When is a Final Four appearance not really a Final Four appearance?
I apologize for the riddle, but I wanted to make a point about the 2008 appearance of Memphis University, coached by John Calipari. Calipari, the coach who led Memphis to its first national semifinal since 1985, was such a feel-good story this season that the media nary touched on his previous indiscretions.
Let's retrace Calipari's coaching movements for a second, shall we. A lot of us can remember when Calipari first burst upon the national scene when then-Temple coach John Chaney burst into Calipari's press conference after a Temple-U Mass game and proceeded to try to choke him. Chaney felt that Calipari was an unethical cheat and a weasel to boot. (Note that despite Chaney's limitations of coaching at a ghetto school and never having reached the final four in his career, he's considered one of the most respected college coaches of the past generation).
Calipari led his Minuteman team to a Final Four berth in 1996 behind the play of star Marcus Camby. Calipari was named coach of the year for the team's efforts. It wasn't long after this storybook season that the truth about the program came out. Camby was getting paid by boosters as were several of his teammates. Additionally, there was a free hooker service that was made available to team members. Those perks were deemed illegal by the NCAA. UMass summarily dismissed Calipari, who then filtered into the NBA where ethics, money and hookers are par for the course.
In 2000 the carpetbagging coach resumed college coaching and came to the University of Memphis. His winning was immediate. After a pair of Elite Eight appearances in 2006 and '07, his team went all the way to the championship game played last Monday. The week before the final four, during the ubiquitous media swarm, Calipari was holding court and trying to sound like a upstanding member of society. First, he took a back-handed shot at Princeton University and their style of controlled, team basketball. He called his squad's style "Princeton on steroids," and by doing so diminished the efforts of a group of true student athletes and their respected coach Pete Carill. At another point, Calipari was talking about how he insists his team give back to the people who got them to where they are today. "After a big win, I tell my players to pick up the phone and call the people who have been important in their lives." Calipari included parents and friends and about a dozen or so other options. At no point did he ever mention a teacher; and this was coming from someone who coaches at a state university. He might as well have mentioned the AAU coach who gives him free gear, the unsavory booster who hooks him up or the other sleazy characters involved with their program. To be honest, it would have been disingenuous for him to talk about education considering his graduation rate at Memphis is a paltry 36%.
But the bottom line is winning and Calipari has some great recruits ready to take over for the "students" who leave after this semester. His top recruit is a young man who was involved in a drive-by shooting. As long as the winning continues, he keeps flashing his winning smile and shovels his B.S. at the dumb-as-fuck media, he'll continue to keep Memphis among the top programs in college hoops. That is, until the NCAA catches up with him again and sends him to the NBA for another go-around. At that point the NCAA and Memphis will probably pull the NCAA runner-up banner from the gym's rafters and erase its name from the record books. Oh yeah, that was done before with Calipari: the UMass team of 1996, hence the riddle at the start of this blog. Calipari's first trip to the final four never happened!
I have no idea of Kansas' Bill Self is sleazy or only pays lip service to education, but I'm guessing he's not in the same league as Calipari. So, for that reason alone, I was more than happy to see the Tigers go down in flames in OT Monday night.