Friday, March 11, 2011
William Wesley and John Calipari
By Henry Abbott
S.L. Price's Sports Illustrated profile of Kentucky coach John Calipari is exhaustively reported and wonderfully told. It also includes one of the rarer baubles in sports -- on-the-record quotes from William Wesley. This passage includes something common in Wesley discussions -- stern talk about the importance of loyalty, and long-term relationships:
In the late '90s, when it became clear that Dajuan Wagner -- Milt's son and Wesley's godson -- would be a top prospect, Wesley was determined that history not repeat itself. He was living in Chicago then, and Calipari, after a little more than two disappointing seasons with the Nets, had landed in Philadelphia as Brown's assistant with the 76ers. "When I was sitting there, watching a Sixers game, and I saw Coach Cal, I said, I'm going to see if he's going to get back into [college] coaching," Wesley says. "I approached Cal. We talked about Kevin Walls."
At Brown's urging Calipari took the Memphis job when it opened up in 2000. But the school's limitations were many—Calipari still talks about the train tracks running through campus—and he realized that landing Wagner, then the nation's top junior, would entail a package deal. Dajuan was extraordinarily close with his best friend and housemate, forward Arthur Barclay, and, says Wesley, "where Arthur Barclay went to school, Dajuan was going to school." Meanwhile, Milt Wagner was looking to get into coaching. Calipari signed Barclay and hired Milt as his coordinator of basketball operations. The following year Dajuan enrolled at Memphis for his one college season.
Calipari endured much criticism for the moves, but Wesley didn't care. He was more interested in what happened next. Calipari pressed Milt Wagner to finish his degree at Memphis, kept him on staff for four years after Dajuan left for the NBA and has made sure he has had work, first as an assistant at UTEP and now at Auburn. Barclay, meanwhile, had an underwhelming career at Memphis but graduated in 2005 with a degree in urban studies. To Wesley, with his mouth at many a talented player's ear, this was everything. It meant Cal takes care of his own.
"Love is an action," Wesley says. "You've got to show it. That's what Cal's done for his players, his coaches, and he continues to do it. If you call me and you have a son and you say, 'Who would you recommend?' I'm going to say there's one coach I trust impeccably."