LEXINGTON, Ky. – On April 13, ESPN will air a 30 for 30 documentary film on Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. Titled One and Not Done and featuring the most polarizing figure in college sports, it will reportedly include interviews with those who both love and hate Calipari. Count Jay Bilas among the former.
“I’m one of those that loves him,” Bilas, ESPN’s top college basketball analyst, told SEC Country on Episode 1 of Everybody’s Superpod. “I think John is one of the truly great coaches in our game and one of the great coaches that has ever coached. And, frankly, when he got there in (2009) and brought in all those high-powered freshmen, I did not think that what he’s accomplished there was even possible. I did not think it was possible.”
Calipari went to the Elite Eight his first season at Kentucky, the Final Four his second season and won the national championship in his third. He’s landed 38 5-star recruits, had 28 players picked in the NBA draft (three went No. 1 overall), been to four Final Fours and two NCAA title games since being hired in 2009.
Bilas happily admits he was wrong about Calipari and his ability to thrive with one-and-dones.
“Maybe that’s sort of this old-school notion that I had back at the time, that, ‘C’mon, man, you’re not going to bring freshmen into this thing and be able to coach ‘em up and not have ups and downs like everybody else,’ ” Bilas said. “It’s been absolutely remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Calipari is known now as the slick coach of a blueblood program that takes its pick of future pros, but Bilas is quick to remind that at his first coaching stop (Massachusetts), “he had half-court, blue-collar, kind of smash-mouth defensive teams.” In other words, Calipari has won with all kinds of players and dramatically different resources along the way.
“From the outside, John is whatever evil you want to put on him,” Bilas said. But in years of covering Calipari’s career, he’s found that “he’s the same all the time, and I’ve always respected that about John. He’s a great guy. People can put whatever negative stuff they want on Cal and make it stick in their mind, and then when they meet him, they’ll have a totally different view of him.”
Give the full podcast a listen, as Bilas talked Kentucky for half an hour on Episode 1 of Everybody’s Superpod.