John Calipari maintains Kentucky’s 67-59 win against Kansas on Monday night isn’t that big of a deal for him.
For the program and the hoops-mad state of Kentucky? Oh my, yes.
But for Calipari, a coach on his fourth trip to the Final Four and who had the 2008 title in sight before one 3-pointer, his standard line all week was that a victory wouldn’t change him. It wouldn’t change how he approached coaching, recruiting or life. It’s just another win.
“I feel the same as I did before the game. I don’t feel any different. I’m not going to change who I am,” he said.
That’s actually a fairly standard line among coaches. Roy Williams said the same thing in 2005 when North Carolina gave him his first national title after four previous trips to the Final Four with Kansas. It was something Dean Smith ingrained in Williams and makes sense. One victory shouldn’t define you as a coach. Not in a season a season that can include 40 games.
But it does. And it’ll undoubtedly alter the perception around Calipari.
Not the negative stuff. That’ll never disappear. But any idiotic notions about Calipari’s coaching credentials should finally vanish like a clean look against Anthony Davis.
The Wildcats (38-2) were superior to Kansas in every aspect Monday night, from their defensive scheme to the offensive discipline and unselfishness. There was one hiccup when Kentucky coasted a bit and gave Kansas an opening, but a few adjustments ended that.
The notion that Calipari just recruited the best players, then let them play was always foolish. No coach whose teams post superior numbers year after year is lousy at his job. And to do so with a continually changing group of players, well, that’s not easy no matter how talented those players are.
He’s won using different styles of play, by adjusting to each group’s strengths and by motivating them as well as anyone in the game. Count Kansas coach Bill Self among the people who marvel at Calipari.
“They’ve done a fabulous job coaching their team. They share. They like each other, the appearance is. And they certainly defend,” he said. “I don’t think their staff gets the credit sometimes that they deserve on how well they coach because they’re so talented”
Same goes for his players.
“It means a lot just because he gives us so much credit anytime we win and he’ll take all the fault if anything goes wrong. Just to win for him is something special,” sophomore Terrence Jones said.
Expect more of the same from Calipari. When his first season in Lexington ended with a 35-3 season and a spot in the Elite Eight, five guys went to the NBA. It delighted Calipari, who wanted more of the same. That’s an awfully canny move now.
“The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, ‘You got to go there.’ What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team,” he said. “We were the first program to have five, let’s have six. That’s why I’ve got to go recruiting on Friday.”
When Calipari wins on the recruiting trail, he wins on the court, too. That’s his game. Now that he’s got a title to use when he recruits, who’s gonna slow him down?
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.