It has been three weeks since Kentucky won its eighth national championship — and the first for coach John Calipari — and ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale is “not buying” that Calipari didn’t desperately want to win a title.
“I am not buying in any shape or form when John Calipari tells me that his legacy does not matter to him. He wanted that championship so badly. From the days I saw him (coaching) at Massachusetts, he has been building for this moment,” Vitale said. “He is such a competitor. Always has been. He lives for the day.
“I know John well. To him, it is always all about getting his team better. This guy is all about winning, winning, winning. And he does a masterful job. Watch the way his kids relate to him. To me, he is doing things that more than make him worthy of hall of fame mention right now.”
Vitale says he is glad Kentucky fans have not gotten caught up in debating whether this 38-2 team that lost only on a last-second shot at Indiana and in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final is one of the best teams ever.
“You can debate that issue, but right now they are the best in 2012, and Kentucky fans understand that and are celebrating that as they should be,” he said. “They were really consistent all year. They had a brilliant year. They had that heartbreaking loss at Indiana and loss to Vanderbilt when they had actually had command of the game, but they were so good. But when you start talking history, you have to talk about veteran teams at UCLA, Georgetown, Indiana or even Kentucky.
“But in this culture of one-and-done players, it just documents what a tremendous coach John Calipari is. He changes his lineup on a regular basis. Three years in a row he has had a whole new team and still won. He takes superstars that people tell how great they are and gets them all to play defense, play team basketball and share the ball. Sounds easy, but it is not.”
Vitale watched Kentucky often during the season. He’s still amazed that a team featuring six likely NBA draft picks, including four potential lottery picks, had no trouble sharing the basketball, and he credits Calipari for that.
He has the Wildcats at No. 3 in his 2012-13 preseason poll behind Louisville and Indiana, even though the Cats lost those top six players off the national title team. Still, he knows the style Calipari demands and expects Kentucky to be potent again next season.
“The equal distribution of shots this season blew my mind. Anthony Davis had the fifth-most shots on the team, and he’s going to be the first player in the draft. Unbelievable,” Vitale said. “That shows how unselfish those guys are, and that to me equates to one guy, John Calipari.
“John is the perfect for Kentucky. Not many guys in the country can handle the pressure at that level, and he is one that can. He’s a masterful recruiter. Look at what he’s done again — a fourth straight No. 1 recruiting class. He’s an unbelievable motivator, and he can flat-out manage the game.”
Wait. Vitale is just getting warmed up on Calipari.
“If anybody doubts whether he can flat-out coach, name me another who can take three different teams like he has, get them all to have superb year and get all the superstars to buy into the team concept three straight years,” Vitale said. “He keeps it together, and they play with such mental toughness because of him. They play very unselfish and play great defense.
“To me, he’s just a winner. And it is not going to stop. He’s the perfect guy for Kentucky basketball and all that goes with it. To me, Calipari and Kentucky together equals dynasty.”
Calipari has also been one to help Vitale with another passion — raising money for cancer research by supporting The V Foundation.
“Right now we have it so by making a tax-deductible contribution you can enter the drawing for a Mars Red Mercedes E350A,” Vitale said. “We are only selling a set number of raffle tickets for this beautiful car, and it goes to support such a great cause. I know how passionate Kentucky basketball fans are, so tell them to help us raise millions for cancer research. Your donation enables The V Foundation to fund critical cancer research, and that’s something that eventually touches us all.”