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Kentucky Happy But Should Be Cautious About John Calipari Era

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 26:  Head Coach John Calipari of the Memphis Tigers adjusts his team against the Missouri Tigers in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Phoenix Stadium on March 26, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Mike KlineAnalyst IOctober 17, 2009

Let me start out by saying that I have a lot of respect for the history and tradition of Kentucky Basketball.

They are arguably one of the greatest programs in college basketball history. But I can't help but wonder if their new era under Coach John Calipari is actually a good thing, or not.

When the Wildcats tipped off their basketball season Friday night, they did so in grand style.

ESPN was there to document the concert-like celebration, which included an inspirational speech by Calipari.

As a follower of college basketball for as long as I can remember, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of inspiration in his words. Then it hit me who was in fact talking, and then reality set in.

Calipari spoke of "celebrations and banquets, diplomas and banners, rings and parades."

Sounds good and well, but what hit me like a fist in the stomach was his talk of "diplomas." My first thought was, give me a break.

Calipari is know for getting lots of talent, which he has done. He is known for getting real close to winning the National Title, which he has done twice.

But he is also noted for leaving the UMass program, and it appears the Memphis program, in shambles amid recruiting, and/or academic violations.

Perhaps it was something he picked up from his old boss, Larry Brown, who left Kansas in ruins amid NCAA violations, on his way to the NBA.

Sure, Calipari's name hasn't directly been attached to the wrong doings, but if you are the head coach, and you don't know what's going on in your own program, then something is wrong.

Bottom line, he values all of the things he mentioned, but I don't believe diplomas are one of them.

I'm not even convinced that he is a good coach. If you look at what he has done it isn't that impressive strictly from an Xs and Os perspective.

He essentially is the greatest used-car salesman out there. He has sold big-time recruits on his previous two programs, and built up a reputation of putting players in the NBA.

But what has he really won—Conference USA titles and Atlantic 10 titles with a couple of Final Fours mixed in, both since vacated by their schools by the way.

Prior to going to Memphis he flirted with the idea of taking the NC State job in the ACC. He turned it down because he knew he wasn't going to be able to compete in a tough conference with two established programs, and two solid coaches.

So on to Memphis he went, and the lowly Conference USA where he assembled great talent, and ran up a huge win total against mediocre competition.

Now he is in the SEC, a big name conference who, with the exception of Florida and Kentucky, isn't known as a basketball conference aside from a year or two exception.

He chose a school that practically recruits itself, and he put on his charm to lure in the best class this year. One that has a real chance at being a Final Four team.

What will be interesting to see, is if he goes up against a good coach Xs and Os wise who has some talent. My money's on the good coach.

The bottom line is sure, Kentucky is right back where they should be, and where the entire state, except for Louisville, wants them to be, but at what price?

What if Calipari sullies the program with violations like he has done in the past? What then?

It took Kentucky a while to recover from the Eddie Sutton debacle, and after the tough but short tenure of Billy Gillespie, how hard would Kentucky fall if Calipari goes about his questionable ways?

My hope for the program is that Calipari has been scared straight by his previous two controversies, and will clean up his act.

But unlike all those screaming fans in Rupp who have their minds set on only winning, I'm not ready to drink the Kool-Aid just yet.

So before all the Kentucky fans put a Salman Rushdie-style hit out on me, please realize that while I'm not a fan of the Wildcats, I do realize Kentucky's success is college basketball's gain.

I just hope you aren't so eager to win that you'll overlook the fact that your coach isn't perfect, and in the end could be a big rotten lemon.

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