Wherever he goes, University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari usually has a bad reputation that follows him around.
That’s due large in part to seeing Final Four appearance while at U Mass and Memphis erased from the history books thanks to recruiting violations.
But the real Calipari is a classy guy in victory or defeat, whether it’s winning his first National Championship with the Wildcats or seeing that team lose in the first round of the NIT just a year later.
While Robert Morris made headlines thanks to their 59-57 upset over the Wildcats in front of a packed house at the Charles E. Sewall Center, Colonials head coach Andy Toole and the Robert Morris program owes Calipari a bit of gratitude for making the game happen in the first place.
With the Rupp Arena booked thanks to hosting NCAA Tournament games, Calipari elected to bring his team to Robert Morris, which was a classy move to begin with as most coaches in the country would not have done so.
Make no mistake about it, Calipari made this game happen and the Robert Morris program is glad that he did.
“I figured if we had to go on the road and help a smaller program, I wanted it to be Robert Morris,” said Calipari, a Moon native who grew up less than a mile from the Robert Morris campus. “I’ve spent more time on this campus than most students that have gone to school here for four years. It’s just amazing that when you drive up now that you see a great football field, a great arena on campus and to see where this program is academically. If we were going to help a program out, I wanted it to be this one.”
As it turned out, missing the NCAA Tournament was the best thing to happen to the Colonials as they received a ton more exposure by playing Kentucky on national television than they would have playing an NCAA Tournament game possibly on Tru TV.
But while Calipari was doing the Colonials a solid by bringing perhaps the greatest basketball program in college history to town, Calipari came to win.
But even in defeat, Calipari was very classy in his postgame comments.
“Make no mistake about it, they deserved to win the game,” said the Kentucky coach. “They took it to us from the start and said that this team couldn’t handle us physically. I’m proud of the way we fought, but they deserved to win the game. It’s a big shot in the arm for their program. It would have been a shame if we made the final shot because we didn’t deserve to win.”
Some coaches wouldn’t even have accepted a bid to the NIT, which coming after a National Championship may have looked like a slap in the face to a prestigious program such as Kentucky.
But Calipari wasn’t going to have any of that.
“We are an NIT team and I’m an NIT coach,” said Calipari. “I just wanted to keep coaching this team hoping the light would pop on for Alex (Poythress) and the light would come on for Archie (Goodwin) and the others. You never know when that light is going to come on and these kids will realize that they are college basketball players. For some it never comes on, but the only way you find out is to keep coaching them.”
The win was a historic one for Robert Morris, but for Kentucky it may have been the best thing to happen to them for the future as Calipari has another star-studded recruiting class coming to Lexington next season.
“It’s a humbling experience for sure,” said Calipari. “You come in thinking that you are going to win 30 games every year and make the Elite Eight and the Final Four, but when something like this happens it humbles you. We weren’t a very tough team this season, but we will get right back to work. I can promise you that won’t be the case next season. We will be tough and will fight; even if that means that some guys who played a lot this season won’t get time next season. This program is still in fine shape, but tonight was all about Robert Morris.”
At the end of the day, they don’t come any classier than Calipari and I have no doubt that Kentucky will be competing for a National Championship come this time next year.
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