It's hilarious to even have to defend Calipari - but I'm still doing it

by:Ryan Clark07/09/15




Isn’t it funny?

I mean, isn’t it?

First, it’s funny that I even saw Tim Sullivan’s column from this weekend, because most of the time I avoid the daily newspaper – especially the one from Louisville.

But it’s also funny how easily I let a few of his declarations get my goat. Some were very complimentary of certain aspects of UK Athletics. However, some were not, and I know there was one that will especially stick in Cats fans’ craws:

“A Rick Pitino team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.”

Get it? It’s a little jab for us as Kentucky fans. And a timely one, too. How long ago was this game? Only three months ago, right? Good one, Tim. Quick.

My response: yes. He’s probably right. Rarely would you expect any Final Four team to do what UK did. It just doesn’t happen. But I would argue you could also say this: “Any other John Calipari team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.”

That statement is also true. Because just about any team wouldn’t have performed the way the Wildcats did in the latter moments against Wisconsin. But you know what? It happened.

Of course, the implication here is deeper – that somehow those shot clock violations were Calipari’s fault.

And that a Pitino-led team would not have done that.

Because Pitino is a much better coach.

Get it?

Am I inferring too much? I don’t think so. It goes along with the narrative that the media, and Louisville fans, try to push all the time.

I know it because I’ve heard it all before. Just look at who was left off the list of the 25 most influential people in college basketball.

In fact, I heard it all when Pitino was coaching at UK.

I find it very funny the local media now chooses Pitino as the smartest basketball coach in the country, because many of those same journalists and fans criticized Pitino at UK for, among other things:

– not guarding the Grant Hill inbounds pass in the regional final against Duke

– not convincing his loaded and talented 1995 squad to quit shooting threes against Dean Smith’s Carolina Heels in the regional finals.

– not playing a healthy Derek Anderson against a much quicker Arizona squad in the 1997 championship game.

– and if we’re keeping track at Louisville, how about Rick leading the Cards to the No. 1 overall seed in 2009 only to lose to Michigan State – again in the regional finals.

Truth being, I never felt comfortable as a UK fan when Pitino was coaching the Cats in a close game. Call it whatever you want – fatigue from pressing or just inexperience – but I remember fans and media criticizing Rick for running a great system, but not necessarily being a great coach – especially when it came to crunch time.

A friend of mine, author Joe Cox, actually ran the numbers on this a few days ago. He defined close games as those that went to overtime or those decided by six points or less – basically two possessions.

“Now admittedly, there’ll be fluke games where a team hits two threes in garbage time and a 12 point game becomes a ‘close’ game… or games that are actually close games and a late free throw run makes it end at a 7 point margin and thus not ‘close,'” Cox said. “But still, on the whole, I figured it would work.”

The numbers don’t lie.

Cal is 36-22 at UK in such games, a 62 percent winning percentage. Pitino won just 30 percent of those games at UK, Cox said.

“A big part of the problem is that Cal deflects credit, whereas Rick deflects blame,” Cox said. “When Aaron Harrison hits a shot to win a game, Cal says, ‘Yeah, I just let ’em play.’ Sure he does.”

Until ’96 many wondered if Rick’s way was the right way to win a title. They wondered if he was a good enough X’s and O’s coach. (That’s how they put it. All that talent, they would say. But can he get it done when it counts?)

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It’s funny. Cal has lost his share of big games in his young career at UK. But he’s certainly won his share, too. And I marvel at how he gets young kids to achieve, to perform on national stages.

Yes, it’s probably true that a Pitino-coached team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.

It’s probably true of ANY other squad.

But here’s what’s most funny: this is the other side, the context of the story that journalists conveniently forget.

I declare that a Rick Pitino team would have been less likely to execute and make their last nine shots down the stretch to come back and defeat Notre Dame to go to the 2015 Final Four in the first place.

Shouldn’t Calipari also get credit for the coaching that brought home that marvelous victory?

I think so. If you’re convinced of Calipari’s negatives, you must also recognize his brilliance.

It’s funny when we look at things in a different way, isn’t it?

What was Cal’s best close win? UK over Ohio State in the 2010 tourney? Any of Aaron Harrison’s last shots? Leave your comments below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: and maybe I’ll share them.


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