The Calipari Era, Year One

The Calipari Era, Year One


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.