KANSAS CITY, Mo. Bill Self needs John Calipari. He needs him the way Sherlock Holmes needed Professor Moriarty, the way Batman needed the Joker, the way Harry Potter needed Voldemort, the way that silly Trix rabbit needed those stinking kids.
A white hat needs a black hat, even if, in truth, both men sport chapeaus that offer several shades of grey. Self, Kansas esteemed mens basketball coach, needs a target. He needs a bar. He needs an adversary worthy of those mad skills, that folksy charm.
Missouri is gone. The hate gap remains. Kansas State? Self doesnt take Little Brother seriously. Self owns Little Brother. The Jayhawks have won 47 of their last 50 against Little Brother.
Oklahoma State? Meh. Iowa State? The better Fred Hoibergs men get, the thicker the plot, but it aint there yet. Texas? Please. Lets face it: The Jayhawks have won nine straight Big 12 titles. The bullies on this block dont swing quite the same stick that they used to.
This is about thinking bigger, picking a larger fight. College hoops needs compelling narratives. It needs subplots. It needs a little clean, old-fashioned hate. Hate is fun.
Self rolling the Big 12 is fun. But its not nearly as much fun watching him go head-to-head with Calipari, his peer at Kentucky, on the recruiting trail or on the court.
The oddsmakers pegged Coach Cal as the favorite to land 6-foot-7 prep sensation Andrew Wiggins, a forward whos drawn comparisons to LeBron James, Dominique Wilkins, and just about every other skywalker in between.
On Tuesday, Wiggins chose Kansas.
The Commonwealth howled. The Prairie roared.
Cal didnt need Wiggins the Wildcats, hoping to prevent another National Invitation Tournament cameo, have snapped up the top recruiting class in the country, according to the blogosphere but he wanted him. What Lola wants, Lola usually gets.
But not Tuesday.
Tuesday was a surprise twist, the latest in the Self vs. Cal saga thats helped shape the sport in the 21st century. Blueblood vs. blueblood, KU vs. UK, twin programs, twin fan bases, twin coaches on parallel tracks that cant help but intertwine.
Self and Cal have met, head to head, in two of the last five national championship games, winning one apiece. Theyre widely regarded the sports alpha dogs, among the Top 10 whistle jockeys in the field. Theyre renowned for the candor, their ability to fly in the face of political correctness, a pair of gold-medal storytellers. Give them a few minutes, in the right setting, and theyll have otherwise cynical reporters eating out of their respective palms.
So its no wonder that theyre also considered two of the best closers in the sometimes seedy recruiting game. Between 2009-2012, Self and Cal went head-to-head on at least nine elite prospects. The latter landed six of them, including point guard John Wall; Self came away with Xavier Henry and Josh Shelby.
And now Wiggins, perhaps the biggest get of all, an instant game-changer. A high-flying Canadian who, on paper, transforms what was expected to be a fringe Top-25 Kansas team replacing all five starters into a Final Four contender. Just like that.
Selfs Jayhawks outlasted Cals Memphis Tigers for the 2008 title; Cal returned the favor when Kentucky trumped KU for all the marbles in 2012. Why not a rubber match next April down in Arlington?
Wilt needed Russell. Magic needed Bird. Jordan needed Isiah. LeBron needs Durant. Self needs Calipari. We need a comfortable chair and some wings, stat. Because this movie just got a hell of a lot more interesting.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org