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How Would John Calipari Fare In The NBA?

Jeffrey Dubrof |
April 5, 2015 | 3:53 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

John Calipari (@SEC/Twitter)
John Calipari (@SEC/Twitter)

John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats were on the verge of doing something very special. But after a crucial, heartbreaking loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night, the Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season and fell two wins short of perfection.

Even with the one loss and the failed national championship quest, it is hard to disagree that Calipari has coached this young group of freshmen and sophomores about as well as a coach can. Many people believe that with the outstanding success Calipari has had in the college game, he is ready to make the leap to the NBA. However, his track record in the NBA has been abysmal and begs the question, would Calipari succeed in the NBA similar to the way he has in college basketball?

The NBA is an entirely different animal than the NCAA. There is no recruiting, players are paid and every single person on a team has tremendous talent whether they are playing 40 minutes a game or they are riding the bench the entire season. The tremendous thing about college basketball is if you are a smooth talker and have the ability to be persuasive, you can be a great recruiter.

Once you have a talented recruiting class, the ball keeps rolling from there, the team is assembled and, the next thing you know, you’re coaching a starting five in which each player was a five-star recruit in high school. This has been the case for Calipari for the past few years and his excellent ability to look players in the eye and tell them what they want to hear has earned Calipari at least top 3 recruiting class for years.

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However, this does not necessarily mean that Calipari’s coaching ability is up to scale with his recruiting ability. I am not saying that Calipari is a bad coach, but it is hard to look bad when every single player on your roster is a future NBA player.

The dynamic behind acquiring players and coaching them into decent basketball players is far different. There are salary caps to abide by, players demand certain amounts of money and I don’t think there is a coach on the planet that can turn around a horrendous basketball team such as the Philadelphia 76ers or the New York Knicks.

Conversely, Calipari has made the teams that have been so successful. Every player on his teams is hand picked by him from high school and already have such raw talent to begin with that Calipari is not the one really developing them into NBA players.

John Calipari with the New Jersey Nets (@USATODAYsports/Twitter)
John Calipari with the New Jersey Nets (@USATODAYsports/Twitter)

Calipari tried a run in the NBA before. Looking back at his NBA track record, Coach Cal was 26-56 in his first year as an NBA coach with the New Jersey Nets. He made the playoffs barely the following year with a record of 43-39, but was eventually swept in the first round of the playoffs. His final year was the last straw for the Nets, when they started the year 3-17 and Calipari got the swift kick out of the office.

Calipari’s past records truly speak for themselves. There are just some coaches who can’t make it in the pros after leaving the college game; this is for all sports.

One of the biggest examples of this idea is another great coach in college basketball: Rick Pitino.

The former Kentucky coaching great registered a career record of 219-50 and an outstanding tournament record. In 1997, the Boston Celtics took a risk and hired Pitino as their new head coach and general manager. Just a mere four years later, Pitino was fired after producing a 102-146 record under his command and never made the playoffs. Pitino, who is now at Louisville, is a key example of how college success does not always translate to the professional game.

There is a reason why it is called the pros, it is the best of the best and it will chew you up and spit you out if you do not have what it takes to be the best. If Calipari takes a job in the NBA ever, my guess is he’ll be spit out all over again. 

Reach Staff Reporter Jeffrey Dubrof here.



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