Non-traditional. Well, that’s an interesting word choice. That’s the word John Calipari chose to describe both Kentucky basketball and the way he intends to schedule moving forward. You can read it here.
I have two other words that I think are a little more on the nose. Cowardice. Choices.
Calipari’s position is that he doesn’t see any value in playing tough opponents in their buildings because when you get to the NCAA tournament you play in neutral venues so how does playing true road games prepare you for that? Besides, he has a team full of freshman that he has to protect, and putting them in hostile environments doesn’t protect them, it makes things harder for them than they need to be. All of that has some validity to it, unless what he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want to play these games because they might lose.
I wrote in December how I thought Calipari was scared of playing IU. I was being a little tongue in cheek, after all at the time UK was undefeated and #1 in the nation and no one was 100% sure if we were actually any good, but it turns out I was right. Calipari is scared to come play in Bloomington again. He also seems to be scared to go play in Chapel Hill and if I read his post correctly, the only reason they’re still playing UofL is because the contract isn’t up yet. Be ready Kentucky residents, when that contract is up I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to get out of that one too.
Kentucky is also a great place to play if you’d like to avoid tough competition. Syracuse has gotten away with playing a laughably weak non-conference schedule with no road games for years because they play in the Big East and there are a ton of tough games in the Big East every year. UK plays in the SEC where you might have two other decent basketball teams in any given year. If you want to schedule nobodies in the non-conference, you can make it through the season without being challenged more than a few times. Even if IU wanted to only schedule bums we’d still have to go to Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, and occasionally a good Michigan or Illinois team. IU has to schedule some real road games in November and December because we’re going to have to play some real road games in January and February to get to March. UK can make it to March playing very few road tests.
The other factor enabling Calipari’s cowardice is the UK fan base. This is a fan base that only cares about winning. They have proven this year after year. They forgave point-shaving, racism, $100 locker room handshakes, recruiting violations and academic fraud for decades, just so long as the team was winning. Cal’s got to figure if these fans will forgive all of that, they’ll forgive me playing no competition and setting up a revolving door of AAU-style teams, as long as I win.
He’s not wrong. UK fans will let this slide. Not all of them, but enough to drown out the murmurs of discontent.
The passive voice rings through Calipari’s entire post. And it makes me mental. Let’s rewrite a few of his biggest points in the active voice.
“No other program is losing five or six players a year.”
We recruit more one and done players than anyone in the country.
“When we schedule, there are three factors my staff and our administration must take into consideration.”
When we schedule, my staff and our administration have made three factors our priorities.
“When we talk about preparing our players, we have to think in terms of protecting our players because no one has gone through what we’ve been through the last three years.”
When we talk about preparing our players, we have to think in terms of protecting our players because we have made choices that no one else has made for the last three years.
Calipari’s approach for years has been that he is working within the system. The system dictates the way he has to do things. UK, and Calipari, frequently find themselves in these positions and the only way to deal with it is to stop playing tough competition. Nowhere does he say that this is all a choice. The system allows this approach. It does not dictate it. Calipari makes choices and pretends they are a response to a corner he’s been backed into. This is a “problem” of his own making and the solution is also his. None of this is required.
Are his teams younger or less experienced than the 2008-2009, or 2009-2010 Hoosiers? No. Did Crean cancel the UK game to avoid going into Rupp Arena because it was going to be hard? I think you know the answer.
Crean had some choices to make. So does Calipari. They have chosen differently. I like Crean’s choices.
So, those are the words I would have used. Calipari chose “non-traditional.” And it fits. Because Calipari has decided that traditions don’t matter. There are no traditions, other than winning at all costs, which has always been the UK mindset, that matter to him.
42 years in a row. Through highs and lows for each program. Through championships. Through scandals. Through coaches who have hated each other, and now through coaches that like each other. None of that matters to Calipari. And neither does what’s good for anyone who isn’t an 18-year old kid who is using Lexington as a brief layover on a longer flight.
UK fans, if I were you, I’d be angry about this, but the one thing I’ve learned well these many years is that UK fans and I do not have similar world views. So, enjoy, UK fans. This is what you’ve purchased.
This is what you chose.