By Jim Litke/The Associated Press
Welcome to BracketRacket, your one-stop shopping for all things NCAA on tournament game days. We’ll have what our first guest ordered: the presidential breakfast.
Lots of people have a beef with John Calipari.
Some don’t like the Kentucky coach just because he wins too much, others because he wins too much AND he’s been photographed at the scene of two NCAA crimes without being charged in either. Still others don’t like Calipari because he wins too much AND because he looks too, well, slick. That’s where one of his publishable nicknames, “Teflon John,” comes in.
Some coaches don’t like Calipari because they think he wins too much AND cuts corners recruiting, specializing in getting kids who are already NBA-caliber athletes and will never be students, the so-called “one-and-done.” Other coaches think Calipari is smug, or don’t like the way he works refs during a game, which was ostensibly the reason Temple coach John Chaney stormed into Calipari’s news conference after a close loss in 1994, then rushed the podium and threatened to kill him. Watch it here: http://youtu.be/51-4sJTf7iQ
Once order was restored, Calipari made his way back to the microphone and said, “Some things never cease to amaze me.” That probably made Chaney — who later apologized, sort of — want to kill him again.
We could go on this way for a long time, but you get the point.
Calipari and his Wildcats could beat Baylor to reach the Final Four, then Louisville in the semifinal next week, then whoever shows up for the April 2 title game from the other side of the bracket — and most of those same people would still say he’s a lousy coach and a cheat. He gets that.
He hears the jokes about recording all his wins in invisible ink and how any championship banners he wins at Kentucky should be put up with scotch tape, so that when the NCAA orders them yanked from the rafters — as it did at Calipari’s last two schools, UMass and Memphis — there will be less of a mess to clean up.
Calipari even told one of those jokes on himself a few months back, on the occasion of his 53rd birthday. Right after he let everybody know about the “presidential” breakfast — “oatmeal, coffee, two Splenda and cream and a napkin” — that was brought to him in bed.
“Two years got vacated,” he deadpanned, “so I’m 51.”
One thing Calipari doesn’t make is apologies — for any of it.
He signed an eight-year, perks-laden, $32-million deal in 2009 that made him the highest-paid coach in the land. And such is the state of the college game that what happened to Calipari at his last two stops could happen to anybody.
Not the part about the stratospheric pay package, because only a handful of his coaches could demand that kind of money with a straight face. Instead, we’re talking about kids getting petty cash and favors under the table from agents (Marcus Camby at UMass) or having a pal take their SAT exams (Derrick Rose at Memphis) without too many people being any the wiser.
But just like more than a few of the kids that cycle through his program, they came out on the other side set up for life.
So if you still think everything Calipari does is bad, you might want to skip the next item.
NO HIGH SCHOOL GYM, BUT PLENTY OF PERSPECTIVE
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is going to be everybody’s “Player of the Year” by the end of next week and more than likely, the first player taken in next summer’s NBA draft, and then he’ll be a millionaire. With hindsight it seems like he’s always been in a rush. Davis went from 6-foot-2 at the start of his sophomore year to 6-7 as a junior to 6-10 by the time he left a tiny charter high school (210 students) on the South Side of Chicago called Perspectives behind.
The school draws kids from what might be the toughest neighborhood in the city because they’re chasing an education, not a pro career. When Cortez Hale arrived at Perspectives in Davis’ sophomore year to teach special ed classes and coach, he had trouble finding enough players to field a team. And he had to reach into his own pocket for meal money and bus fare sometimes just to hang onto the ones he had. The school has no gym. We asked him where his team practiced and played games.
“We go outside on the blacktop,” he said, then laughed. “No, I’m just messin’ with you. We use the IIT gym. It’s great.”
The fact that the nearby Illinois Institute of Technology hasn’t fielded a team for years was only the first bit of serendipity Hale found when he got to Perspectives. Davis was the second.
“I knew he was Division I-type player. I didn’t know he would be a Kentucky-type player back then,” Hale said. “But he was determined. … Anthony worked to be the best in school, too.”
The kid is an actual student. He’s also too good to have any chance of sticking around long enough to get his degree.
So yeah, you could say Calipari is an enabler. Just remember that’s not always a bad thing.
Willie Geist is smart and funny, and smart and funny about sports, and he gets the celebrity treatment today even though his alma mater, Vanderbilt, is long gone from the tournament.
That’s because of all those polled over the first two weekends of the tournament, he provided the best methodology for filling out a bracket. It took him 90 seconds, start to finish, apparently by working backwards. Here, with Geist’s own sound effects, is how he does it:
“I just try to hear the resonant sound of Jim Nantz announcing the winner at the final horn — ‘One Heel of a Team! Carolina is the national champion! — and then I choose that team.”
For informational purposes only, Geist has the Heels beating Kentucky.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams deflected questions about the status of point guard Kendall Marshall by saying repeatedly that he is not a doctor. Neither is AP college basketball writer Jim O’Connell. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But O’Connell is certain about this much:
“Bad shooting is a lot easier to fix than a broken bone.”
The bad-shooting tag belonged to Kansas, based on the way the Jayhawks misfired (1-for-14 on 3-point attempts) against North Carolina State in a semifinal win. The broken bone belongs to Marshall. His absence from the Ohio University game, because of the damaged wrist, exposed how much the Tar Heels’ offense relies on his ability to get the ball to the right teammate at the right time, especially at the end of games.
Even if Marshall can play, his minutes and effectiveness will be limited. All the Jayhawks have to do to rebound from their performance the other night, is practice. That’s why O’Connell’s prognosis is Kansas by a handful.
STAT OF THE DAY
In case you missed it, three teams from North Carolina made the Sweet 16. Kansas beat one of them, North Carolina State, and if they get past the Tar Heels, STATS LLC says history gives them a 50-50 chance to win it all. Eight teams have accomplished what the Jayhawks are trying to do, knock at least two North Carolina entries out the same tournament, and four of them went on to cut down the nets: Marquette beat Wake Forest, UNC-Charlotte and North Carolina in 1977; Louisville beat North Carolina and Duke in 1986; Arkansas beat North Carolina A&T and Duke in 1994; and if you believe in omens, Kansas beat Davidson and North Carolina en route to their 2008 title.
At US Airways Center
Louisville 72, Florida 68
At TD Garden
Ohio State 77, Syracuse 70
At The Georgia Dome
Baylor (30-7) vs. Kentucky (35-2), 1:20 p.m.
At Edward Jones Dome
North Carolina (32-5) vs. Kansas (30-6), 4:05 p.m.