From 1993 through 1998, the Kentucky Wildcats appeared in the Final Four exactly four times. A stretch that included two national championships ('96 & '98) and a runner-up ('97). Since the end of 1998, one of college basketballs most storied programs has seen as many Final Four weekends as Northern Iowa, Siena, and Utah State, none.
In the midst of a ten year decline, the university still has more pull than we think. Pull enough to be the main topic of conversation during the Sweet 16 weekend. Pull enough to gain interest from college basketballs top recruiter, John Calipari. Pull enough to have the University of Arizona put their coaching search on an abrupt hold.
With the firing of head coach Billy Gillispie after just two seasons in Lexington, the Wildcats just became story number one in college basketball. Reports issued Monday and late Sunday night have current Memphis head coach, John Calipari, slated to become the next head basketball coach at Kentucky. A 252-69 record while at Memphis (nine seasons), and seven Sweet 16 appearances, Calipari doesn't just have a resume, he has a hall of fame application. Calipari has delivered not just Memphis to the Final Four, but also the University of Massachusetts back in 1996. A recruiting mastermind, John Calipari is everything Kentucky could look for in a coach. He'll bring you players, banners, a graduation rate, and pride back to Lexington that they haven't experienced since the early days of Tubby Smith.
For John, this is not just a jump to a legendary school. In a sentence, this is a shot right across the bow of rival head coach, Rick Pitino. Just a day after Pitino publicly campaigns for the Kentucky job to be handed to his former players turned head coaches, Travis Ford and or John Pelfrey, John Calipari inquires and visits with officials in Lexington. For Pitino, I'm sure recruiting for the same athletes against the likes of his former players would have been better for him than recruiting against arguably the best recruiter in the nation. John Calipari brings that swagger into a program that has lost some of their own, John Calipari eases alumni, gets students fired up, and is one of the best living room coaches of all time. To lure a talent like him, it's clear, Lexington still has pull.
John Calipari is poised to become the highest paid coach in college basketball, as my buddy Roche pointed out, doesn't that title come with a coach whose actually won a National Championship? The answer: He's a couple Derrick Rose missed free throws away from having one, and that is good enough for me.