Tuesday, July 6, 2010


One of the best memories from this past weekend at Torch Lake occurred around the picnic table where we feasted on the usual suspects and engaged in conversation.

"J-Cal is the best coach in college basketball."

This simple but very outspoken quote ignited a firestorm of debate and opinions about Tom Izzo & John Caliper. Before going any further it's important to note that although these men coach the same sport, at the same level, their personalities and approaches to the game are polar opposites.

"John Calipari's pipeline to the NBA is what makes him the BEST coach in college basketball."

In my opinion that is a valid point, but also very debatable. Question: Is college basketball strictly about making it to the league, inking a contract and achieving fame and fortune? If we are strictly judging based on this question alone then John Calipari has a legitimate argument. For Marcus Camby, Tyreke Evans, Derek Rose and John Wall the answer to the question was yes. It's true, John Calipari is a common denominator with every one of these NBA Draft success stories, but Camby, Evans, Rose, and Wall are not representative of the collegiate landscape. They're the minority.

Plus, college basketball is NOT strictly about making it to the NBA.

Thousands of student athletes from Divisions I - III dedicate themselves to the sport of basketball every year without ever sniffing the next level. These are the athletes that accurately represent the population of student athletes under the NCAA's umbrella. To say that Calapari's niche of successfully channeling the number one pick from his program to the NBA every year makes him the best college coach is simply incorrect.

Why...? Because college basketball is so much more than making it to the league.

For athletes, college basketball is an experience to grow, to be taught, mentored, learn, compete and win. It's an opportunity to gain a college education and have experiences with others that normally wouldn't be afforded, and to eventually apply that knowledge for the rest of your life; to make something of themselves. A person that can articulate this message and guide student athletes by embodying these qualities first, and win second is someone that should be considered the best college basketball coach in America, in my opinion.

So lets talk Tom Izzy. 
Does loyalty matter? How about honesty? These seem like important characteristics for a college coach to have. Shouldn't a coach's track record be considered? Tom Izzo just turned down millions to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, while John Calipari was unable to resist temptation when he turned his back on the University of Massachusetts to fail with the New Jersey Nets. What about NCAA violations? Can a coach's unethical behavior and approach to conducting business "rub-off" on his players, assistant coaches and program? Calipari's history with these issues is well documented while Izzo's is non-existant.

College coaches exist to graduate there student athletes. To provide them with guidance as father figures, and when it comes time, to lead them into battle and then onto victory. Why do you think names like Wooden, Knight, and Krzyzewski are so revered in this industry? These men understood where the emphasis in their jobs belonged. They educate(d) - on and off the floor - and they dedicated their time teaching and raising young boys into men; doing so with honesty and morality while arming these young men with degrees and the ability to take care of themselves, and a family, as upstanding citizens of society long after basketball is no longer an everyday activity in their lives.

Bob Knight spent 41 years as a college coach, during that time he accumulated 880 victories and a national championship; he also graduated 98% of his student athletes. College coaches are educators.
What defines the best is for you to decide, but my point is simply this:

College basketball is not about making it to the next level, and playing in the NBA is not a realistic goal for the overwhelming majority of college basketball players. A good coach understands this.

For the few who are blessed enough to make it to the next level John Calipari may be the way.
For the remaining 99+ percent, the goal should be to find a coach who is going to provide them with the skills that will stretch far beyond the gymnasium.

College basketball should be a well-rounded journey and not a tunnel-visioned sprint.

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