Rick Pitino won a WDRB national media poll as the best coach in Kentuckiana.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari won his first national championship at Kentucky last April. He took his 2011 team to the NCAA Final Four. His first UK team was parked at Number One for a long stretch of the 2010 season. He's yet to lose a game in Rupp Arena.
Calipari does not start this season ranked Number One. Tom Crean does at Indiana University. In 2008 Crean took over a program without any scholarship players. In 2012, the Hoosiers defeated three Top Five teams and surged into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
Calipari and Crean have done remarkable work. But when WDRB polled 41 writers and media members from across the nation for their pick as the best college basketball coach in Kentuckiana, neither guy was the winner.
The pick was Rick Pitino of the University of Louisville – and it wasn't close.
Pitino was ranked first on 25 ballots. Calipari finished second with 11 votes. Crean earned four.
"All three of them are great coaches," U of L guard Peyton Siva said. "I think Coach Cal is a great coach and I think Coach Crean is a great coach. They're great at what they do.
"I love Coach P. I've been playing for him for four years and I know he's a great coach. He's a great X and O guy, he knows different situations. He's just a great person all around … I think it's well-deserved."
Even voters who chose Pitino said it was a difficult choice. Calipari's record at Kentucky has been remarkable. Crean handled a massive Mr. Fix-It assignment at IU.
"That was a hard one," said Jim O'Connell, the national college basketball writer for the Associated Press. "You can argue 10 different points and get different answers.
"But I think Pitino would get it with the main reason how his teams improve over the course of the season."
"Pitino, by a hair over Calipari," said Lenn Robbins of the New York Post.
"Rick Pitino is as good as any coach of any level of basketball right now," wrote Frank Burlison, a Hall of Fame writer from Los Angeles who writes for Sports Illustrated's web site.
Pitino's record is outstanding. It earned him a spot on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ballot last year. He's made six NCAA Final Four appearances with three programs. He won the 1996 national championship at Kentucky.
But Calipari has beaten him four straight, winning every UK-U of L game since he arrived at Kentucky. Calipari has directed three consecutive UK teams to the NCAA Elite Eight – and nobody would blink if he stretched that record to four, five, and six …
"I thought you said these (questions) were easy," wrote Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News.
"All three teams have great centers, and all have great coaches. But Calipari built and sustained enormous success at UMass and Memphis before coming to UK, and he's in the sweet spot of his career now."
"Calipari," wrote Tom Kensler of the Denver Post. "He's unmatched as a recruiter, motivator and team psychologist, and highly underrated as a game coach."
"You've got to go with Cal," said Mitchell Light, editor of the Athlon Sports College Basketball Yearbook. "It's hard to argue with the results. You can't go wrong with any of the three, but Cal is at the top of the profession right now."
Crean is the youngest of the three and positioned to gain on the other two. Not all of his support came from Indiana. He was selection of Al Featherston, veteran sportswriter and ACC historian from North Carolina, who gave Crean the edge on the court and off the court, too.
But in the end, the pick was Pitino.
"It's a crime that he's not in the Hall of Fame," wrote Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Here is a list of the poll participants:
John Akers, Basketball Times; Steve Andress, WDRB; Alex
Bozich, Inside The Hall; Rick Bozich, WDRB; Kevin Brockway, Gainesville (Fla.)
Sun; Frank Burlison, SI.com; Steve Carp, Las Vegas Review-Journal; John Clay,
Lexington Herald-Leader; Eric Crawford, WDRB; Ken Davis, Fox Sports; Brett
Dawson, Cats Illustrated; Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon Yearbook;
Mike DeCourcy, The Sporting News; Jody Demling, Cardinal
Authority; Pete DiPrimio, Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel; Pat Doney, WDRB; Al
Featherston, SB Nation North Carolina; John Feinstein, CBS Sports Radio; Pat
Forde, Yahoo! Sports.com; Lew Freedman, Columbus (Ind.) Republic; Jeff Goodman,
CBSSports.com; Herb Gould, Chicago Sun-Times;
Ron Green Jr. Charlotte Observer; Vahe Gregorian, St. Louis
Post-Dispatch; Bob Holt, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Dick Jerardi, Philadelphia
Daily News; Todd Jones, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch; Tom Kensler, Denver Post;
Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star; Tom Lane, WDRB; Mitchell Light; Athlon
Sports; Mike Lopresti, USA Today;
Matt May, The Cats' Pause; Kevin McNamara, Providence (R.I.)
Journal; Jim O'Connell, Associated Press; Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com; Brendan Quinn,
Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel; Lenox Rawlings, Winston-Salem Journal; Lenn
Robbins, New York Post; Mike Waters, Syracuse.com.