Jeff Pearlman

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Why I wouldn’t want my kids playing basketball for John Calipari

So, in the aftermath of yesterday’s Twitter explosion, I’ve been asked, oh, 60 times by Kentucky basketball fans to explain why I wouldn’t want my kids to play for John Calipari.

Here I go …

John Calipari wins basketball games. And if winning basketball games, and only winning basketball games, is what you’re about, well, there’s no arguing his merit. He wins and wins and wins.

But, as a person who’s covered sports for years, as well as a father who wants much more for his children than the inane tag of being “a winner,” I would not trust John Calipari as a role model. I just wouldn’t.

I know … I know—he’s never been found guilty of anything. That’s the standard I’ve heard applied to the man, and it’s a sad one. Yes, John Calipari has never been found guilty. But how much has to happen under a man’s watch before we say, “Maybe this guy’s watch isn’t so great?” No, he didn’t pay Marcus Camby $40,000 at UMass. But John Calipari was running the program. No, he didn’t, apparently, break any rules while recruiting DaJuan Wagner to Memphis. But he did hire DaJuan’s father as Coordinator of Basketball Operations. No, he didn’t, apparently, break any rules while recruiting Tyreke Evans to Memphis. But he did hire Tyreke’s personal strength coach as his administrative assistant. No, he didn’t take the SATs for Derrick Rose. But he was the coach who brought Rose to Memphis and, ultimately, brought shame to the university (we won’t even go into Robert Dozier). No, he wasn’t the founder or president of the Laurinburg Institute, a school that all but fed players to Memphis during John Calipari’s time there. But, considering the closeness, he surely knew the school was a joke—one that was eventually deemed null by the NCAA.

Again—I know, I know … lots of charges, no convictions (so to speak). But we’re not talking about the CEO of a corporation here; we’re not talking about a car dealer or a dentist or a scientist. We’re talking about a man responsible for helping develop, nurture and educate young men. Does he win? Yes. Is he a nice guy? Many certainly love him. But there is just too much there—too many instances—for me to say, “Hey, Junior, go play for Cal! He’ll steer you righteously!”

And one more thing: This whole, “He gets guys to the NBA, and that’s what matters” point is absolute garbage—and infuriates me. The sports pages and websites are littered—absolutely littered—with the stories of once-upon-a-time stud athletes who made lots of coin, blew out this knee or that rotator cuff, then wound up in a ditch or a homeless shelter or pumping gas. They leave college with the athletic skills, but not the life skills; without the education.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life