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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

John Calipari at State: A positive or negative scenario?

As I'm apt to do, I'll listen to the PTI podcast on the way home from work from time to time. I caught some of the March 18th edition last night and heard an interview with John Calipari. It was tough not to enjoy listening to the man talk; he's a born speaker and salesman of both a basketball program and of his own abilities as a coach.

Calipari, of course, coaches the Memphis Tigers and at one point this season they were the number one team in the country. Their only loss to this point has been against a very good Tennessee team, and enter the NCAA Tournament as a 1-seed.

By virtue of his flirtation with the N.C. State coaching search two years ago, Calipari will forever have a footnote in the history the basketball program. His brief but intense negotiations were some of the more entertaining moments of the coaching search, with resourceful folks tracking planes and snapping spy photos at the airport.

His almost-hiring raised an important question for me: "Did we come out ahead or behind by not landing Calipari?"

The name "Calipari" seems to carry with it an air of scandal, sanction and suspension. After Calipari left UMass in 1996, the school got dinged with with a variety of penalties when it was learned Marcus Camby accepted money from an agent. The NCAA cleared Calipari of any direct responsibility, but as is often the case with these things, it seems hard to believe that he wouldn't have noticed his star player noticeably wealthier in a matter of months.

So far, however, he's kept his nose clean at Memphis. The guy that seemed as likely as any to jump ship for any lucrative offer that came along (read: the State job) has spent over seven years slowly building Memphis into one of the premier programs in the country.

I just have to wonder how Calipari--having seemingly put the ghosts of Camby-past behind him--would've been received at State. Would we have embraced him with open arms, or would we always have been waiting "for the other shoe to drop?" Would it look like State was taking a win-at-all-costs approach by hiring a guy with a checkered past?

There's a good chance that State would be more competitive right now with Cailpari at the helm. Cal, love him or hate him, is a good basketball coach with a lot of experience.

I just think there's a huge "Buyer Beware" sticker attached to him. With our recent history of academic issues (Chris Washburn), I just think it would've been too big of a gamble for us to try and bring him in and pray that his players graduate with regularity. His recent graduation rates have been in the lower half of the country (in 2007 is was in the 25% range), and he's been known to take on players that other schools would consider high academic risks.

And not to disparage Memphis as a school, but the classes at State are likely more difficult for your average student. As a member of the ACC, State has a greater obligation to attempt to educate those athletes that come through our doors. I'm just not so sure about the quality of the education the players at Memphis receive under Calipari's watch.

I think the ultimate judgment on whether or not we missed out by not landing Cal will have to be determined once we see the majority of Sidney's tenure at State transpire. The level of his teams' successes in the classroom and on the court can then be measured. Who knows? If we land John Wall, the fantastic point guard prospect from Cary, then maybe we'll enjoy some quick success in a similar fashion that Wake Forest did with Chris Paul.

If that occurs, then "what-if" games, like this post, won't get played as often as those years when your team finishes 12th in the conference.


  1. Chris Washburn is recent? Since when is something that happened 22 years ago recent?

  2. It's not so long ago as to be forgotten should our graduation rates plummet.

  3. Recent is in the eye of the beholder. It can be yesterday or 1973.

    I think Calipari is a used car salesman, and I would not have pulled for State had he come.