By Jon Harris
Throughout John Calipari’s reign as a college basketball coach, one thing has been as consistent as his winning percentage: suspicion.
In 17 seasons as an NCAA Division 1 college basketball head coach for three different universities, current University of Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari, 51, has accumulated 445 victories and two Naismith National Coach of the Year awards. Although Calipari’s presence brings winning seasons, they are often overshadowed by scandal.
From 1988 to 1996, he served as the head coach of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, collecting a 193-71 record, the 1996 Naismith National Coach of the Year award, and a trip to the NCAA Final Four in the 1995-96 season.
After the season, UMass’s 6-foot-11 center Marcus Camby, the 1996 Naismith National Player of the Year, admitted to accepting about $28,000 and gifts from two sports agents. The Final Four appearance and 35 victories from the season were then stripped from the record books by the NCAA and Final Four banner removed from UMass’s Mullins Center in Amherst.
The University of Memphis hired him as its head coach for the 2000-01 season. This employment lasted until March 31, 2009, when Calipari was hired to coach the Kentucky Wildcats.After the 1996 scandal at UMass, both Camby and Calipari left for the National Basketball Association. Calipari racked up a 69-95 record in his first two seasons as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets. He was then fired just 20 games into the 1998-99 NBA season and returned to college basketball.
At Memphis, Calipari continued winning by posting 252 wins in nine seasons. His 38 wins in the 2007-2008 season made him the winningest coach in NCAA history for a single season. In that record-breaking season, Calipari took his Memphis Tigers all the way to the national title game, but scandal soon followed.
On May 27, 2009, the NCAA charged the Memphis men’s basketball program for major violations during the 2007-08 season. The allegations were contained in a letter, which reported misconduct and fraudulence on an SAT exam by a player on the 2007-08 roster and who participated in the 2008 NCAA Tournament where Memphis finished second. The player was edited out of the letter because of privacy laws, but he was later revealed to be the first pick of the 2008 NBA draft and current Chicago Bulls point guard, Derrick Rose. The letter also showed more than $2,000 in free travel provided to Rose’s brother, Reggie.
According to ESPN.com, Rose’s former AAU basketball coach, Luther Topps, said he thought the NCAA believed a former high school teammate of Rose’s took the SAT for him. Before taking the SAT, Rose had failed to meet college standards for the ACT after taking the entrance exam three times.
On Aug. 20, 2009, the NCAA violations laid out in the May 27th letter forced Memphis to forfeit their 38 victories from the 2007-08 season and their Final Four appearance. This marked the second time that Calipari had to vacate seasons, as he also lost the 1996 UMass Final Four season.
According to CBSSports.com, Rose said, “I think it is important for people to understand that I complied with everything that was asked of me while at the university. Including my full participation in the university’s investigation of this issue, and was ultimately cleared to play in the entire 2007-08 season by the NCAA clearinghouse and the university.”
Memphis said it didn’t have enough evidence to prove that Rose had someone else take the SAT for him, so they cleared him to play in November 2008, according to CBSSports.com.
Former Memphis forward Robert Dozier, who played four seasons for the Tigers from 2004 to 2008, didn’t originally plan to attend the university. He signed a national letter of intent with the University of Georgia and came in with a score of 1,260 on the SAT.
On March 30, 2004, the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse, which clears players’ academic credentials for NCAA eligibility, received an anonymous letter from someone who claimed to be a faculty member at Dozier’s high school. ESPN.com reported that the letter said a graduate of Dozier’s high school took the SAT for him and that the high score was out of line with Dozier’s previous academic work.
Dozier retook the SAT in July 2004 to try to validate his score, but scored 720 – a full 540 points lower than his previous score. The Educational Testing Service, the company that develops, administers and grades the SAT, then canceled the score of 1,260.
After the cancellation, Georgia denied Dozier’s admission application to the university. In the 2004-05 college basketball season, he was on Memphis’ roster and stayed there through 2008, when the team’s 38 wins and Final Four appearance were vacated.
The revelation of Dozier’s SAT scores occurred just a few weeks after the allegations about Derrick Rose surfaced.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told ESPN.com that he still believes Calipari was the right choice for the head coaching job at Kentucky.
“I’m not worried about it because they have never said Coach Cal did anything wrong at all,” Beshear said. “I think he’s a very upstanding guy. I think that’s his reputation and I think that reputation will be with him here. I really don’t foresee any problems.”
In his first season as Kentucky’s head coach, Calipari led the Wildcats to a 35-3 record and a trip to the Elite Eight, which weren’t removed from the record books.
After losing to West Virginia University in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the nation watched as Calipari’s star players, such as point guard John Wall and forward DeMarcus Cousins, were anticipated to declare for the NBA draft after just one season in college.
On April 7th, Kentucky announced that Wall, Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson were all declaring for the NBA draft. But Patterson said he wasn’t sure whether he was leaving for the NBA or staying at the university for his senior season at the time of the announcement, according to USA Today.
Cousins told FOX Sports that Kentucky was a university that embraced his “goofiness” when he was searching for schools. At the end of the season, he said Calipari forced him out the door at Kentucky.
“He told me it’s my time to go,” Cousins said.
Before becoming involved in coaching basketball, Calipari attended Clarion University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in marketing. Today, he is involved in a type of marketing: college recruiting.
Shortly after both Wall and Cousins declared for the NBA draft, Calipari had some new player commitments for the 2010-11 basketball season.
Enes Kanter, the No. 3 high school center according to ESPNU, has signed with Kentucky and is expected to replace Cousins.
A week after Wall and the four other Wildcat players declared for the draft, Brandon Knight, a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year and the No. 4 high school player in the country according to ESPNU, signed a letter of intent with Kentucky. He is expected to replace Wall at point guard and be next in the line of one-and-done point guards for Calipari. (One-and-done means players who play one year of college basketball and then declare for the NBA draft.)
In the last three college basketball seasons, Calipari has had three different point guards. In 2007-08, Derrick Rose played point guard for Memphis before declaring for the NBA after his freshman year and going on to become NBA Rookie of the Year with the Bulls. In 2008-09, Tyreke Evans played one season at Memphis before getting drafted fourth overall by the Sacramento Kings. And this year, John Wall declared for the NBA following his lone college season and is anticipated to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Matt Novak, a sophomore psychology major at Syracuse University, said Calipari is hurting the integrity of the game.
“He’s ruining college basketball,” Novak said. “He’s turned schools into professional training camps and holding cells for the NBA. He doesn’t care about the education of his players and looks at them solely as basketball players and not as students.”
Bob Knight, who has won a record 902 NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball games, told the USA Today that the ability for basketball players to leave after just one college season is the worst situation in college sports right now.
The NCAA currently requires first-year players to pass six first-semester credit hours to be eligible for the following semester. At Syracuse University, students are required to register for a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester.
According to the USA Today, Knight said, “What is the integrity of a kid who plays for an NCAA team that goes to Final Four, or wins the championship, who has passed six hours and then goes on to play the next semester without ever going to class?”
The players’ focus on going to the NBA starts early as they attend colleges where basketball is the sole focus, said Jeffrey Foley, a freshman business major at Syracuse University.
“The players’ that Calipari gets and recruits only intention is to go the NBA,” said Foley. “Calipari shouldn’t be blamed when it comes to the lack of education of parents and players these days. It’s not Calipari’s fault these kids don’t have role models to guide them and have their best interest at heart.”
Calipari on the other hand, told ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz that he thinks that his players were unwanted before he came to Kentucky.
“When you’re at a non-BCS school like UMass and Memphis, there’s always some reason why you’re there,” Calipari said. “I hear it: ‘Can’t coach, no one wanted the players.’ My biggest thing is that I’m not going to deal with any of that. We’ll make all our statements on the court.”
Unfortunately for Calipari, his teams and players have made their biggest statements off the court.