Over the coming two days, one of the story lines that will be the most intriguing to follow is that of John Calipari and his quest to win his first national title.
Calipari is a polarizing figure in the sense that Kentucky fans worship him while most everyone else, with or without a rooting interest, either hates him or is accused of hating him by those same Kentucky fans. And regardless of what percentage of the college basketball watching nation feels the same as Drew Sharp does about Calipari, the bottom-line is that Calipari is quite clearly the villain in this narrative.
It’s not difficult to see why. Two of his four trips to the Final Four have been vacated by the NCAA. All you have to do is spend an afternoon at a high-level AAU tournament and you’ll hear ten stories about Calipari on the same level as the one involving $200,000 that made its way into Anthony Davis’ pocket.
The irony in all of this?
The villain has a record that is just as clean as the good guy’s, Bill Self. Those two Final Fours that were vacated? One was because Marcus Camby was commiserating with an agent. The other was because Derrick Rose cheated on his SATs. It Calipari blameless? No, but he’s about as guilty as the parents of a teenager that is busted smoking pot.
In fact, I think there is an argument to make that there is just as much smoke around the Kansas program as there is around the Kentucky program. Think about it:
– Darrell Arthur may never have been eligible to play college basketball due to grade changes he may have received in high school. Nothing came out of the investigation, but the school did vacate a state title a year after Arthur left due to grade tampering.
– Arthur’s classmate Mario Chalmers came to Kansas as a package deal, as his father received a spot on the Jayhawk’s staff as the Director of Basketball Operations.
– Josh Selby was suspended for the first nine games of his freshman season due to improper benefits he received while he was in high school.
– Three members of this year’s recruiting class were ruled ineligible for the 2011-2012 season.
None of that has been put on Self, the same way that Calipari is still without a record, according to the NCAA.
More intriguing is the fact that the coach of last season’s national title team, Jim Calhoun, actually has gotten himself into trouble with the NCAA. He was, essentially, caught with knowledge of the fact that an alum and an NBA agent was supplying a recruit (Nate Miles) with illicit benefits. But the vitriol sent his way was more or less limited to this column from Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.
The point here is not to defend Calipari. I’m not trying to drag Self or Calhoun through the mud, either. These are all facts, and it will be interesting to see how they are portrayed over the next 30 hours.