Being John Calipari: Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Joe M.Correspondent IIMarch 31, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 21:  Antonio Anderson #5 and head coach John Calipari of the Memphis Tigers looks on from the bench area during their second round game against the Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 21, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Tigers defeated the Terrapins 89-70.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

If the tie is any indication, Memphis head basketball coach John Calipari likes to wear the color blue.

Could this be foreshadowing? I hope not.

One of my earliest NCAA memories is John Calipari's 1995-96 UMass basketball team, a team he guided all the way to the Final Four as a chipper 37-year-old. During Calipari's eight years in the Atlantic 10 Conference, UMass amassed a 193-71 record, including 91-41 in conference.

Aside from this dream 35-2 season, Calipari was instrumental in leading his team to the NCAA Tournament four other times, where he won at least one game in all four years.

In addition to this, his success included a trip to the Sweet 16 in his first postseason appearance, followed by an eventual Elite Eight and Final Four appearance.

You can tell by his resume, just like in life, that Calipari worked his way up the chain the same way his teams always rose to the occasion; he got the best out of them.

Calipari propelled this miracle 1995-96 season as a No. 2 seed to take a job in the NBA with the perpetually woeful New Jersey Nets, where he didn't fare nearly as well.

After a season that debuted with a stunning 92-82 victory over No. 1 Kentucky, no one knew what was in store for his team, fresh off an Elite Eight appearance the year before.

In what would conclude as a dream season, led by National Player of the Year and eventual No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Camby—the only player on the squad to make it in the NBA—no other player averaged so much as 10.5 points per game. It was simply superior coaching.

The dream season ended with a Final Four loss to Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats, 81-74.

It could be a cruel twist of fate 13 years later should Calipari join long-time rival Pitino in the Bluegrass State.

National pundits seem excited by the idea of this yearly intrastate rivalry and all its prospects. As an observer of a rival school that would have to witness Calipari turning Big Blue into a national powerhouse again—during all eight years, at the least, of his tenure—I am hoping that doesn't happen.

The thing that makes Calipari so interesting is not the fact that he can simply dominate a weaker conference in Conference USA. It's the fact that he turns little known schools from mediocre conferences into national powerhouses.

Should he go to Kentucky, he'll be just another Wildcat, and just another Wildcat coach forever in the shadows of Adoph Rupp and Pitino—two people he'll always be compared to, but will never outdo, simply because they did it first.

He supposedly stated that going to Kentucky is a once-in-a-lifetime job, like coaching football at Notre Dame, and that it would be hard, if not impossible, to turn down.

If you watched ESPN's First Take this afternoon you heard that, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis boosters met with Calipari and supposedly offered to match "whatever Kentucky offered."

Skip Bayless and Jemele Hill went on to debate Calipari's future, but each agreed that the longer this drags out, the better it looks for Memphis to retain him.

So with money being on equal footing, and rumors of the use of a "private jet" and "generous retirement package," it is a matter of loyalty vs. legacy, and the choice is up to Calipari.

I know what I would do, and that is finish what I started in Memphis where I could dominate and get an easier path into the NCAA where anything is possible once you get in.

My biggest fear is that Calipari's 2009 recruits, which again are tops in the nation, most notaby national No. 1 Xavier (pronounced Zav-e-a) Henry, could follow Calipari to UK, where any teaming with Jodie Meeks and/or Patrick Patterson would be unbelievable...not to mention unstoppable. They are ranked 1-3 on

Throw in the fact that Memphis also covets the nation's No. 1 point guard in John Wall and forward DeMarcus Cousins, and you've got a trio of young, balanced scoring. (Think Fab Five II, but on a smaller scale).

Just think, what if the Fab Five was never able to exist? Not only would Michigan be void of two exciting Tournament runs, but the legend and legacy of this trendsetting class would be gone too, not to mention the baggy shorts which came into style along with their playground attitude.

Think of their potential roster:

C DeMarcus Cousins

PF Perry Stevenson

SF Patrick Patterson

SG Jodie Meeks

PG John Hall

Sixth man Xavier Henry?

What do we call it if they go—six deep???

And it could have been, should have been, for Memphis.

Sure, they wouldn't have Patterson, Meeks, or Stevenson, but I'm fairly certain that Calipari could have more than adequately filled in the so-called "missing pieces," and the team wouldn't have lost a step.

That is the situation we as college basketball fans would be robbed of seeing should "Coach Cal," as ESPN has dubbed him, accept a job under the nation's microscope, complete with their unrealistic fanbase.

Memphis was becoming quite the trendsetter as the nation's premier one-and-done school of student-athletes—or as Bayless puts it, "Athlete-students." By the time the season ends and their grades come in, they'd already be working out, talking with agents, and preparing for the draft.

It is simply a shame that UK can—and did—throw tons of money at Calipari, gloating all the while by saying, "Hey we are UK. You know he's gonna take it!"

This brash attitude has been evident from the beginning. From the talk radio prognosticators to the anticipating articles that have already been written, you can just tell they know they got their man...and they aren't afraid to brag about it.

Talk about spoiled rotten. For shame. Two little seasons of misfortune, including one absence from the NCAA Tournament, and all of a sudden they claim, "Never again are we to suffer such an embarrassment!" as Calipari falls into their laps for the taking.

They should have to experience what the Ole Miss' of the conference feel like for just a little bit longer.

If I'm a Memphian, Memphis alum, student, faculty member, or general college basketball fan in general, I'm stunned and angry.

Quick: Who can name Calipari's predecessor?

If you can't answer "Tic Price," or simply choose not to, there is a good reason for that. Calipari brought Memphis basketball back from the likes of the Larry Finch era or Dana Kirk before that.

A removal of Calipari, and I fear a similar regression for the program, and their fans who deserve better, all this coming just 11 months after the school's first and only NCAA Finals appearance. What a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows.

Here's hoping Calipari has a change of heart, comes to his senses, and denies UK their mulligan, rather, their get-out-of-jail free card.

In keeping with the musical theme of this piece, another song comes to mind, this one by The Four Seasons.

It's title? "Stay."


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