Calipari gets another shot at glory

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari has already lost twice in the NCAA championship game. He...

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari has already lost twice in the NCAA championship game. He hopes not to make it a trifecta against Kansas Monday night. (TAMI CHAPPELL/Reuters file photo)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS - Though only one thing is missing from his impressive resume, Kentucky head coach John Calipari insisted on Sunday that he isn’t feeling the heat ahead of the biggest game of his career.

Kentucky is the overwhelming favourite to beat Kansas for the NCAA championship on Monday and that would give Calipari his first title and finally shut up his legion of critics.

When asked whether he was feeling “immense pressure” to get it done, Calipari deflected the query like an Anthony Davis rejection.

“This isn’t about me. I’m good … I’m not worried about (his legacy),” Calipari said.

“I’m just trying to coach a game and do the best job I can for these kids.

“It means a lot to my family and my friends and people that care about me. I’m telling you, I’m not worried about it.”

Calipari said if he doesn’t win Monday, he believes he will sometime in the future, but said changing the lives of his players and their families was more important to him.

“Now, if I look back on (losing four in the Final Four, twice in the title game) and I’m disappointed because ‘I’ didn’t win that game, then I’m not being truthful to them. It was more about me than them.”

Calipari admitted that wasn’t the case earlier in his career but: “I’m old now, now it starts changing. It’s not about me, it’s about everybody else.

“My friends and family are praying. I’m not. If I keep doing right by the kids, good things will happen for all of us.”

However, it’s hard to imagine Calipari being able to withstand the backlash if he doesn’t finally break through with one of the best teams in recent college hoops history.

His players certainly seem to grasp the role they can play in making sure Calipari finally ditches the overrated label.

“We’ve been talking about it and we want to give him the first championship so we’re going to go out and play extremely hard and do whatever it takes to make that happen,” said freshman point guard Marquis Teague.

“We definitely want to give him one,” added freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer.

Sunday marked the three-year anniversary of Calipari’s hiring at Kentucky.

Instead of feeling stressed about what he hasn’t achieved, Calipari maintains he is feeling grateful about what he has.

“It took me 20 years to get a job like this, a BCS job, 20 years. I coached 20 years not in a BCS situation. So it’s been a ball,” he said.

“People care. People on the campus care. Kids around the country, you can go recruit who you want. You can get the best and the brightest … problem is, with these rules the way they are, they don’t stay long. But I’m enjoying myself.”

And despite rumours to the contrary (he is the betting favourite to be the next head coach of the New York Knicks), Calipari says he is staying put in Lexington.

“I’ve got a great job. If there’s a better job in basketball, I don’t know what it is.”

All that’s missing from his dream job is an eighth title for the Wildcats.

Whether Calipari wants to admit it or not.

SELF RESPECT FOR KENTUCKY

A day before the NCAA title game, Kansas head coach Bill Self had high praise for Kentucky.

“They’ve got a terrific team. They’re one of the better teams that we’ve had in college basketball probably from a pure talent standpoint,” Self said.

So, should they be favoured?

“Ya, they probably should.”

That’s not to say the coach doesn’t believe his group can’t take the title back to Lawrence, Kan., where some of basketball’s legendary figures — Canadian James Naismith, Phog Allen and Larry Brown once helmed the program.

“The thing about it is, I like our guys, I think we’re talented too,” he said, pointing out that Thomas Robinson was runner-up to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis for player of the year and that centre Jeff Withey is anchoring one of the best defences around at the moment.

“We’ve got a lot of pieces too, it’s just theirs are a little bit more heralded. From where we started, our path to get here was different than theirs.”

That’s an understatement. Kansas lost almost its whole team from a year ago, and three promising freshmen weren’t allowed to suit up while Kentucky was regarded as the crème de la crème from the jump.


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