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Explaining the Strained Relationship Between Coach Cal and the Fans

Article written by:On3 imageBrent Wainscott
After one of the worst starts to a Kentucky basketball season, only mirrored by a season in 1911, it has seemed like the fans are more frustrated than ever with John Calipari. Calls have been fielded on KSR, tweets have been sent out, but at the same time, it's been kind of hard to articulate what's going on between Coach Cal and the BBN. We obviously love the guy, we appreciate the memories he has given us, but we would be remiss if we didn't say that we as fans are fatigued of quite frankly everything. This is certainly being amplified after a 1-6 start, but now that we're here, it's appropriate to discuss the underlying deficiencies with Coach Cal that we have gladly ignored over the last five or six years. Before we dive too deep into this somewhat fragile subject it should be worth saying again--we love John Calipari. As Kentucky fans, he has brought us some of the greatest memories in 10 years, while other programs have to wait decades for even half of those memories. I'm 21 years old--I was nine when John Calipari was introduced as the next head coach for Kentucky basketball. I've grown up with the guy, he is Kentucky basketball to people my age. He is as synonymous with the program as Adolph Rupp for some. The fact that the very generation that gained their childhood sports memories in large part thanks to Coach Cal, is now growing weary of him, says a lot. It also says a lot that I felt the need to sing his praises before getting into this dissection of the fanbase. It is proof of the growing superiority complex that has slowly developed over the last few years with Coach Cal at Kentucky, which brings me to my first point.

No Longer Relating to the Fans

There was once a time where Coach Calipari embraced the craziness of this fanbase. He has famously said he embraces everything this program has to offer. He even told fans in his introductory press conference that he did not walk on water nor could he wave a wand to bring Kentucky back to prominence, he was just a regular guy like one of us. Now we all know that is not true, the dude is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, he has a national title, and he will go down as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time. He revolutionized the game. But, despite all of those things, he still loved winning games at Kentucky just as much as we did. He relished in beating Louisville, North Carolina, Indiana, Duke, Kansas, and others. Hell, some of you may remember one of the first things he did here was the 'Hoops for Hati' marathon, and while that was a sweet gesture that wasn't done to benefit the BBN, it was still a sign of Cal's thirst to make a connection with the fans by raising money through a telethon. Now, don't get me wrong, Coach Cal still does great things for Lexington--even if it is in private--but the dialogue and attitude have drastically changed. The dialogue has gone from: "You people are crazy," with a big smile on the face and a hunger to excel at the greatest program in college basketball. To: "Our true fans – the fans that are really with these kids – keep cheering them on." Look, there is no one outside of the Kentucky basketball program who wants this team to win more than this fanbase. We have been hungry for something to rally behind and unify through after a horrible 2020 and a football season that only saw four wins. Kentucky fans needed this basketball team to be anything other than what they are now. Instead of lecturing about basketball, telling fans to be patient, seemingly dismissing the 'craziness', and even go as far as to say that he had fun coaching a game that resulted in Kentucky being 1-6 while losing to their arch-rival, Cal needs to revisit his old self and realize how much this program means to a lot of the people in this state--this year especially. Not a single fan wants to hear that you had fun while coaching in a loss to further the worst start in our lifetimes.


That brings me to my next point. Cal has grown UNBEARABLY stubborn in his tenure at UK. Sticking with the theme of relating to the fans, one thing Cal has historically ignored is the non-conference schedule. Yes, he gets a pass this year because this schedule is so tough it apparently makes John Calipari wish someone smacked him in the mouth for it. We're not even asking for a hard non-conference schedule, we're asking for a fun one. For the majority of the time Coach Cal has been at UK it would be generous to say the SEC has not been great. Yes, Tennesee, Auburn, and Florida had their moment in the sun, but top to bottom this is not a daunting conference schedule, so Kentucky fans ache for some out of conference headliners. These fans want to go to Maui, they wanted to play in the PK80, and they still want to play Indiana. Sure, we're spoiled with the Champions Classic, Louisville, and North Carolina every third year, but if Cal would just concede to one of these schedule improvements it would be better than losing to Notre Dame at home or watching a snoozefest against Lamar in the whatever-they-decide-to-call-it classic. To sum it up, losing to college basketball's elite in Hawaii> losing to Notre Dame/Evansville at home. Aside from the nitpicky schedule stubbornness, the glaring problem when it comes to Cal digging his heels in is the style of play. John Calipari was at the forefront of basketball from 2010-2015. Kentucky basketball was MUST-WATCH-TV. Now they're a chore. It is no secret Cal has struggled to adapt to the game of basketball moving behind the arc. Guys like Jermarl Baker, Johnny Juzang, and now Dontaie Allen have had the shortest of leashes, and even some of Kentucky's best NBA products have blossomed into shooters at the next level. Devin Booker, Tyler Herro, KAT, Anthony Davis, are just a few guys who have surpassed shooting expectations in the league. Even Skal Labissiere went for 30+ one night and Mychal Mulder is currently playing minutes for the Golden State Warriors. Not to mention Baker and Juzang are lighting up scoreboards in the PAC-12. This is obviously nothing new, but how is it that it's 2020 and Cal still wants to play inside? It just doesn't work anymore. It's time to adapt and get guys in here who can shoot, and he's got to let them learn to miss. Do you all remember how hard it was to watch Tyler Herro shoot in his first few months as a Wildcat? It was dreadful, he was 14 for 50 behind the arc in his first 10 games. However, Cal let him play through it and Herro finished the season 36% from deep including a game-winning shot against Houston to send Kentucky to the Elite Eight. Here's the catch, Herro was fortunate to get those looks. Luckily he had the right amount of stars beside his name. But on a team that is DESPERATE for offense, Cal refuses to give these secondary guys room to miss. Outside of Mintz, there is not a single reliable shooter from deep for Kentucky yet things are still being forced with Boston and Clarke, and it just can't get any worse. For example, Dontaie Allen would have to only hit three of his next 23 three-pointers to match Boston this year from behind the arc. Let that sink in. If Dontaie Allen went 4-23 in three-point attempts, he would still have a better three-point percentage than Brandon Boston. I don't know how you don't try it. Cal's best teams had a steady shooter. Murray, Lamb, Monk, Booker, Harrison, Herro, Quickley, yet we can't bother to keep Juzang, Baker, or at least give Allen a look? How is that anything other than stubborn?

Exodus of players

This is the one that has been around since Cal started in 2010. Personally, I love the one-and-done system. Cal's best teams have been flooded with them and if a player is good enough to go into the draft after one season in college, they should go. It doesn't bother me learning the players every year. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, people my age haven't really grown up in a world where college basketball players stay four years. However, I'm certainly not everybody. There is a section of this fanbase who had the fun sucked out of Kentucky basketball because of the very fact they cannot fall in love with the players. They really only get to a point of appreciation and familiarity halfway through the conference schedule, just to have their heartbroken as they lose in the Elite Eight, à la 2016-2018. With that said, when the one-and-done system works fans end up loving the team just as much because, as Cal has said before, "when you're doing it right you're in Final Fours." However, Cal hasn't exactly been doing it right since 2015. Cal is losing a grip on guys leaving when both parties would benefit from them staying the following year, such as your Juzangs, Bakers, Montgomerys, Hagans, and too many more to count. The guy who set the gold standard for getting players to his program can't keep them there? It makes no sense, and now we have a roster turnover that leaves Keion Brooks as the only player to play for 'Cats last season and he can't even see the floor due to an injury. Look at last year's team, for example. That was a roster comprised of one true one-and-done and four centerpieces in Hagans, Quickley, Richards, and Montgomery that had played solid minutes under Cal the year prior, and they turned out to be really damn good. This has certainly not been the case in 2020. Instead of a roster that SHOULD look like Clarke-Boston-Baker-Juzang-Jackson-Montgomery-Brooks-Hagans, we're watching a roster that goes on eight-minute scoring droughts once per game and a role player from Creighton as the team's star through seven games. Unacceptable. Fans can accept losing guys to the draft or transferring out when it makes sense, but when you're 1-6 and likely to lose three players to the first round, you're furthering the idea with fans that Kentucky Basketball went from a team that was built on winning championships to a one-stop-shop for players who are going to the draft. This is not to say the one-and-done's who have played here before don't care about winning, but when you've got dudes on this team who are already filming documentaries about themselves as a projected top-5 pick, that won't sit right with fans.

Losing Becoming the Norm

Backing off the last point, I think this point is the one that really has made the fanbase grow sour. There was a time when Kentucky lost to South Carolina on the road in 2010 and it just seemed unreal. When we had all given up hope on a four-seed 2011 team. When we printed 40-0 shirts and were just two games away from that becoming reality. Now? Losing to Utah, Ohio State, Richmond, Notre Dame, etc. has all just become apart of the process. We have slowly watched Kentucky teams under Cal go from powerhouses who lost three games in the regular season at the most, to a team that has to drop three of four non-conference games just to go get it figured out. That's not how it used to work at Kentucky. The sky would fall if one of those teams from 2010-2015 lost to the current rendition of Georgia Tech, now it has become a growing pain for every team in the last few years and that's a problem. If Coach Cal is going to continue to have these players leave in mass, and claim that they're young, or the schedule is too tough, this that and the third, you better have the roster that doesn't have to rebuild. Here's another Cal-ism: reload, not rebuild. But this is a program that feels like it has been a nonconference rebuild the past few years and fans aren't accustomed to that, nor should they be. Kentucky has suffered some of its worst nonconference losses in history in the past three or four seasons, yet Cal is lecturing the fans to be okay with that. Don't let him tell you that. THIS IS KENTUCKY, and it's time for Cal to change in order get this program to where it has been under his tutelage. Until then, this relationship between Cal and the fans will continue to have a strain.

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