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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Calipari talks about Terrence Jones

By Eamonn Brennan

It doesn't take much to turn a fan base rabid. In 2007, when Indianapolis uber-prospect Eric Gordon decided he wanted to rescind his commitment to Illinois and eventually head to Indiana to play for Kelvin Sampson, Illinois fans took it personally. It was as though Gordon was dismissing the entire institution -- or perhaps the entire state -- and it turned Sampson and Gordon into public enemies Nos. 1 and 1a. Three years later, the Illinois-Indiana rivalry still smokes like a just-fired gun.

The Washington Huskies and the Kentucky Wildcats may never form a rivalry, per se; there's a distinct lack of proximity standing in the way. But Washington fans will certainly feel the type enmity toward Kentucky coach John Calipari that most programs reserve for their most-hated rivals. All thanks, of course, to Terrence Jones.

Jones, as you'll recall, got all his friends and family in the room at his high school in Portland a few weeks ago, where he hesitantly announced that he would be attending Washington in the fall on a basketball scholarship. Then, minutes after putting a purple Huskies hat on his head, Jones had second thoughts. He was seen talking on the phone, reportedly to Kentucky coach John Calipari, the other candidate for Jones' top 10-rated services. Two weeks later, Jones had signed with the Cats.

How did we get here? Washington fans will have one story; Kentucky fans will have another. Huskies fans will believe that Calipari continued to recruit Jones after Jones had made up his mind, breaking an unspoken rule among college basketball coaches, and doing so in a remarkably public way. Kentucky fans will believe that Jones simply wasn't ready, that he had reopened his commitment, that he was fair game to recruit once again, and that he just couldn't stay away from the bright lights of Lexington, Ky.

What's the real story? Calipari is hardly an objective observer, but he talked about Terrence Jones for the first time Monday in an interview with 95.5 The Fan in Portland. Talk radio in enemy territory: Nobody ever said Calipari didn't have a second helping of onions. Oh, and his explanation for the Jones saga was pretty much what you'd expect:
“Well, we thought that he was coming with us and when he said ‘Washington’ we were like ‘what just happened?’ That was the first thing. Then he called about an hour later and said ‘Cal, I made a mistake. I don’t know what I was doing.’ That is when the thing went like ‘You what?’ So we talked to him and said that we are going to do whatever you want. I am holding your scholarship."

How he feels about people saying that he shouldn’t have recruited a kid that has already made a verbal commitment to another school:

"I agree, but when the young man calls you and says that I made a mistake, ‘Coach, I want to reconsider this,’ it changed everything. If he had committed to Washington and that was the end of it then we wouldn’t have done anything. But this was a unique situation now. ... I don’t mind that Washington fans are upset and upset with me. That is part of what we do here but the reality is that I think, [Washington coach] Lorenzo [Romar] knows and their staff knows this was not our doing."

I'm not sure whether Romar and his staff would necessarily concede that point. The Washington coach has refused to take the low road in his reaction to the Jones saga, but he seems -- shall we say -- quietly displeased with the way it went down. Same goes for Washington fans. And sure, to their point, the situation does appear slightly untoward. But considering Calipari's take on the matter, and -- most importantly -- considering Jones', there's not much for Washington fans to continue being angry about. Terrence Jones wasn't coerced, at least according to the two people closest to the situation. What are you going to do?

How about lustily booing? In the interview, Calipari said he wants Kentucky to play a game at the Rose Garden in Portland so the area's fans can come out and see just how good Jones really is. (Yes, he said this on a Portland radio station. Like I said: onions.) One imagines Washington fans making the most of an all-too-rare chance to root against their new, most-hated rival, one that happens to hail from 2,400 miles away.