Kentucky coach John Calipari made it obvious why he’s the highest-paid member of the Commonwealth in Saturday’s 90-73 win over Indiana.
With a 10-0 start, and two away from 2,000 all-time for Kentucky, Calipari has brought the Wildcats all the way back from their lowest point in more than a decade.
And he reached the 10-0 milestone, last accomplished by Rick Pitino in the 1992-1993 season, against the best measuring stick in the nation—Indiana coach Tom Crean.
Crean, in his second season with the Hoosiers, had a similar resume as Calipari before heading to Indiana: A Final Four appearance, consistent winning records, and the ability to develop NBA-ready talents.
Where Calipari distanced himself from Crean in his first year at Kentucky is recruiting. He picked up top-ranked recruits DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall after joining Kentucky last March, and now the only real remnants of former coach Billy Gillispie are Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris, and Darius Miller.
Oh, and Calipari is winning, too.
It can be argued that Crean had a bigger rebuilding project at Indiana, or that Kentucky’s name recognition towers over the rest, but Calipari has done more with his youth—twice more, according to the win column.
That’s not to say that Crean hasn’t made an impact at Indiana, where former coach Kelvin Sampson left behind a train wreck of NCAA violations and few scholarship players.
“I have to look at our progress in two lights,” Crean said. “No. 1: where it was a year ago, and No. 2: where it is from week to week. There's no question that it's a much different mentality all the way across the board from a year ago.
“There's no question that our improvement continues to show up with us, but at the same time, there's absolutely no question that we have a long, long way to go to be as competitive on a daily and nightly basis that we need to be.”
But Calipari blew past changing Kentucky’s mentality in the offseason when he revamped the Wildcats’ roster, taught them how to win before the season started, and proved that his team can be competitive on a nightly basis by knocking off North Carolina and UConn in a matter of days.
To see how far ahead of Indiana that Kentucky is on the road back, as well as why Calipari is worth his eight-year, $31.65 million contract, look at the dialogue.
Calipari says his team isn’t playing as they should on either offense or defense. He says they don’t do well enough in transition. He says team defense is a foreign concept to the Wildcats.
Calipari also said Indiana, a 17-point loser to Kentucky, was one of the Wildcats’ best challenges of the season.
"The one thing I will tell you is that they are just as young as we are,” Calirpari said. “They're just as young. He's done a better job of coaching them, in that they are where they're supposed to be defensively. They don't break down.”
Is that the full truth? Probably not, but Calipari is also a master of words.
So is Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who will earn $124,498 this year.
It’s fair to say the University of Kentucky is getting what it paid for in the quickest basketball rebuilding job since...well, at least Indiana's.
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