Friday, May 4, 2012

Cal plays hardball and wins again

Gary Parrish, CBS Sports

My favorite story about John Calipari refusing to play a high-profile non-league game on an opposing team's campus comes from his days at Memphis. He was trying to schedule a series with Gonzaga so that the two elite non-BCS programs would have one more attractive game to place on ESPN because television has been and will always be Calipari's main concern. So he and Mark Few were going back and forth, and I just remember Few laughing about it.

Calipari wanted Gonzaga to play at FedExForum every other year, but he refused to take his Tigers to the Zags' homecourt -- the McCarthey Athletic Center. He just wasn't gonna do it, and his argument was hilarious. Basically, Calipari's position was that because he wasn't asking Gonzaga to play on Memphis' campus then Few shouldn't ask Memphis to play on Gonzaga's campus.

FedExForum is in downtown Memphis.

The Spokane Arena is downtown Spokane.

To be fair, Calipari said, the games should be played at those two places.

But here's what made Calipari's position comical -- Memphis does not have an on-campus arena; FedExForum is the Tigers' home arena. But Calipari kept calling it a "downtown" arena and kept insisting the only fair way to do the series was to play all games at downtown arenas, and he never budged. Finally, Few just buckled and said OK. So Memphis got a four-game series with two games against Gonzaga in Memphis' home arena without ever having to play the Zags in their home arena on their campus.

Bottom line, Calipari won.

Because Calipari always wins.

"I just got tired of arguing about it," I remember Few telling me with a laugh. "Cal's the best."

This story is worth retelling at this moment because Indiana announced Thursday afternoon that its home-and-home series with Kentucky that provided the nation with last season's top regular-season highlight is ending. IU coach Tom Crean wanted it to continue as a home-and-home that alternates between Bloomington and Lexington. Calipari wanted the series to be played on neutral courts. They've been negotiating for months.

Crean never buckled.

And Calipari would never buckle under any circumstances.

So one of college basketball's best non-league rivalries is off for the time being, meaning a game between the schools ranked No. 1 (UK) and No. 2 (IU) in our early Top 25 (and one) will not happen next season. The losers are college basketball fans. But the winner is Calipari. He won. Because he always wins.

To understand why he won you must first understand Calipari.

He does not think like you think.

He does not care about what you care about.

Tradition and history matter very little, and he'd rather do just about anything than play a non-league game on an opposing team's campus. Some coaches believe those types of games help prepare you for the NCAA tournament, but Calipari doesn't buy it because the NCAA tournament is played on neutral courts. You never have to win a road game in this sport to win a national championship. So Calipari basically believes it's silly to voluntarily go into a hostile environment and put yourself at a disadvantage.

Agree or disagree, that's his position.

He'd rather play all his high-profile non-league games on neutral courts in major markets, and he's so successful -- he just won a national title, you know? -- that Kentucky fans won't question him taking an attractive game out of Rupp Arena any more than they'd question him if he sacrificed a baby at halftime of a Tuesday night affair in February. They stand with Calipari blindly the same way Memphis fans stood with Calipari blindly. And they'll fill up their home arena regardless of the opponent, which is why he can afford to substitute a great home game with a boring home game -- and avoid a tough road game -- without repercussions.

So Calipari wins.

Because Calipari always wins.

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