Another day, another moment of UK in the national spotlight. Today started with the Chicago Tribune reporting that John Calipari was in the Top 3 of potential candidates for the Chicago Bulls job. Calipari then made a statement to Andy Katz that he wasnt interested in the job and the day ended with Yahoo Sports reporting that despite that comment, he had expressed interest in the gig. Calipari then sent out this tweet on the subject:
Throughout my career I’ve been mentioned for other jobs. Now that I’m here u won’t hear about other colleges because I’ve got the best job. Every year you will hear my named mentioned for NBA jobs because I coached in the league before. I’m very happy at Kentucky
Just another day in UK paradise eh? Calipari’s statement was 100% true, but also tells us very little. Calipari does love being at Kentucky and there is no doubt he is the PERFECT coach for Lexington. No one else in America could have done what he did in this past year and he has put Kentucky basketball right where it deserves to be, at the forefront of college basketball. Having said that, the statement does NOT say that he has no interest in the Chicago job or the NBA and had he wanted it to, it could have. All it does say is that he likes Kentucky and you will hear about him associated with the NBA the entire time that he is here. That is most certainly correct and is just part of what comes with having a coach everyone wants. You will always get the rumors.
But what about this particular rumor? The Yahoo.com article is written by Adrian Wojochowski, who is considered by most NBA types to be the writer most connected in the league. The Bulls job is intriguing, because they have two young great players in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and the ability to sign a free agent this summer, perhaps Dwyane Wade or Lebron James. It is a very attractive job. However I dont think that Calipari will end up taking the Bulls job, no matter the reports. While I have no idea whether he has or has not expressed interest in the position, I hold to the belief that Calipari will not bolt UK after one year. HE has things set up well here, a potential unbelievable class in 2011 and he wants to win a college national championship. I think in the balance, he will make a decision that this is a better place to be than any NBA gig, even if that gig were to include a superstar like Lebron.
However that doesnt mean the report was wrong. We as Kentucky fans must show consistency here. When the exact same writer has reported that Rick Pitino has flirted for NBA jobs, most UK fans have believed it. The Rick Pitino-Sacramento flirtation was reported by Wojo and later proved to be true, so it cant just be dismissed. But there is a huge difference between theoretical interest and pursuing job opening. It wouldnt surprise me one bit if the idea of coaching in Chicago with Derrick Rose (one of his former players) and a superstar was not considered by him. But I dont think he will do it and thus at this point, I am not concerned.
One part of the Wojo article that I do believe is true is his contention that sources say Calipari “hasnt connected” with the UK athletic administration in his first year on the job. This is something that has been beneath the surface all season long and is certainly an issue, although one that I dont believe should be blown out of proportion. Calipari and Mitch Barnhart differ on some things and it has caused some tension. They certainly dont dislike each other and their relationship is ok, but I think the phrase “hasnt connected” is a fair indication of their working relationship. Mitch has struggled with all of the basketball coaches during his time in Lexington. His relationship with Tubby was not great towards the end, his time with Gillispie was a disaster and he and Calipari have differed on things as well (most importantly some of the unique ways Calipari wants to expand the UK basketball brand and personal projects of his own). It isnt the case that this means they cant work together, but it is the case that they arent always on the same page. This has gone on all season, and Wojo’s reporting of it is, in my view, correct.
Ultimately, I think Calipari stays at Kentucky and continues to build the program to extraordinary heights. But UK fans should not act like it is impossible that he may one day head to the NBA. HE is a great coach and will have pursuers during his entire time here. There is no way he would leave for another college job, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility he could go to the NBA. To get angry at the mere suggestion, or reporting of the flirtation, would be a mistake. As I have said on here many times, sometimes the news isnt the way we want it to be and it isnt bad to accept that point. During the Gillispie years I was often the only writer that reported bits of the problems behind the scenes and every post I wrote that wasnt “Everything at UK is GREAT!” was followed by comments that “Matt isnt a real UK fan” and “he doesnt have UK’s interests at heart.” Taking up for Gillispie was seen as taking up for UK and those that werent pro-Gillispie were seen as anti-UK. It is some of those same people (and sites) that went to the grave with Gillispie that now say “dont say anything could be less than perfect or you arent a real fan” now. That simply isnt the way to be.
Unlike the Gillispie years, I think we have the perfect coach for the job and he is doing amazing things on and off the court. But that doesnt mean there isnt a possibility he could leave or that he and the UK administration dont have issues. In the end, I think Calipari stays, but as his tweet suggested, we might as well get used to this, because the NBA teams coming after him will continue. Lets enjoy him while we have him.
UPDATE: Well that was quick. After all the talk this evening, Mitch Barnhart has released this statement tonight He wasnt going to wait too long:
I’m extremely proud of what Coach Calipari has done in just 1 year as the leader of our men’s basketball program …Cal has brought Kentucky men’s basketball back to its rightful place of national prominence and I’m excited about our future. We have begun initial discussions on restructuring his contract so that he’s the coach at UK until he retires. Go Big Blue!