Inside John Calipari’s mind palace

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
2:50
PM ET
On Tuesday night, Kentucky beat Ole Miss 80-64 in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats’ offense carried over its form from Saturday, when it had to be hyper-efficient to win at Missouri, and it stymied Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson to the tune of 16 points on 18 shots. The Wildcats were expected to win, and they won, and by and large the result went mostly unnoticed.

Until John Calipari took the postgame press conference podium, and did what he does best:
“I said this after the game to the TV, this is the most overanalyzed team I've ever seen in the history of the game, at any level, in any sport,” Calipari said. “There is a weekly update on what we are and what we're not. Then they go to Synergy, and take out every play to show where we've … I've never seen it. Our losses are worse than every other loss in the country. We lose, you're not in the top 25.”
[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMaybe, just maybe, John Calipari was talking to his team in his postgame rant after the Ole Miss win.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way: The 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats are not the most overanalyzed team in the history of organized sports. The post-“Decision” Miami Heat probably have a better claim to that throne. Or, like, any of the 32 NFL teams, in any season, always. Or maybe Manchester United? Anyway, there are lots of examples. None of them are 2013-14 Kentucky.

We can agree on that much, right? Good. Because Calipari, under the effects of truth serum, would too. He knows what he’s saying has only a tangential relationship with reality. That’s not the point. The point is Calipari is smart, and he knows that if you have a microphone and people listen to you and you say something over and over again, it can become true by sheer force of will alone.

The better questions are why Calipari said what he said, to whom his message is directed, and what change he is seeking to affect.

Is it the media? Not really. Media gonna media, as the saying I literally just made up goes; people are going to write about Kentucky when it wins and when it loses, because Kentucky is a very popular and typically very good college basketball program, and that makes people interested in reading about Kentucky basketball. Supply, demand, blah blah blah. If Calipari’s real issue was that he thought his team was overanalyzed, and his end goal truly was to stop said overanalysis, there are far more effective ways to achieve it. Like saying nothing.

A few months ago, at Big Blue Madness, standing between confetti and a glass podium like a tech CEO at a product reveal, Calipari said this:
“We don't just play college basketball. We are college basketball.”

Thunderous cheers ensued. So does Calipari really want his program to recede from the spotlight? Ha, ha, of course not, next question.

Are Cal’s comments actually directed at fans? Maybe a little bit? Kentucky fans are, in the words of that one bad guy from the first scene of “The Dark Knight,” HON-GRY. They are only patient to a point, and they express their views as loudly in August as in February, and when a team looks as dreary as UK did last week at LSU, they get riled up. By pointing a criticism that applies as much to UK’s fan base as it does the media, Calipari doesn’t have to directly criticize fans for caring too much. That’s a bad look. Instead, he can indirectly point out what not to do. Fans will think Coach Cal says the media overanalyzes his team too much. Maybe we should lay off? This is an especially neat trick.

Even so, it seems most likely Calipari really was just talking to his team. From Tuesday’s presser:
“They can deal with all the crap,” Calipari said. “They've dealt with it here. … Sure [the media attention affects their performance]. They're 18 and 19 years old. This is the youngest team in the country to play at this level maybe ever. Yeah, it affects them. I tried to tell them. I said, 'You know, you think it's opinion. Most cases it's the hope of the writer. It's not their opinion. It's their hope. Don't deal with it. You can't let it affect you.’"

Guys, listen: When the media writes that you didn’t play very well, or that you’ve yet to guard at anything approaching the level of the best Calipari teams of the past decade, or that you occasionally look completely disengaged, they’re just hoping that you’ll lose. Haters to the left. Haters to the right. Haters as far as the eye can see.

It’s “us against the world” repackaged for a group that spends at least some portion of its time reading what is written about it. No one believes in you. Or worse: They’re rooting for you to lose. Prove them wrong! It’s genius.

In any case, the notion that Calipari’s comments are a direct assault on “the media” is pretty silly. The same guy who opened the season standing in front of microphones saying …
“We don’t move the needle. We are the needle!”

… didn’t suddenly decide he’d prefer everyone just give his program some space to breathe. What he would like is for his historically young team to start treating the looking glass not as an accurate self-reflection but as a funhouse mirror, one it needs to smash en route to a collective goal.

Calipari’s constituency isn’t the media. It isn’t really fans. It’s his own team.

One more thing: It is definitely the opinion of this writer that Tuesday night’s win over Ole Miss was the greatest victory in the history of college basketball, and Kentucky is definitely going to win the national title now, no question. Am I doing it right?

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.