Vaught: Calipari a success at Kentucky

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Interestingly, a vocal segment of the so-called “Monday morning” coaches in the Big Blue Nation as well as some opinionated media folks have been complaining and howling about basketball coach John Calipari and his favored Kentucky Wildcats for failing to make a coveted trip to the 2019 NCAA Final Four after Sunday afternoon’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Auburn.

Sure, we are saddened with the painful outcome in the Elite Eight, but we certainly don’t need to blame Calipari and the student-athletes for the setback. It’s okay to be very disappointed, but we don’t need to whine and carry on.

Yes, we have high expectations at tradition-rich Kentucky. That is wonderful, but we need to understand it’s not going to work out every time for the Wildcats during March Madness even with McDonald’s prep All-Americans.

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If you want to advance, especially in the latter stages of the Big Dance, you also need to have a little luck and hope the ball will bounce your way. We didn’t have it this time against a more experienced Auburn club. Even Duke, with three freshman stars expected to be selected among the top 5 in the 2019 NBA Draft, didn’t make it to the Final Four, either.

And ESPN’s Jay Williams tweeted that UK fans should not complain under Calipari and listed some of his accomplishments at Kentucky.

I wholeheartedly agree. Why complain? My goodness! Since Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009, he has taken the Cats to the Elite Eight seven out of 10 times, which is more than any other school during that period. That’s a record of 70 percent! Amazing! And the 60-year-old hall of famer has sent UK to Final Four four times, including a national championship in 2012.

In addition, the Wildcats have posted five 30-win campaigns under his watch. During his overall coaching career, which include stops at UMass and Memphis, Calipari now has 11 30-win seasons, third most among all active coaches.

Yes, I know Coach Cal has won only one national title at Kentucky. Sure, the BBN would like to see more championships, but we have to be realistic during the “one-and-done” era. Calipari doesn’t like the one-and-done, which isn’t healthy for college basketball and most folks don’t like it, either. But he and Coach K from Duke are going to take advantage of the rule and snatch the nation’s top high school players until it is changed.

And remember legendary Adolph Rupp won four national titles in 41 years. Coach Cal has captured one in 10 years. Calipari also has 31 NCAA tournament wins as compared to Rupp’s 30.

A big reason Coach Cal loves Kentucky is BBN’s passionate fans who care about the program and follow the Cats 24/7. I remember that he discussed the fans during his postgame press conference following his team’s 71-58 win over Louisville back in late December. He acknowledged there are fans who will complain.

“I don’t pay attention to any of the chirping,” said Calipari. “I don’t watch it, I don’t read it. If it gets crazy, I will say to (publicist) Eric (Lindsey), ‘Is there anything I need to deal with?’ I don’t watch it, I don’t read it.

“(But) let me say this though, we have the greatest fans. Kentucky is what you want. You never have to sell a ticket, you never have to worry about people being excited about games. You could play in a storm and there’s 20,000 people in that building. You know the hardcore people adopt these players and they become their sons and grandsons.

“There’s also a small percentage out there that are just crazy. I don’t pay any attention to them. Now here is the good thing. They will never steal my joy. They never will. I don’t listen. You just make yourself angry and go crazy. …And I will be smiling.”

As for this season, it sure was fun to follow the 30-7 Wildcats, who had victories over North Carolina, Louisville, Kansas and Tennessee, among others. UK finished No. 7 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.

The Wildcats had a fun-loving group. PJ Washington, Reid Travis, Tyler Herro and others were a joy to watch.

Now, keep in mind that I don’t agree with everything Coach Cal has done, but you have to agree his accomplishments are stunning and they certainly speak for themselves. Enjoy while you can. We may never see another coach like him. In the future, the school could end up with someone not as good or a good coach who melts under intense pressure. Just remember several 10-, 12-, 13- or 14-loss seasons that we experienced under previous coaches at UK.

A majority of the faithful Big Blue Nation will approve that Calipari, who earlier agreed to a lifetime contract by UK, is a pretty darn good CEO of UK Basketball, and we can look forward to more notable campaigns with hopes of capturing the school’s ninth national crown down the road.

Indeed, the future is still bright in Lexington.

* * *

As my former boss, Oscar Combs, at The Cats’ Pause pointed out in his tweet earlier this week, there is really nobody that you want to cheer against in this weekend’s Final Four. He says there is no specific villain in the exciting four-team field in Minneapolis and he’s right about that.

While I’ll be pulling for coach Bruce Pearl and his Auburn Tigers of the SEC to do well (with Texas Tech my second favorite), here’s my Final Four Forecast:

—Michigan State vs. Texas Tech: Spartans by 4.

—Virginia vs. Auburn: Cavaliers by 6.

—MSU vs. Virginia: Spartans by 2.