I wrestled with writing anything at all when it comes to this topic. I saw the poll released a little while ago by CBS Sports and, to absolutely no one’s surprise, the names at the top of the list are exactly the ones you thought would be there. Again, this is a Louisville site and it’s debatable whether this even has a spot here or not, but in the end I asked myself one question: would the other UK sites be linking this story and adding their own two cents if things were reversed and Rick Pitino’s name topped the list of biggest cheaters in the game? Ummmmm, yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say yes, they absolutely would. Here’s my take on the whole thing, and it’s rather simple and straight forward. Does John Calipari cheat? Nope. At least I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. And after garnering about 36% of the votes on CBS’ poll (which was taken from a sample pool of 100 head coaches and assistants this summer), I also think a good majority of the nation looks at Calipari with not only pure contempt, but with an insane amount of jealousy. And I’m willing to go on the record and say as much. Absolutely, other coaches are jealous of what he’s done. The thing is, Cal doesn’t have to cheat now. The program is at an all-time high after winning another National Championship last year and now it’s become a status symbol of sorts for top-flight recruits. Go to Kentucky and you’ll compete for a title, assuredly dominate the SEC, get national television exposure and get drafted in the first round. What’s not to like? But the thing is, to get to the top of the mountain, sometimes sacrifices need to be made. Decisions – improper or not - are delegated and relationships – shady or not – are forged. And for about ten years, I’m pretty sure that no one associated with college basketball can say with a straight face that all that Cal has accomplished did NOT come from at least bending the rules on some occasions.
Now, before going any further, let me say this. What’s being written between these lines is my perception of the situation. I absolutely have no proof, nor do I care to find any. In most every avenue of life, perception (at least to some degree) is reality. And that, my friends, is not up for debate. The fact of the matter is, Cal toes the lines of what’s illegal, what’s accepted and what’s allowed, better than any other head coach in the nation. He’s got a masters and an honorary doctorate in the field of ‘exploiting the gray area of college hoops.’ He’s the Martin Scorsese, Warren Buffet, Jim Walton, Mark Zuckerberg of gray area exploitation. Does he have a connection and relationship with a renown handler / agent in William Wesley (aka World Wide Wes)? Absolutely. In fact, more than just a connection. Cal is signed to the Creative Artists Agency, which, not coincidentally, has incredibly strong ties to Wesley. It’s illegal for people employed, or in relation to, sports agencies to engage in contact with prep players. They also cannot, under any circumstances, recruit on the behalf of a University. Yet Wesley remains closely connected with many former Kentucky and Memphis basketball stars that ended up playing for Calipari. Runners and handlers are everywhere and, while it’s certainly not clear what his exact role is, to say he has no involvement in the recruiting game or connection with Calipari, is simply a case of burying your head in the sand.
Then there’s the whole matter of being at the helm of two separate programs while they were hit with huge NCAA sanctions, including – in both instances – the vacating of wins and Final Fours. Of course Cal was never personally pegged with any individual sanctions or suspensions. The CBS guys pointed out yesterday that Wesley is far too slick to get caught and will forever glide under the radar. In my opinion, the exact same can be said for Calipari. While coaches like Jim Calhoun and Donnie Jones show their gray-area amateurism, Calipari lavishly exposes himself to that very underbelly, only to disappear in the middle of the night leaving absolutely no clues or trail to follow. He knows how to play this game, and more importantly, like Wesley, how to cover his own tracks. Kentucky fans religiously ripped on Cal and called him a cheater vehemently before he arrived in Lexington. But now, suddenly, the switch has been flipped and we’re all supposed to look the other way and pretend like he’s the basketball equivalent of the Virgin Mary? Look, Rick Pitino is no angel. And that’s the thing, we’ve blasted him and his off-the-court antics several times. Not to mention his lack of NBA players, recruiting prowess at times and overall flip-flopping on certain issues. Because, honestly, what good is that and how does it provide any semblance of objectivity? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. So at what point does Cal begin to get that same level of treatment?
I just feel that he’s reached some sort of deity’s level in which he’s untouchable. The NCAA surely keeps a close eye on the program, yet nothing comes up (even in the Bledsoe and Cousins situation). The fans will always remain loyal and look the other way as long as he reels in top recruiting classes and competes for titles. Is it jealousy when people rip Cal? Yes. Is it perhaps not fully understanding his salesmanship and ability to recruit at the highest possible level? Also yes. But if you step back, rip off your college sports allegiances and look at what’s happened in the past, can you really blame the guys at CBS, the coaches they interviewed or the thousands of fans from other schools that agree with their findings? Like it or not, perception is reality. And the perception out there in college basketball circles, is that John Calipari is the nation’s foremost authority when it comes to bending the rules.