BOZICH | John Calipari racing toward his Rick Pitino Hall of Fam - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | John Calipari racing toward his Rick Pitino Hall of Fame Moment

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – This will keep the conversation 50 shades of steamy for the next 51 days:

John Calipari is racing toward his Rick Pitino Moment.

Winning a national championship (his second) and earning a spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on the same day.

Pull on his Hall of Fame jersey for lunch. Snip at the NCAA Tournament nets for a nightcap. April 6. Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis.

Take his place with John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, Jim Calhoun, Dean Smith, Denny Crum, Roy Williams and Pitino – guys with at least two titles and a plaque in Springfield, Mass.

Some list. Some debate. Some 51 days ahead.

"He just told us after the game," UK forward Willie Cauley-Stein said after the Wildcats overwhelmed South Carolina in Rupp Arena, 77-43, Saturday afternoon. "You kind of expect it. It's not like it's a surprise or anything."

And Calipari can do it the way only Pitino has done it – win a national title and get waved into the Hall the same day. They call that making an entrance.

Happened two years ago in Atlanta for Pitino. Could happen April 6 for Calipari after the Hall announced on Saturday morning that he was one of 12 nominees.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is on the list, too. Former NBA stars Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Johnson, Dikembe Mutombo and JoJo White will be considered. As always, it's an intriguing group, not that Calipari is eager to talk about it.

"I'm honored and humbled when you see all the people they're talking about and people that I've followed their whole careers," he said.

"But … and again, it doesn't mean … they still have other votes … this means you're a finalist. But I would say what I tell my team all the time: During the season it is about our team. When the season ends, it's about individuals. Right now we're in the season.

"So I'm not going to address it. This is it. I just addressed it. So I'm not talking about it any more. When the season ends, if you want to ask me about it, I'll talk about it."

Calipari will need 18 of 24 votes. Pitino missed in 2012, arrived in 2013. Dick Vitale fell short twice before he got the good news. It can be a mysterious process. Good luck trying to predict how the voters weigh the highlights and holes on Calipari's resume.

Make no mistake: Calipari's team is a surer thing than he is. There will be debate about Calipari's inclusion. It's already started, with the discussion about the Final Four banners than came down at Massachusetts and Memphis.

There is little debate that Kentucky (25-0) has the goods to win the school's ninth national title. Chances are that it's this team that has pushed Calipari to the head of the class with Ryan, who also has a formidable team that is expected to grind its way to the Final Four.

We've got seven weeks and two days to fuss about this.

The Wildcats showed why they're a surer bet than their coach – again – Saturday, treating South Carolina like the junior varsity in Rupp Arena.

The final score was Kentucky 77, South Carolina 43. It wasn't that close.

Calipari's team never trailed. They were ahead 12-2 after 5 ½ minutes, 26-6 after 11 ½ minutes and 41-14 when I stopped keeping play-by-play.

It was one of the Wildcats' most completely overpowering performances of the season. They were engaged from the opening dribble. They defended. They did not force shots. They shared the ball. South Carolina shot less than 24 percent.

They did not give their coach any reason to cheer for the opposing team – the way Calipari appeared to be cheering for Louisiana State to end the Wildcats' unbeaten run last Tuesday night.

As long as Kentucky competes the way the Wildcats competed Saturday, anything less than a national championship will be a surprise.

And as long as they keep winning and dominating, they will give the 24 Hall of Fame electors more reasons to give John Calipari his Rick Pitino Moment.

Kentucky has been as good for Calipari as Calipari has been for the Wildcats. Probably better.

You know the things Calipari has done here. He's tracking toward his fourth Final Four in six seasons. It's a shocker when a McDonald's all-American that Calipari wants does not sign with Kentucky. Three of his former UK guys -- Anthony Davis (who is injured), John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins -- made the NBA All-Star game Sunday night.

The game will be played in Madison Square Garden. Calipari departed for New York City after the game Saturday. But before he goes to the Garden, Calipari is headed to a high school game, likely to see UK commit Isaiah Briscoe and Cheick Diallo, another guy the Wildcats are recruiting.

Even Krzyzewski has started to recruit the way Calipari recruits, embracing the one-year player before he enters the NBA Draft Lottery.

But for Calipari the benefits have been more than the 177 victories and 83 percent winning percentage.

Kentucky has enabled Calipari to re-brand himself. He's no longer the rogue whose programs had their Final Four appearances vacated at UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008).

Now he's the guy most likely to show up in the Final Four every season as well as the guy who tweaks the NCAA and tells them how they can make the game better for the players. He's the guy who has become The Guy in college basketball.

And on April 6 John Calipari could have the Hall of Fame credentials to prove it.

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