View PDF "The Calipari Era" p 6 ACE Weekly March 11, 2010 03.10.2010 The Calipari Era Lessons from Year One by Heather C. Watson When John Calipari assumed his role as the Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Kentucky last March, even the most casual fan knew that we were in for some changes. Coach Cal’s patented dribbledrive offense would move the game farther inside the paint than we were used to seeing. The superstar recruits would bring heightened attention to the program. These changes were nothing new to Kentucky fans, though. New coaches bring new styles of play; that’s why we hire them. And the attention is nothing new; we’ve had our fair share of highprofile fans, Sports Illustrated covers, and accolades over the years. We were prepared for change upon Coach Calipari’s arrival. We weren’t, however, expecting a full-scale paradigm shift. As the first regular season of the Calipari era draws to the end, we’ve come to realize that it isn’t just a new coach we’ve signed up for; it’s a whole new ball game. As Calipari Era fans, we’ve not only had to adjust to the new style of play and the renewed interest in the team. We’ve actually had to re-learn fundamental tenants of the game and fandom. The rules have changed quickly and, oftentimes, for the better. Not since the NCAA’s 1986 adoption of the threepoint shot have we had to reassess our view of the game so radically and so quickly. The very lexicon of Kentucky basketball has shifted in the past year, presenting fans with a steep learning curve. The lessons of the first year of the Coach Cal Era are about changing our perceptions and expectations, and always setting our goals higher. The first lesson of the Calipari Era ran counter to our most fundamental understanding of the sport. A win is a win, Coach Cal taught us, except when it’s a loss. Early on, Calipari’s candid assessment of poorly-played yet ultimately victorious games drew sharp criticism from diehard fans. As Coach enumerated the wins which were punctuated by lackadaisical performance or good luck, diehard fans began to bristle. What win was good enough for this guy?, we asked. Soon, we learned that Coach Cal expects his players to not only win games, but to live up to the highest expectations possible. This is the kind of perfectionism that pays off in the post-season, and in life itself. Knowledge is power. Now, of course, Schoolhouse Rocky taught us this important lesson years ago. Coach Cal, however, has transformed it into the mantra of Kentucky Basketball. Calipari has opened up to the media and the fans in an unprecedented manner. To the basketball purist, this means that Coach Cal provides almost unprecedentedly informative post-game interviews, in which he breaks down plays and provides meaningful insight and analysis. To a more casual observer, Coach Cal’s open-book policy makes Coca-Cola seem under-advertised. Coach Cal has turned Kentucky Basketball into what business marketing experts would term “an international brand.” He is everywhere: on Facebook and Twitter, on the App Store, in China, and he is spreading the message of Kentucky Basketball to new and unlikely fans, resulting in growth, revenue, and respect for the program. This studied, methodical approach to informing the public about the Wildcats would earn Coach Cal an A in business school, and certainly solidifies fans’ faith in our coach. The SEC Tournament doesn’t mean that much. Now, for generations of fans who faithfully trek South for a weekend of drinking, eating, socializing, shopping, and maybe even watching a game, this may be the hardest lesson of all. The SEC Tournament is a great time to escape to a sunnier climate and break out the conference team mascots needlepoint belts our mamas lovingly made for us to wear every March. It’s an even better time to assert our dominance over our longtime rivals. In the Coach Cal Era, we’ve been told that the Southeastern Conference Tournament title doesn’t mean too much; we should, rather, keep our eyes on the ultimate goal, the NCAA Tournament. While this seems unsettling to those of us whose granddaddies raised us to believe that beating Tennessee is more important than just about anything on the planet, Coach does raise a valid point. Our impressive season ranking has secured us a high seed in The Big Dance. We should, at least theoretically, reserve our efforts for when they are needed most. Even though winning would be nice. A Freshman is a Freshman is a…. The Coach Cal Era has also led us to re-interpret the very nature of our players’ seniority. As we speculate whether our players are “True Freshmen” or “One-and-Dones,” we question how these distinctions color our perception of their performance. A Freshman mistake is a lot more forgivable if we believe the offending player has two or three more years to redeem himself, rather than a handful of games. And we wouldn’t be at all offended if P-Pat were to participate in two Senior Days. The lesson of Coach Cal’s roster is that we need to look past preconceived notions of age and seniority to see the player’s talents and contribution. Come to think of it, the Lessons of the Coach Cal Era apply to a lot more than just basketball.