CRAWFORD | Kentucky media day madness a preview of discomfort awaiting college hoops
An uncomfortable exchange at Kentucky basketball media day was probably the first of many around the nation as coaches face questions they can't answer about an ongoing federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – The scene in a cramped and stuffy media room on the ground floor of Memorial Coliseum at the University of Kentucky on Thursday illustrated the bigger problem for college basketball this season.
Wildcats coach John Calipari wanted to talk about his talented young team.
Everyone else wanted to talk about the federal investigation into college basketball corruption, or some variant of it. Five of the first six questions dealt with the topic.
Calipari tried to offer a blanket answer.
“What’s out there right now is a black eye,” he said. “But here is the thing for everybody here, I don’t want to come across as uneducated or dumb. None of us know where this thing’s going. So for me to really comment much on it, I don’t know where all this is going. Obviously what’s happened to this point isn’t good. At this point I don’t think me commenting without knowing all the facts is the right thing to do.”
A couple of questions later, Calipari was asked about the possibility that Rick Pitino would be fired at Louisville on Monday, and how did he feel about it, and about losing that coaching rivalry?
“Jesus,” Calipari muttered. “Look, it’s unfortunate, all the stuff that’s come down. But let’s talk about my team, please. Does anyone here have a question about my team, please?”
Enter Jerry Tipton, U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame sportswriter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Calipari had said he didn't wish to speculate because he doesn't know where all this is going. Tipton asked if he could reassure Kentucky fans where it isn't going.
Tipton: “One more question about the FBI.”
Calipari: “Anybody have a question?”
Tipton: “Wait a minute. This is media day, not coach day. I am entitled to ask a question.”
Calipari: “Ask it.”
Tipton: “You can’t answer it, fine.”
Calipari: “Ask it.”
Tipton: "The FBI reportedly has expanded into looking at Nike. Kentucky is a Nike school. What reassurance would you give your fan base, the Big Blue Nation, if they’re anxious about what that could mean?”
Calipari: “Again, you’re asking like you know something I don’t know.”
Tipton: “That’s all I know is right there. If a fan would put two and two together … “
Calipari: “Wait a minute. We don’t know what you’re saying, if it’s true. Do we know if it’s true?”
Tipton: “It’s been reported.”
Calipari: “Oh that makes it true. I have no comment to it. I mean, we haven't been contacted. The NCAA hasn't contacted us. We're going about our business of coaching this team. How about a basketball question? Since it isn't my day ...”
The worry, of course, is that anyone’s day could be coming. Everyone’s day could be coming, in major college basketball, if recent reports in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere are to be believed.
And there’s no getting on with the games. You’ve got shoes that have dropped, and shoes that are about to drop, and even shoes that might drop – or might not. This shadow hangs over the guilty and the innocent the same. Only these coaches know whether they can sleep comfortably at night – and even coaches who think they can might not know the whole stories of what has gone on in their programs.
So this is the uncomfortable thing.
No coach can know something for sure. Adolph Rupp once said, about gamblers, “They couldn’t touch my boys with a 10-foot pole.” Then, they did.
At the moment, all coaches can do is what Calipari did on Thursday. But it’s not an inspiring look when a guy who generally has all the answers is saying, “I don’t want to come across as uneducated or dumb.”
It’s fair, and important, to remember, none of the rest of us should either. In the early stages of this investigation, we have no idea what all went into this, how far it stretches, which programs it will touch.
All we know, at the moment, is that we don’t know. Charges are being filed. Investigations are being opened. An NCAA commission to address some of these issues is being formed. And, yes, questions are being asked. They will not go away.
“I would say, again, this isn't the format for me to go full boat in this,” Calipari said. “. . . But again, with all this stuff, there's a commission out there now. Smarter people than I am on that commission. There's still stuff going on. For me to spend my time today on all this stuff, I just don't want to do that. Let's talk about this team. There's going to be a time where I'll say, ‘Here are some things I think we need to do.’ It will probably be on CoachCal.com where you can read it.”
There is no way to ball-fake and go by these issues, no pick-and-roll that will defeat them, no full-court press to cover them up. They are part of the basketball landscape – for both the guilty and the innocent – and probably will be for a long time.
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