Twenty six years ago Jim Calhoun took a grain of sand in the middle of nowhere and began to build a castle. The castle never quite compared to some of the other empires across the country, but somewhere along the way his castle entered the conversation with the elite and stayed there for years and years. What once looked like a masterpiece from afar, started to show some cracks along the way. The foundation was perhaps not as strong as many initially believed. A story that could have been more like a fairy tale, a man essentially building a program from scratch– along with helping the image and development of the entire school and athletic department– has turned into a less appealing story, filled with holes, question marks and red marks to signify errors. A coach with 3 men’s basketball national championships (the only in his school’s history AND spanning across 3 different decades), a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame and 873 wins should probably leave the game as a legend. Those are the type of numbers and accolades that so few coaches could ever dream of collecting over time. Instead, Jim Calhoun leaves the game of basketball after 26 seasons at UCONN, 40 altogether, as somewhat of a debatable figure.
Calhoun leaves the program that he literally built on very shaky ground. UCONN is ineligible to compete in post-season play this season following a string of violations and academic issues that only seem to give a glimpse into the “atmosphere of compliance” that has not been adhered to very carefully in Calhoun’s recent years. Sure, there’s a chance that Calhoun did it the right way for far longer than he did it the wrong way. But the fact of the matter is, he’s leaving on a bit of a sour note. His compliance issues are not the only area in which Calhoun has found shaky ground. Throughout the years of press conferences, interviews, stories, etc. Calhoun has always come off as a bit of a hard figure. Often times we want and expect the best coaches in the game to have magnetic and charismatic, even charming personalities. Calhoun has always come off as a bit cold and crass. There has been no lack of respect and admiration for his coaching career and some of the health battles he has fought in his life. With that said, you would be hard pressed to find many people who just love Jim Calhoun as a coaching figure or coaching personality.
So what do we make of Jim Calhoun’s legacy to the game? Do we focus on the good, and I mean the really good? He built a basketball program and contributed so much to the campus and university as a whole. Do we focus on how he left the program? Do we focus on how he was able to do what so many coaches have not been able to do– achieve greatness over a span of 3 decades? Do we focus on the players who had to leave the program or chose to stay, following the NCAA post-season penalties? I think the best answer, though maybe not wildly popular among the extremists from either side, is that you must look at both sides of the coin. You cannot disregard his accomplishments. You cannot disregard his recent downfall. His legend will be sandwiched somewhere in between the two.
And now on to the news from today…
– For the final days heading into a Kentucky football weekend, the news and buzz around town has revolved around Kentucky basketball. The John Calipari Fantasy Basketball Experience kicked off this afternoon and as with anything Calipari touches with his national championship ring finger, it has already been golden. The mixture of the older former players, the more recent former players, the current players and some other notable figures from the world of basketball, has provided an interesting and unique set-up here in Lexington at the moment.
Highlights & Quotes:
– What started out as sad news in the morning gave way to good news by late afternoon. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist initially caused a collective disheartening sigh from Big Blue Nation when he let everyone know that he would be unable to play in the Alumni Game on Saturday at the request of the Charlotte Bobcats. In what turned out to be such an “aww, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist”-like move, MKG thought that he wasn’t allowed to let everyone know he was playing in the game Saturday. Trying to do the right thing, he was attempting to throw everyone off the trail. Worry not though, Kidd-Gilchrist later confirmed that he will in fact be playing on Saturday.
– Kidd-Gilchrist did not take back one bold statement he made today though when he said that UK will repeat as national champions this season. In MKG we trust.
– Calipari was made aware of MKG’s comments on this year’s team and quickly responded, “The women’s team is going to do fine. They’re going to do fine.” Oh Cal, you’re so Cal.
– Calipari also announced that the Fantasy Camp, along with contributions from the alumni, has already raised over $300,000 to be handed out to various charities at the game on Saturday. Calipari won’t put the final tag on the number yet, as he hopes to add to the total between now and game time. Calipari also stated that he was hopeful that the game would draw around 25,000 to Rupp Arena. It’s not looking like it will happen, but I have a feeling that some of the buzz leading up to the game will bring some fans out of the wood work. Honestly, who doesn’t want to see DeMarcus Cousins and Oliver Simmons on the same court?
– Derek Anderson wasn’t shy about the different feel for alumni coming back to Kentucky now as opposed to previous years. Anderson told some media members that there was a time when he didn’t feel welcomed at UK. Anderson didn’t mention Gillispie by name, but I’ll let you speculate as to which coach he was referring to specifically. Calipari’s open arms approach to former players already in his short time while in Lexington simply cannot be overstated. For a while, it seemed as if many former players disappeared into the crowd– rarely speaking up about Kentucky. Now, the former players are seemingly bursting with pride for their school–soaking up every success the program is currently enjoying.
– For as much as some national media folk like to negatively harp on DeMarcus Cousins, he never seems more himself and comfortable than when he is in Lexington. The local media adore him and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration or sugar-coating of the situation. I don’t know if other people just ignore it, or if Lexington brings out the best in DeMarcus Cousins, but he’s always a favorite upon his return. Cousins pulled one of his best moves yet in front of the local media when he interrupted Cal’s meeting with the press following his Fantasy Camp. According to those in attendance, Cousins casually interrupted Calipari with a “Hi, Dad” greeting. He proceeded to say “what up gang?” (you know that caused a few teenage girl-ish giggles in the crowd…”who me? LoLz”) to the gathered media and then joke with Calipari a bit before heading off to practice.
(h/t Drew Franklin and his love affair with Instagram)
– Calipari also mentioned once again for those who were wondering about visibility of the game, that the alumni game will NOT be shown on television or on a video stream. The only people who will see the game will be those who buy the tickets. Sorry he’s not sorry. Tickets are still available at TicketMaster.com
– You didn’t think Calipari was going to let an opportunity pass him by to give a great quote/nugget for the media to chew on for the next week, did you?
Cal on next year’s team: “I’d take my team over any other next season. I don’t see anybody out there who scares me.”
– We’ve talked about it some here on KSR in the off-season, but honestly, which team this year has the dominant nature like last year’s Kentucky team? There will be a collection of good teams, a few with the potential to be really good. But is there a GREAT team out there that any other team with at least a few talented players genuinely fears? How about Indiana or Louisville, the top 2 ranked teams in some of the pre-season polls? Sorry, I just don’t see it. And apparently neither does Cal.
– One last note on this weekend’s Fantasy Camp events… Lexington will be crawling with exciting visitors. Between the recruits on schedule to be in town, and the current NBA players/former Kentucky players, Lexington will be a who’s who of Kentucky basketball. Calipari has alluded to the fact that beyond the 1996 players, more national champions from Kentucky’s past might be popping up this weekend. 10 points if someone gets a picture with Thad Jaracz. 15 points if you knew who Thad Jaracz was off the top of your head. 25 points if you can name the high school his son attended, which is why I chose Thad Jaracz as the point winner of the night.
– Calipari will wrap up the Fantasy Camp this weekend and then hit the road recruiting again. According to his high school coach, Calipari will be stopping by to visit Andrew Wiggins at Huntington Prep on Monday. Calipari will then swing by to see Tyler Roberson Tuesday or Wednesday in New Jersey.
– Enough basketball news, let’s talk a little football. It seems a little strange that it’s mid-September and the news is dominated by basketball. Kentucky is now just 2 days out from a home game against Western Kentucky on Saturday. The game is part of the annual UK Athletics Hall of Fame Weekend and will kick off at 7 p.m. from Commonwealth Stadium. Six former UK greats will be honored as part of the festivities: Derek Abney (football), Leroy Edwards (men’s basketball), J.B. Holmes (men’s golf), Jeff Keener (baseball), Clayton Moss (swimming & diving) and Nancy Scranton (women’s golf).
– Lost in some of the hype of the basketball news is just how important this game Saturday is for Joker Phillips. The game has the feel of a “must-win” for Phillips. Three games on the schedule were/are must-wins: Kent State, Western Kentucky and Samford. Beyond that, it’s debatable what the magic number is for this season.
– Western Kentucky cannot be overlooked coming into this game and many folks in the media are bringing this fact to light. The game has become a trendy pick for a possible weekend upset. Although WKU’s schedule so far has included a game against #1 ranked Alabama, they are doing well nationally when it comes to some key statistics. WKU ranks 12th in the nation in total defense, allowing only 241 total yards per game. WKU also ranks in the top 10 nationally in pass defense and sacks. And in one final impressive statistic, WKU ranks in the top 25 nationally in passing efficiency as well.
– Joker Phillips and Rick Minter are “great” and “on the same page.” As long as that page includes wrapped up tackles, a little more pressure on the quarterback and WKU wide receivers with a player closer than 10 yards away…that page is cool with me.
– Phillips spent some time during the press conference today downplaying the hype around Aaron Boyd. Though Phillips was happy with his performance and happy for Boyd’s long-awaited success last weekend, he’s not ready to dub him as the “go-to” guy. If you’ll remember, Phillips really doesn’t like that term and prefers for his receiving corps to be a unit in which teams have to spread their focus, rather than Kentucky relying simply upon one player to carry the load.
– One WKU professor tried to combat a comment made earlier in the week by head coach Willie Taggert in reference to students wearing blue around campus only because they couldn’t get into UK. The professor’s e-mail encouraged students to wear red to his class on Thursday (does anyone have a copy of that class picture from the Herald??????!!!!!!!). The professor only used e-mail because he couldn’t sign in to Twitter.
– And last but not least,
Brian Brohm threw a touchdown pass for the Green Bay Packers former Kentucky Punter U player Tim Masthay threw a touchdown pass tonight for the Green Bay Packers. The Packers faked a field goal and Masthay connected on a shovel pass. You will probably not believe this stat, but kudos to Ky Forward’s Jon Hale for coming up with it…but Tim Masthay is the first UK player with a NFL touchdown pass since Tim Couch in 2003.
I will leave you with some words from John Calipari on CoachCal.com from tonight, reflecting upon the opportunity he has helped create this weekend, “It’s the right thing to do. When you’re sitting in the seat I’m sitting in, you’re the keeper of the tradition. Being part of that means you reach out like I do with Coach Hall, like I do with Herky Rupp and Adolph Rupp’s family. You reach back and you bring people back in and you make them understand and let them know this is about them, this is their program.”