowed down the pace that his team plays at. This season, Kentucky has gone from a team that averaged 70.7 possessions in non-conference play to one that averages 62.6 possessions in SEC games — a massive change — and it has resulted in Marquis Teague becoming a much more effective point guard. He did the same thing last season and it was a key factor in Brandon Knight’s transition form an overwhelmed freshman to the No. 8 pick in the draft.
Calipari took the time to sit down with Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News for a long question and answer session, and he addressed this very topic.
“They’re not ‘all one-and-dones,'” he said. “That is the disclaimer so you don’t have to say, ‘Boy, he really gets guys better. Their program, their style, prepares kids.’ You’re telling me that Eric Bledsoe was a “one-and-done”? You’re telling me Daniel Orton was a ‘one-and-done’? You’re telling me Shawne Williams, when I was in Memphis, was a ‘one-and-done’? Can you tell me who thought that? Because they need to be drug-tested.”
You can dislike the way that Coach Cal runs a program. That’s your prerogative.
But criticizing his ability to develop talent and coach a team is both unfair and incorrect.