If you were hoping Tom Crean and John Calipari would continue the back and forth jabs they’ve been throwing at each other since the first Indiana-Kentucky matchup, you’ll be disappointed.
The long-time close friends have been getting each other’s fan bases riled up all year by tweaking each other over the result of the first game. Crean sent cracks back at Kentucky’s players for saying Christian Watford’s 3-pointer was a lucky shot, suggesting that the scoreboard tells the story at the end of the day. Calipari thanked ESPN for using Watford’s 3-pointer for motivation. Crean said that the best part about that was “it goes in, every time.”
But with the rematch approaching, Crean and Calipari both indicated that they plan on toning it down this week and trying not to overplay the angle.
“I don’t plan on doing much of that this week,” Crean said. “… Sometimes that’s just to be combative back. I’m not into all that competition and one-upmanship and stuff like that. That’s not really what our friendship’s based on, but if people have fun with it, that’s OK, too. See I don’t have 8 million followers on Twitter like he has — or allegedly has. See, I tweaked him. I don’t want to try to keep up with him.”
Instead, Crean and Calipari spent much of their press conferences complimenting their teams and each other. They’ve known each other since 2001 when Crean was at Marquette and Calipari returned to college coaching and took the Memphis job.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Crean said. “Even if I didn’t know him very well, I would put him up with anybody as far as a basketball coach. I remember when we were in Conference USA together when he had come to Memphis. I learned more watching his game tapes even when we weren’t in competition that helped me in the sense of spacing, misdirection, defensive things, trapping, things of that nature. Just by watching his game tape. I went into that league, 33, I think was my age, and Denny Crum, Bob Huggins in that league, Bobby Lutz, then it was Rick Pitino, John Calipari in that league. It was a total clinic every time you’d watch game tape. John, I think the biggest thing, he just continues to evolve in so many ways with his basketball. As good as he is and as much talent as he has as a coach and with his team, he’s constantly asking questions, looking to adjust. …I learn as much from watching him coach as much as anybody out there.”
Crean said he’s particularly impressed with Calipari’s coaching job this year. Obviously, the Wildcats have a ton of talent. Freshman forward Anthony Davis is a favorite for national player of the year honors, and he and swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and point guard Marquis Teague were three of the top five recruits in the Class of 2011 according to Rivals.com. Guard Doron Lamb and forward Terrance Jones were ranked No. 13 and No. 21 respectively in the Class of 2010.
Calipari has generally worked with rosters that loaded in his time at Kentucky, but Crean said this group is more impressive because of the way they move the ball. The Wildcats have 483 assists on 990 field goals this year.
“John is such a good coach for a lot of different reasons,” Crean said. “But maybe this year more than ever, that team really, really shares the basketball. When you look at the talent on that team, and when you look at the upside of that team and where some of those players are just really scratching the surface of where they’re gonna be in basketball in their careers, and he’s got them moving the ball like that. That’s really, really strong. I imagine that’s hard to do. He’s done a phenomenal job. I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve improved. I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve won so many games and they’ve won so many games in a row.”
Crean said he thinks his team hasn’t had a problem dealing with the hype at all in terms of the rematch and of figuring out the game plan. One problem they have had, however, is getting back used to life on the Eastern time zone after spending Monday-Saturday on the West Coast.
“We’re still trying to recover from West Coast time,” Crean said. “We were out there a week, and I’m glad we did, because it allowed us to really get entrenched with what we were trying to do and get our bodies where it needed to be. Well, there’s a flip side to it. People can think it’s easy. It’s one thing to get off a plane and go about business. It’s a whole other thing to have all this surrounding, but they’ve gotta get their bodies back, back in school and be playing at a high level against as good a team as there is the country. We just have to try to get through the process on that, but they’re very even-keel. They’re very locked in.”
NOTE: Hoping to turn this into a bigger and more nuanced story later — mostly because I’m trying to figure out how exactly to write a story about a coach and his religion without it appearing that the newspaper is endorsing said religion — but figured I’d share this quote.Crean said in Portland he thought this season had made him a better coach and a better person. I asked him on Tuesday to elaborate.
“I think it’s constant,” Crean said. “I think if you’re not getting better, it’s like anything else, you get worse. You owe it to a lot of people. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your family. You owe it to your team. When you coach and when we were having success at Marquette, I don’t think we ever took it for granted. I don’t think I ever worked that way. We were always pushing. Always pulling, always hungry, but you get here and you find it’s a lot harder to get because of what we’re dealing with and things are a lot harder to come by in the sense of winning games and getting your team where it needs to be and you realize that you’ve gotta be clicking on all cylinders. It’s never just about talent. It’s never just about lack of talent. It’s about everything being in place. I think that’s what we kept pushing for all the time. Just to make sure, ‘OK, as we get this team better, as they keep improving, let’s make sure we’ve got everything moving in the right direction so when we do get better, we didn’t miss it over here and we didn’t miss it over there. I think it’s the same way in your life. You’ve gotta have spiritual leadership. You have to have it in your own life. You have to have it for your family. You have to have it for your team. Because you’re going through so many hard times that have so little to do with the result on the court. The result on the court is what everybody sees. It’s the process, and it’s how hard it is to get through that process and there’s gotta be belief. There’s absolutely no way around that, in my mind, without having just an incredible faith and belief in God that he’s going to help see you through it, that there’s a plan for it. That you’ve gotta help him guide you to build on your tools. You learn along the way like I said the other day that he expects you to do the work. It’s not like you come out and say, ‘I feel like I’m a better Christian, so things will be easier.’ No, it doesn’t mean anything. It could be harder. It could be a lot harder. But let’s not try to figure it out, let’s just make sure we do all the work and we’ve got everything in place and you keep your priorities straight. I’d like to think that in the last couple of years, we’ve made strides in a lot and I think that would be one of them. You really do realize when you’re in some fights like we’ve been in to build up that you’re certainly not doing it by yourself. You may not see who’s helping you, but he’s there.”