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Calipari Not Dealing Well With Duke Pressure

As the Kentucky coach lashes out again

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NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke at Kentucky
Nov 6, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski talks with Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari before the game during the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, Duke has been the gold standard in college basketball for decades, something which has deeply annoyed Kentucky fans and, increasingly, coach John Calipari.

The other day he lashed out at Jay Bilas for comments Bilas (who of course played for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski) said about how players are developed for the NBA, and now he’s taking a shot at Duke more directly, saying this:

“We don’t promote two guys and push everyone else to the curb. This is about all these kids becoming their best version. As this team succeeds, we all become our best version. BIG TEAM, BETTER ME. And yes, we trademarked that.”

Well! Let’s unpack that a bit.

First, he’s clearly referring to Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, who had huge years for Duke last year.


Partly because they’re talented and partly because other players had limitations, especially on offense.

Go down the list: Tre Jones (limited shot, dealt with injuries), Javin DeLaurier (no major offensive skills), Marques Bolden (limited offensively), Jack White (big slump reduced his effectiveness), Alex O’ Connell (defense limited his court time), Jordan Goldwire (defense was outstanding but offense was very poor until late) and Cam Reddish, who we found out after the season had not one but two serious injuries that limited his effectiveness. And don’t forget that he started the season with an injury too.

In that situation, where do you go for points? To the guys who can reliably get them obviously.

Coach K built his team around his two best players. It might not have been the original plan but it was the best one after injuries and other limitations emerged.

Notably, Calipari doesn’t criticize Duke’s defense here which is interesting. That’s a part of the game that not everyone is willing to play but Duke’s main rotation guys, with the arguable exception of O’ Connell, were all outstanding defenders. Isn't that a team concept too?

And we should mention that not very long ago, he was ripping Duke for making a lifetime commitment to recruits. Kentucky, he said, didn’t do that. They believe in capitalism, he said, not socialism.

Sort out your politics as you like, but isn’t he saying that he’s not responsible for what happens when they leave? And isn’t that somewhat at odds with what he’s saying now?

What’s really eating at Calipari is this: Krzyzewski is consistently out performing him.

This is nothing new for Cal of course. He’s always had a weirdly paranoid side to his personality (if you want to see how, look up his tenure at the Nets) and he didn't enjoy Duke’s success last season, least of all the team whipping that Duke put on Kentucky in the season opener.

That was a long time ago though. So why’s he pulling the baby stuff out now?

Because after the draft, everyone is talking about Barrett and Williamson, and that, friend, means that the recruits are looking at that and seeing that Duke dominated Kentucky in November and on draft night.

Duke’s guys went #1, #3 and #10.


#12, #13 and #29 - and other than Tyler Herro, no one is really talking about his guys.

Williamson and Barrett are dominating the post-draft headlines. Calipari knows it, knows it’s costing him, and he’s having a tantrum.

That’s what it comes down to.

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