Calipari Doesn’t Deserve Bum Rap

The following article was originally published on November 19, 2004 in the New York Daily News. It is a nice read on John Calipari, whose players have graduated from both UMass and Memphis at much better rates than Herb Sendek’s players graduated from NC State. (We use Sendek as the standard since he was widely accepted by all, including Nina Allen and the Faculty Senate, as such a strong academic coach.)

Calipari’s players graduate at such attractive rates because of his long-term personal commitment to them and their education. At both UMass and Memphis Calipari started a fund from his personal wealth to assist past players to return to school and graduate. So far at Memphis, three pre-Calipari players have taken advantage of this program and gotten their degrees. Two others have are in school now and should graduate soon. We wonder how many of these Memphis players who have benefited from Calipari’s generosity were players on the teams that Lee Fowler coached at Memphis in the 1980s?


“By most standards, John Calipari has enjoyed a successful four-year run at Memphis. The Tigers’ coach has transformed the urban commuter school from a Conference USA afterthought into a Top 25 program that could be closer than anyone thinks to a Final Four appearance. He recently signed a contract extension that will take him through 2010 and reportedly pay $1.5 million per year.

But critics constantly insist on drawing a moustache on his picture.

Just recently, Sports Illustrated trashed Calipari in its college basketball issue, selecting the Tigers as one of the five programs college fans are least likely to root for. Among other things, the magazine blasted Memphis for a zero graduation rate and lambasted Calipari for his association with Marcus Camby, the star of Calipari’s 1996 Final Four team at Massachusetts who admitted he took jewelry and cash from an agent while still in school.

“When I read it,” Calipari said, “I was ticked. It’s bull.”

Calipari has never backed away from a fight, which may be why his Massachusetts teams were so good in the mid-’90s. Sure, he takes dead-end kids, some of them with checkered pasts. But Calipari is quick to point out that all three of his seniors – Arthur Barclay, Duane Ervin and Anthony Rice – are on target to graduate in May and five of seven previous seniors have earned degrees.

“Kids want to come here,” he said before junior forward Rodney Carney scored 33 points in the 24th-ranked Tigers’ 81-66 victory over St. Mary’s last night to advance to the finals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Garden. “At the very least, they know they’re going to get their degree and be prepared for life because of our summer internship program with FedEx. The upside is, they’ll have a chance to play in the NBA because our players all get better. They like the freedom we give them.”

Calipari, who won the 2002 NIT and has been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, already has produced two NBA players – guards Dajuan Wagner and Antonio Burks – at Memphis and has two future pros on his roster, Carney sophomore forward Sean Banks and freshman Joey Dorsey. Plus, he has strung together two consecutive Top 5 recruiting classes that should reap the benefits of playing in the sparkling new, 18,600-seat FedEx Forum.

Calipari, who lost two recruits – Amare Stoudemire and Kendrick Perkins – to the NBA out of high school, knows the landscape of college basketball is constantly changing. Most of the great ones leave early for the pros.

“I’ve never held a kid back,” said Calipari, who coached in the NBA with the Nets from 1996-99. “When Dajuan Wagner was here and I knew he was going to be a lottery pick, I ripped up his scholarship papers and told him he had to go. I told him he wasn’t ready, and that he was going to have to work his butt off or he would fail, but I also told him he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I was on a show on ESPN a couple years ago and one coach said if he knew a player wasn’t going to stay two or three years, he wouldn’t recruit him. You go into the homes of the top 100 kids with that approach and how many are you going to get? None.”

Calipari has been painted with a tar brush ever since Camby’s confession. The NCAA deleted the school’s Final Four appearance from the record books for using an ineligible player. But there were no sanctions. And, in a letter obtained by the Daily News, dated June 8, 2004, Tom Yeager, the chairman of the committee on infractions, told Calipari: “The committee fully recognizes you had nothing to with the violations of Marcus Camby during the 1995-96 season. In a sense, you were an innocent victim.”

None of that made a difference last spring when Calipari briefly flirted with the St. John’s job before withdrawing his name from consideration in the wake of some negative newspaper ink that dredged up the Camby issue again. “I never contacted St. John’s,” he said. “People there came after me. Father (Donald) Harrington (the university president) conducted a complete background search on me and they seemed comfortable we do things the right way.”

Calipari always seems to be haunted by controversy. Just two weeks ago, when Memphis was playing an exhibition game, four players – Barclay, Carney, Dorsey and walk-on Clyde Wade – had their student apartment burglarized. When they filed their police report, they listed their losses at $66,000, $40,000 of that from eight mink coats.

That raised red flags in the media, which wondered what four college kids were doing with eight minks. Dorsey, as it turns out, was storing eight coats and two pocketbooks for a girl he knew who works as a dancer. While Wade was filing a police report, Dorsey was on the phone with the woman, who claimed her losses totaled $5,000. Wade, thinking Dorsey meant $5,000 a coat, told police the total was $40,000. The next day, the woman called Memphis police and told them the coats were fake fur and her losses were $5,000. Detectives looked into her story and found it checked out.

It was just another speed bump for Calipari.

He should be used to them by now. ”

Additional Notes:
While we are on the subject of Calipari, here are two other interesting articles we dug up today:

Calipari Restored Integrity At Memphis

Calipari Backs Penalties for Low Graduation Rates

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32 Responses to Calipari Doesn’t Deserve Bum Rap

  1. Dan 04/07/2006 at 2:32 PM #

    I’d welcome Cal to NC State. He is a great coach, and they way he dealt with Darius Washington last year after those free throws was fantastic.

    He’s a great coach, a driven winner, and we’d be lucky to get him.

  2. Fletch 04/07/2006 at 2:41 PM #

    The N&O would eat him alive. They would literally make stuff up about him. Do we really want that?

  3. beowolf 04/07/2006 at 2:41 PM #

    Great, timely article.


  4. NeverGiveUp 04/07/2006 at 2:41 PM #

    I was a little worried about his history, but I really never looked into it very deeply. This article makes me feel much better.

    If he really wants the job and Barnes does not, this seems like a “no brainer” to me.

  5. BJD95 04/07/2006 at 2:44 PM #

    We can’t care how the UNC/Duke loving media would portray it. And frankly, the N&O does seem to be making an effort lately, as shown by their somewhat understanding attitude re why we wanted more than Sendek’s performance.

  6. site admin 04/07/2006 at 2:46 PM #

    The N&O would eat him alive. They would literally make stuff up about him. Do we really want that?

    Eat him alive for what?

    We don’t want that to happen because we don’t want him to retire early with all of the money that he would make in a libel suit against them.

    Why don’t we just go ahead and formally turn over the leadership positions at NC State to the N&O and the folks from Carolina & Duke? Seriously. They’ve been running our programs for years. Why not just formalize it?

  7. wolfydave 04/07/2006 at 2:54 PM #

    if the guy who supported him in the past is now chancellor at UNC-CH then you have a political ally (oooohhhh scary thought)….

  8. Dan 04/07/2006 at 2:56 PM #

    Screw the N&O. They ran off V. They were integral in running off Herb. We all know the history between the N&O and NC State. We dont care about the N&O.

    Sans Rick Pitino and Jay Wright (‘maybe’ on that 2nd name), Cal is THEE guy. Cal is a winner. Cal isnt going to use Duke and UNC as an excuse. Cal’s goal will be to make NC State the excuse the other guy uses.

  9. scoots 04/07/2006 at 2:59 PM #

    I’d love to see Calipari take on Roy, Coach K, Gregg Doyle & the N & O. It sure would be fun!

  10. primacyone 04/07/2006 at 3:01 PM #

    Well Gawwww Leeee Goober. Sombody call Jim Hunt. Let’s go get this guy. Where’s Andy. It’s the big one Elizabeth.

    Really, what’s the hold up. If he’s interested like people think he is – let’s go get him. Everybody else comes with if’s and but’s. This is the guy. The only problem is not a problem at all. He’ll love it here. We’ll love him here.

  11. beowolf 04/07/2006 at 3:01 PM #

    *If he really wants the job and Barnes does not, this seems like a “no brainer� to me.*


  12. WP 01 04/07/2006 at 3:12 PM #

    Cool. Let’s hire him. Fowler, Amato, and Calipari. The Ego Trio. I love it.

  13. HuntPack 04/07/2006 at 3:17 PM #

    I just spoke to a former member of the 74 National Title Team and for what it’s worth, he said that Calipari was our #2 candidate behind Barnes as of yesterday.

  14. Nestor 04/07/2006 at 3:29 PM #

    Hey guys this Nestor from BruinsNation. Saw all the chatter on our former boy Steve Lavin. Thought you guys would be interested in reading this post:

  15. CoachCalamari 04/07/2006 at 3:34 PM #

    ^^ Don’t get my hopes up.

  16. 74brickyard83 04/07/2006 at 3:35 PM #

    The N&O would dig up trash on Dean Smith if we hired him.

  17. primacyone 04/07/2006 at 3:36 PM #

    The N&O will shift focus to firing Amato and leave the BB guy alone for a while.

  18. BladenWolf 04/07/2006 at 3:43 PM #

    If I don’t see a freakin’ press conference announcing Calipari as our coach this weekend then I’m hitting the bottle hard again.

    Wait a minute… I’m hitting the bottle hard any way… it’s been a tough week guys. I hope Fowler doesn’t drag this out for weeks. It makes me think he enjoys all the attention.

  19. WTNY 04/07/2006 at 4:04 PM #

    *I just spoke to a former member of the 74 National Title Team *

    This wouldn’t happen to have been a intern for the 74 team would it? 😉

    Just kidding HuntPack — rumors and sources have been bandied about so much this week that it made your head spin if you tried to follow them.

  20. cfpack03b 04/07/2006 at 4:12 PM #

    thanks for this clarifying article. Hopefully this reassures some people of his character. His abilities and potential are already clear.

  21. RAWFS 04/07/2006 at 4:27 PM #

    Fowler can’t enjoying attention if he is esconced in an undisclosed location not named “The Masters.”

    Or, if he’s not at the airport picking up Steve Lavin.

    Or, if he’s not at at 2pm, ooops, 4pm presser yesterday.

    Someone says they saw Lee at the Murph today, and he did visit students yesterday, but other than that, Lee may as well be Waldo…as in Where’s Waldo.

    And oh yeah, let me throw in the “nanny nanny boo” and point out we posted that article a full three and half hours before you guys did. 🙂

  22. RAWFS 04/07/2006 at 4:31 PM #

    While we are on the subject of Calipari, here are two other interesting articles we dug up today:

    Calipari Restored Integrity At Memphis

    Calipari Backs Penalties for Low Graduation Rates

    I think he is a lot more of an ethical coach than the press would ever admit.

  23. NeverGiveUp 04/07/2006 at 4:37 PM #

    “And oh yeah, let me throw in the “nanny nanny booâ€? and point out we posted that article a full three and half hours before you guys did. ”

    Who’s “we”?

  24. vtpackfan 04/07/2006 at 4:39 PM #

    I was impressed by his days coaching the Nets. He took over a team that had still not totally recovered from the sudden death of Drazen Petrovic, was located on the wrong side of the Hudson, and hadn’t delivered the goods with Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson when Chuck Daly was the coach. He brought up players like Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn and helped foster a more up-tempo pace of play in an era when that was only seen on the west coast. He countered with Jayson Williams and Kenyon Martin to stand up against the thugs in the division. When Cassell went down with an injury on opening night the team went into a tail spin and went out and traded for Stephon Marbury, enough said. At that point it was a blessing to get fired. My point is that their is evidence in today’s NBA that the contributions that Calipari made in that short time span were lasting and meaningful.

  25. RAWFS 04/07/2006 at 4:44 PM #

    “Who’s “weâ€??”

    Clicketh the link. There are four sad little monkeys that publish their rants in another blog at Red and White From State – at least for now, as my other endeavors are starting to make me lean towards shutting it down permanently.

    One of us just happened to find that article first and I was merely picking at the SFN guys, who have done one helluva job since the Sendek story started breaking (actually before, but they’ve really distinguished themselves this week especially.)

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