Originally written March 27, 2012 on Fox Sports South:
Calipari
In the press conference after his team beat Baylor to advance for the Final Four, Kentucky Coach John Calipari asked, "Is the floor going to be raised (in the Super Dome)? Does anybody know?" When was confirmed that the floor would, indeed, be elevated a couple of feet above field level for the games, Cal said, "That makes it harder. When they raise that floor, now it becomes a little harder. So a team that doesn't shoot a whole lot of threes has an advantage." Kentucky, while being a very good three-point shooting team, hasn't had to rely on the outside game all year, so, in theory, the raised court should work in their favor. As if they needed another advantage. The Wildcats already field the most skilled group of athletes in college basketball, a group that plays as selflessly as any in recent memory, and one that has put on its best performances when it counts the most: in this NCAA tournament. "This team hasn't been rattled all year," Calipari said. "We've had teams come at us and play absolutely out of their minds, but to do it for 40 minutes is a little tougher." Cal will be criticized for his game-day coaching style: he pulls guys in a second if they blow a defensive assignment or miss a pick and roll. "My coaches tell me: 'We're not shutting them out, Cal. You act like we're going to shut them out.' And they're right. We'll go on a 16 0 run and then defensively we give up one basket, and I'll go bonkers. They'll say, 'It's like you're nuts. They're going to score.' But I've always been that way. I can't help it." The never-ending pursuit of perfection; demanding the best on every possession; striving for that never-going-to-happen shutout: those are things that make Calipari one of the best coaches in the game and one of the most criticized. He recruits the best players knowing full well that they are going to stay one year and go to the NBA, but as he says: "I didn't make the rule. I don't like the rule. I don't agree with the rule. "I'm trying to do the best job I can for each of these kids and their families to make sure that we're being fair and that we're challenging them and that they're getting all the help they need in the academic areas and the training areas," Cal said. "There are some people who think I should convince these guys to stay in school when the numbers say they should leave. I just won't do it. I want to help these kids reach their dreams. Brandon Knight was a 4.0 student with 60 college credits, but I had to tell him, you're the seventh pick in the (NBA) draft. He was a great student, but he was reaching his dreams." Two freshmen from the current team Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis will get that same speech from Cal at the end of this season. Both are high first round picks. Some will argue that Rick Pitino is a better game-day manager than Cal. "We're friendly acquaintances," Cal said of his relationship with Pitino. "We're not sending Christmas cards to each other, but if I see him in public, we'll spend some time." But who draws the best X's and O's might not matter as much as who puts the best team on the floor and who gets the most out of each of them. On that front, Kentucky can't be touched. The only team that can beat the Wildcats in this Final Four is themselves.
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