To be labeled the sleaziest college basketball coach in the country is to be the recipient of a particularly ignominious award. It's like being called the most corrupt union boss or the most flamboyant male figure skater; to win the title you've got to best some stiff competition.
When it comes to Terrence Jones, John Calipari is squeaky clean. So far.
But it's hard to argue against John Calipari's credentials. As the only coach to have been stripped of two different Final Four appearances at two separate schools, both because of scandal, Calipari, currently of powerhouse Kentucky, has managed to distinguish himself in a profession defined by shady behavior.
So at the risk of defending a man who may or may not be pissing on the NCAA rulebook as we speak, allow me to buck the current trend of pronouncing Calipari guilty of some kind of tampering in the case of Terrence Jones. Because so far he hasn't done anything wrong.Last Friday, Jones, a talented recruit out of Oregon, announced he'd chosen to go to the Washington Huskies over Kentucky, a true coup for Lorenzo Romar's program. But Jones never signed his letter of intent, the document that would make his decision final.
Instead he had a very public 15-minute phone conversation with Calipari. A call that Steve Kelley, speaking for just about anyone who doesn't live in Lexington, assumed was filled with Caliparian shenanigans:
Calipari reacted like a coach who hadn't heard the final buzzer. Jones still hadn't signed his letter of intent. To Calipari, that meant the game was still on, and there's no quit in Coach Cal.Remember while reading Kelley explain how Calipari "reacted" that it's not like he was listening in on the call from a secure line. In fact neither he, nor anyone but Jones and Calipari, have any idea of what was said.
Sure, where there's smoke there's fire. But at some point you're just making stuff up to fit a narrative. (And now would be that point.)
Might it also be possible that Jones wanted Calipari to continue pursuing him? This is, after all, an 18-year-old kid making what is, for him, probably the biggest decision of his young life. And there's evidence to suggest he's not 100-percent sold on the Huskies.
As Percy Allen reported, Jones looked "pained" after making his decision and said he didn't know where he was going "until the moment he picked up the hat."
(Many recruits like to milk the drama surrounding their selection of schools by calling a press conference, then picking one hat among several to represent their choice of college. It's like The Dating Game, but with headgear.)
Calipari is certainly deserving of the suspicion surrounding him. No one would be surprised if, in three months time, Jones revealed that the details of his conversation with the Kentucky coach mostly revolved around the size of the cash stack he'd receive if he changed his mind and headed South.
But the rush to tar Calipari by writers like Kelley, and fans of any team other than the blue-and-white, is unbecoming. Worse, it's premature. If history has told us anything, Calipari doesn't need anyone else to prove he's a sleaze. He can do that by himself.