Calipari finally gets shining moment
Kentucky coach shows team full of elite recruits can win title
NEW ORLEANS – The proof came in flickering sequences, momentary flashes of basketball brilliance so effortless that at times it almost seemed unfair.
There was the blistering block by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the stud swingman from New Jersey. There was the gutsy 22-point explosion from Doron Lamb, droopy-faced and Brooklyn-bred. And there was, of course, the Russellian 16 rebounds from the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year from the Windy City.
Validation came Monday night in those striking moments, and it came not just for John Calipari. It came for the basketball infrastructure he has crafted, the one so stunningly successful yet the one, until Monday, that was always bereft of its One Shining Moment.
Following his Kentucky team’s 67-59 triumph against Kansas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that was no longer the case. The Wildcat’s venerable head coach would resist acknowledging the elephant in the room -- you know, how does it feel to finally win the big one? -- but there was nonetheless a permeating sense of relief strewn across his tired face.
“I’m glad it’s done, to be honest with you,” Calipari said. “Now I don’t have to hear about the drama, I don’t have to worry any more.”
Prior to Monday night, the criticism trailed him, and more specifically, the manner at which he erected his hoard of hyped hoopsters. He corralled revolving assemblies of players from around the nation, as if the nation’s gyms were bountiful stables and he always had his choice of top thoroughbred.
Yet the Calipari narrative was numbingly repetitive. Be it at Massachusetts, Memphis or now in Lexington, his teams would produce wins, conference titles, advance deep in the NCAA tournament. But a championship remained elusive.
No more. Now, it can finally be said: The Calipari Way can win on Monday night in April.
“I always knew it would happen,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game. “As well as he recruits, the backing he has, the resources, his ability to get guys to play together. I always knew Cal would win a title.”
The beaming scoreboard underlined the weight of Monday’s result. It was a telling token of vindication, of eternal proof that yes, in fact, Calipari’s system works.
“The team deserves all the accolades they’ve been getting,” he said, bouncing all credit for this year’s achievement to his teenage title winners. “We weren’t just a talented team. We were a defensive team, we were a team that shared the ball.”
As it has all tournament, Kentucky’s balanced overwhelmed an overmatched foe Monday. The team had its fifth different leading scorer in a tournament game in Lamb. It had contributions from the roster shaped by its coach that will likely go down as one of the finest college basketball has ever seen.
Now, it seems, Calipari will face another obstacle. It’s assumed many of his talents will bolt quickly for the NBA, their college legacies secured with Monday’s victory. But, as the Big Blue Nation T-shirt so appropriately reads, “We don’t rebuild. We reload.”
Calipari admitted a tinge of excitement: on Friday, he’ll hit the recruiting trail, beginning all again his quest to find the nation’s top young players and convince them a quick stayover in Lexington before the pros is their best option available.
“Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball and getting these players to be the best they can be, by helping young people create better lives for themselves and their families,” he said.
One thousand and fifty-eight days ago, John Calipari, the newly-hired coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, stood dapper with a royal blue tie in the team’s glistening $30-million practice facility.
He then gazed up at the seven national championship banners, a fitting symbol of the burdens that come with commanding the ship in Lexington.
“Let’s double these, let’s double ‘em,” he boldly said.
The unique coercion Calipari has trademarked during his 29 years in the coaching business -- molding unending talent into unending talent that plays together -- was finally corroborated Monday night.
For proof, Kentucky fans, and Calipari, can now gaze upon banner No. 8.