Cali­pari con­demned for win­ning within rules

Ken­tucky coach didn’t cre­ate cur­rent sys­tem

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

Ladies and gen­tle­men of the jury, I de­clare that John Cali­pari and Ken­tucky have been falsely ac­cused and un­fairly ma­ligned. Mr. Cali­pari and the Wild­cats have con­ducted them­selves with honor and fol­lowed the rules in their three sea­sons to­gether. Charges that they’re ru­in­ing col­lege bas­ket­ball and mak­ing a mock­ery of ed­u­ca­tion are with­out merit and should be dropped im­me­di­ately.

Please al­low me to ex­plain.

First of all, the events that tran­spired un­der Mr. Cali­pari’s watch at Mas­sachusetts and Mem­phis are ir­rel­e­vant and in­ad­mis­si­ble. Yes, Umass star Mar­cus Camby ac­cepted about $28,000 from sports agents, which forced the school to va­cate its 1996 Final Four sea­son. And yes, the NCAA ruled that Mem­phis star Der­rick Rose com­mit­ted aca­demic fraud, which forced the school to va­cate its 2008 Final Four sea­son.

But let the record show that the NCAA ex­on­er­ated Mr. Cali­pari of wrong­do­ing in both in­stances. And nei­ther school faced a post­sea­son ban or loss of schol­ar­ships. Im­ply­ing that the coach is tainted, nonethe­less, is the worst

form of guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion.

While there is no de­fense against such whis­per cam­paigns, they have no bear­ing on the sub­ject at hand, the Ken­tucky Wild­cats.

Ken­tucky is in the Final Four for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, af­ter reach­ing the Elite Eight in 2010. The Wild­cats, over­whelm­ing fa­vorites to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship, al­ready have won an­other ti­tle by a land­slide:

They’re the na­tion’s most-de­spised team, hounded by a cho­rus in the me­dia and gen­eral public root­ing for their down­fall.

That isn’t so un­usual in sports. The Dal­las Cow­boys, New York Yan­kees and Duke Blue Devils en­gen­der much re­sent­ment and re­vul­sion among non­fans. But those teams also have huge na­tional fol­low­ings, whereas res­i­dents, alumni and the play­ers’ fam­i­lies ap­pear to be the only folks in Ken­tucky’s corner.

Un­for­tu­nately, the an­i­mos­ity to­ward Mr. Cali­pari and his play­ers is based on a sys­tem that’s be­yond their con­trol. They can’t change the es­tab­lish­ment and they shouldn’t be blamed for max­i­miz­ing it. Ken­tucky sim­ply draws the top blue-chip play­ers, many of whom sim­ply leave for the NBA as soon as pos­si­ble.

That’s the “crime” in this case, striv­ing to land the na­tion’s best scholas­tic tal­ent, which of­ten strives to play with the na­tion’s best, pe­riod.

Mr. Cali­pari and his Wild­cats have been suc­cess­ful at their re­spec­tive goals, but that doesn’t mean they’re de­stroy­ing col­lege bas­ket­ball. Fur­ther­more, their obli­ga­tions are to Ken­tucky and them­selves, not Di­vi­sion I’s 343 other schools and 4,100 other play­ers.

As the coach wrote on his blog, “Ev­ery kid is on a dif­fer­ent timetable, and when I coach young peo­ple, it’s not about me. It’s about them.” He’s a con­sis­tent, out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the one-and-done rule, but “if that rule doesn’t change, my only two op­tions are re­cruit­ing play­ers that aren’t good enough or con­vinc­ing young peo­ple to put their dreams aside be­cause the univer­sity and our bas­ket­ball pro­gram are more im­por­tant than their dreams.”

He’ll likely win his first cham­pi­onship this sea­son, but there’s noth­ing easy about do­ing it his way. Re­ly­ing al­most ex­clu­sively on uber-tal­ented fresh­men and sopho­mores doesn’t guar­an­tee suc­cess. They have to blend in, work hard and play un­selfishly, putting aside their per­sonal goals at the next level.

Man­ag­ing and mas­sag­ing that many elite play­ers is more trou­ble than many coaches pre­fer. As Mary­land coach Mark Tur­geon tes­ti­fied in Novem­ber, “I’m not afraid of one-and-dones. . . . I just don’t want six of them.”

For the record, four is the most that Mr. Cali­pari had in one sea­son (2010).

But there’s noth­ing un­eth­i­cal, il­le­gal or im­moral about Nba-ready schoolboys choos­ing Ken­tucky for fin­ish­ing school be­fore de­part­ing early. It’s sort of like Har­vard in that re­gard. Un­less Mr. Cali­pari and Ken­tucky are in vi­o­la­tion of NCAA reg­u­la­tions, I urge you to find them not guilty on all counts.

Thank you. The de­fense rests.

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