Saturday, December 19, 2009

7 comments Bob Knight v. John Calipari

It actually snowed a fair amount here in North Carolina which means everyone is freaking out about driving on the roads and just generally going out in public. Few people in North Carolina know how to drive on ice and snow. There was actually a woman on the news last night who said that people were driving too slow on the roads. Needless to say she will wreck her car and then tell everyone how dangerous it is to be out on the roads...simply because she can't drive on them at a safe speed.

Enough with the weather updates. Today, John Calipari and Bob Knight are going head-to-head (sort of) over college basketball coaching ethics. I fall on the side of Bob Knight because I am a dreamer who wants every program to be run clean and just generally don't like John Calipari.

I like Bob Knight and though he seems disinterested at times when announcing basketball games, I enjoy listening to him announce games on ESPN as well. Obviously everyone has their opinion on him and his behavior and "antics" while he was coaching. I personally think Bob Knight was a great coach and though his drill sergeant tactics with his players wasn't always admirable, he graduated players and prepared them for the real world...except for Isiah Thomas. I have no idea what happened with him, though he and Knight butted heads a lot at Indiana, so maybe that's why Thomas can't seem to help but run teams and leagues into the ground.

As far as whether I would want Bob Knight to coach my child, the answer is probably yes. Of course I wouldn't condone or accept his choking and child-like antics (which is more in the past than how he was at Texas Tech) but I think he is a great teacher of responsibility and basketball for student-athletes. His actions were reprehensible at times, so it would be a hard call for me to make if I was in the position of having a child coached by Knight. I would probably wouldn't mind if Knight coached a member of my family.

So when Bob Knight has something to say about college basketball I listen and when Bob Knight has something to say about John Calipari I listen even harder. Bob Knight doesn't particularly like how John Calipari runs a college program.

Bob Knight said integrity is lacking in college basketball and cited Kentucky coach John Calipari as an example.

I think either John Calipari is one of the dirtier coaches in NCAA basketball, doesn't have enough control over his program to prevent sanctions from occurring or he is just really crappy at doing things wrong and always gets caught. Either way, I personally am not a huge John Calipari fan. He is the king of coaching one-and-done players (there is nothing inherently wrong with this but I still don't like it), he leaves programs behind after there have been sanctions taken out on those programs and I just get an overwhelming feeling he is dirty.

There has to be a reason DeMarcus Cousins followed him to the University of Kentucky right? Even though Kentucky was never on his list of schools he was considering towards the end of his recruitment? Why the hell did Eric Bledsoe go to Kentucky to play a non-natural position of shooting guard (because of John Wall) when he could have gone to other schools and started at point guard? In fact, Kentucky really wasn't in the running for Bledsoe until Calipari ended up there and Memphis was never in the running for Bledsoe when Calipari coached at Memphis. It befuddles me how Bledsoe ended up at Kentucky.

"We've gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that's why I'm glad I'm not coaching," he said. "You see we've got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he's still coaching. I really don't understand that."

Say what you want about Bob Knight, and people have, but he graduates players and he appears to have run a clean program. I do agree with Bob Knight on this issue, but John Calipari is not the only one in college basketball or college football who lacks integrity. I guess Calipari is the poster boy right now for this problem but he is certainly not the only one who is the cause of this problem.

Can we really stop Calipari from coaching? At UMass he wasn't directly involved with the violations by his player and the NCAA wasn't really focusing on him at Memphis, but were instead focusing on an already graduated player. He is around the scene of the violation and probably had direct/indirect involvement, but I don't know if that means there is something the NCAA can do about it. I personally would like to see the NCAA investigate Calipari more because I believe he runs a dirty program, but that would essentially be a witch hunt and that's unfair to all the parties involved. I try not to be biased against Calipari just because I don't like him that much, but I am like Bob Knight in that something seems off with his recruiting and the way he runs his programs.

Massachusetts and Memphis were both sanctioned by the NCAA for violations committed during Calipari's tenure.

What pisses me off is that Calipari is gone when the sanctions are handed down to the programs. Maybe this is a coincidence, but I can't believe twice he has just happened to leave a program as sanctions were being handed down. The UMass program hasn't been the same since he left, but fortunately Memphis seems to be headed onto a better track. They are a good team and seem to be able to recover from the Calipari era. Calipari smells sanctions and off he goes to another school.

I am not naive. I know other schools don't run clean programs and probably my favorite school has broken or come incredibly close to breaking NCAA rules in an effort to get a recruit, but perception is reality. The reality is that John Calipari has been at two previous NCAA schools before the University of Kentucky and both times the school has been sanctioned by the NCAA for violations. Again, Calipari is not the only one who does this, but he is the guy who gets recruits to follow him and he is also the guy who recruits a bunch of one-and-done athletes so that puts the focus on him a little bit.

It's probably unfair the focus is on Calipari, but I don't think Knight's comments were unfair. He is not being a hypocrite, he is just saying something that most other people are probably thinking themselves.

I love college basketball and I love teams that run clean programs. I am not naive but John Calipari rarely passes "the smell test" for me.

"Very few people know this, but a kid can play the first semester as a freshman, pass six hours of anything and play in the NCAA tournament without ever attending a class in the second semester. I don't think that's right."

This is exactly why I think players should have to spend a minimum of two years in college or go straight to the NBA after high school. I wouldn't care if players HAD to spend two years in college but I know that may not be fair or realistic. If anyone has the answer to college basketball's "NBA or college for x amount of years" I would love to hear it.

Knight also said he was glad to be out of coaching because he no longer had to deal with poor officials or incompetent administrators.

The officiating in college basketball is underratedly bad. They changed the charge rule this year and the officials haven't even come close to applying the new rule effectively or correctly.

Of course upon hearing what Knight said about him, John Calipari had to say a few things back at Bob Knight.

Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn't agree with Bobby Knight that college basketball lacks integrity or that he is proof there is a problem.

That's just stupid. College basketball and football lacks integrity. You have to be naive or out of touch to believe this isn't true. Maybe John Calipari is incredibly naive and that is why his programs get in trouble. I doubt it. Coaches leave teams in the lurch in the middle of bowl season (I am not talking about just Brian Kelly) and coaches who have committed violations and pay off women to have abortions still get to coach while guys like Todd Bozeman gets blackballed from coaching another NCAA team after one violation. Of course life is not fair but college basketball does have an integrity problem.

Calipari refused to get into a war of words Friday when asked about the pointed criticism from Knight that Calipari's continued employment proves the game has a problem. Instead, Calipari said he remains a "big fan" of the former Texas Tech and Indiana head coach.

Probably a good move. Getting in a war of words with Bob Knight over coaching ethics is probably not a good idea. Again, Knight has not always been an angel but he has never had problems with recruiting violations or sanctions with either of his programs so he does have authority to talk about this issue.

Both Memphis and Massachusetts were forced to vacate Final Four appearances by the NCAA for infractions made during Calipari's tenure, though Memphis is appealing the penalty. Calipari was not implicated in either case by the NCAA.

It's true that Calipari wasn't implicated in either case, but I can't help but think he knew SOMETHING about what was going on. He was the face of both programs and was firmly in charge in both situations of the basketball program because he was the head coach. This is the part that doesn't pass "the smell test" for me. I just have a hard time believing he didn't know what was going on.

Kentucky forward Josh Harrellson said he was surprised by Knight's comments but that Knight's words seem to be part of the national perception of his coach.

"People hear stuff about him and they kind of guess what he's like, but playing for him and actually being around him, he's a great guy," Harrellson said. "He's fair to everybody."

No one really said that John Calipari wasn't a great guy. That's not the issue. The issue is that Calipari is accused of lacking integrity because of sanctions brought on two of his programs in the past. Calipari has built a great team in Kentucky, but combining the fact he has had prior sanctions on his programs and he is one of the more popular faces for the one-and-done rule and it makes him a target, fairly or unfairly, of sorts.

There is no doubt Calipari can place players in the NBA and his teams are successful, both of which is attractive to players. Recruiting for him is that not difficult for him because of both of these things. I hate to nitpick, but "being fair to everybody" and "being a great guy" aren't criteria proving Calipari doesn't allow some rules crossing to go on in his program. I am sure other coaches do as well, but that doesn't show there isn't an integrity problem in college basketball.

The bottom line is that Bob Knight is right, in college football and college basketball there are integrity problems among coaches. John Calipari is the face of this problem in college basketball because his team his teams are consistently good and he has bailed from two programs just in time to avoid the sanctions. I can't believe that is coincidence.

Everyone remember to make your picks for the bowl Pick 'Em for this weekend's games if you haven't already done so.


Dirk Cotton said...

This is an excellent, well-thought, balanced column-- a rarity on the Internet. A couple of comments, though. What Knight said was:

"We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching. You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that."

While you point out that both teams were "sanctioned", and without implicating Calipari, UMass was not placed on probation as Knight said. Memphis was, but that is being appealed because the NCAA had cleared Rose to play. So, if Memphis is not overturned, Calipari will have left one school on probation, same number as Roy Williams (Kansas).

Second, it isn't odd that Bledsoe and others followed Calipari. Coaches get you into the NBA, not schools. If it were the other way around, Billy G would have attracted top talent.

Nonetheless, I commend you on an excellent column that, given your college loyalties, must have been difficult to write.

Bengoodfella said...

Yes, you are right. UMass was not put on probation and Memphis is trying to get from under it at this time. It's funny about Calipari, and this may not be true, but it just feels like he is dirty. That doesn't mean he is, but I wish he would admit there is an integrity problem in college basketball and he isn't the main or only culprit...he's just the face because Kentucky is good.

Don't tempt me to bash Roy Williams and talk about some of the negative things I feel about him. It would all feel like sour grapes.

That's an excellent point about Bledsoe, but I found it odd he chose to play on a team with an excellent point guard because he is always going to be overshadowed by Wall. It is a more mature thing to do because he wants to play with a great player, but since he probably wants to go to the NBA is a short term move that I wouldn't expect from him.

I am a little surprised he didn't choose Florida to be honest. It is true he did consider Memphis but my understanding was that Bledsoe had Memphis behind Florida, Duke and another team (Alabama maybe). He shouldn't have chosen Duke or Bama (if that was the team) so I thought he would be at Florida. I guess he was drawn to Kentucky by Calipari. It is just interesting to me a pass-first point guard would choose to play the 2 guard position with a better point guard for one year.

The Cousins thing was a little more common sense oriented for an 18 year old because he had never considered Kentucky prior (at least from what I read), so he essentially followed Calipari.

Thanks for the compliment and I try to be balanced. Honestly, it is hard to write about anything without giving the appearance of being a homer at times.

KentAllard said...

Years ago, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, when we had a rare icestorm. Since the interstate running through town is somewhat elevated, authorities closed it by placing barricades at the entrance ramps. You could see a stretch of interstate from our apartment window, and my wife and I watched cars drive by on it anyway all day. That night, on the news, there was an interview with a guy who had wrecked on the closed interstate, who said he was suing the government, because they hadn’t anchored the barricades firmly enough, so he was able to move them in order to get past them. Some people are too stupid to live.

I’ve always had a generally favorable view of how Knight ran his program as well (I thought Feinstein’s book, although I hate Feinstein, reflected well on Knight, even if he considered it a hatchet job). The only beef I have with Knight is the way he cut the legs out from under Mike Davis at Indiana, and that’s probably personal, since I went to high school with Mike, and like him.

Martin F. said...

I think Knight is a first class jackass, but I will admire him for the way he ran a clean program in the cesspool which is NCAA sports.

And is this the beginning of the end for The Favre? 3 straight mediocre games...

Bengoodfella said...

Snow is NC is just a joke anyway. 6 inches counts as a blizzard and people always run to the store to get eggs and milk. I am not sure why since if the power goes out both will spoil.

Bob Knight is a jerk and he doesn't always treat people kindly, but he also doesn't put up with crap from his players and teaches them how to live in the world.

If Knight was lecturing on appropriate behavior on and off the court I don't think I could listen to him, but he ran a good, clean program so he has standing on this issue. I think it is naive for Calipari to think there is no integrity issue in college basketball.

JPS said...

I agree that this was a nice column, though you applaud Bobby Knight much more than I will ever.

I just wanted to comment on the issue with Bledsoe...He committed to UK before John Wall did. Once Wall signed on, Bledsoe's father was furious (for the very reasons you mentioned -- he would be overshadowed and moved to his secondary position of shooting guard).

I have to agree that the only reason Bledsoe chose UK was for the coach, which is not unlike many NBA hopefuls. I don't think there is anything fishy or suspicious about players wanting that lifeline into the pros that Coach Cal so successfully does.

Debbie said...

Bob Knight is a hypocrite. Running a clean program is twisted when the "General" is abusive. I don't call that clean, I call that criminal.