Save one, every team’s season ends in disappointment. Whether that disappointment comes as the confetti falls welcoming another team to the Final Four or walking out into the soul sucking darkness of Dayton after blowing a 17 point lead is immaterial, it comes for everybody. It tells you a great deal about someone how they handle that disappointment, from the coaches to the players to the fans, everyone has a chance to process the fact that things have come to an end. This weekend, there could hardly have been two more contrasting reactions, no greater an illustration of a gulf in class, than those of Chris Mack and John Calipari.
Xavier’s loss came at the end of a Trevon Bluiett inspired run that ended, once again, just short of the promised land. The Musketeers finished that game with the dubious distinction of being the team that has won the most NCAA tournament games without making the Final Four. It was, as it is every year, a gutting way to the end the year. The game wasn’t without controversy, with yet another dreadful officiating crew doing a dreadful job. At the end of the game, Coach Mack had the chance to vent his spleen.
And he didn’t. Instead, he said that he loved his guys, that he was proud of them, and that he was a bit sad to have lost on a day when they didn’t play their best basketball. Later in the day, he said that Xavier had just run into a better team, tipped his cap to Gonzaga and Coach Mark Few (who was excellent, by the way) and moved on. That was that. No remonstrations, no complaints, just grace in the face of watching someone else hoist the trophy you spent all year trying to earn.
That was not the case when John Calipari and his merry band of mercenaries lost last night. Perhaps not much should be expected from a coach who has been proven to have cheated everywhere he’s gone and will certainly be caught at UK as soon as he departs for greener pastures. Maybe it’s to be expected that one of the most entitled and somehow also least knowledgeable fanbases in the sport would champion such a man. Either way, when John Calipari had his chance to play the woebegone victim last night, he took it.
Calipari didn’t start by congratulating the victor, he didn’t start with a tip the cap to Roy Williams, he didn’t start by saying he loved his guys. He didn’t even mention that it was his inexcusable coaching cock up that gave UNC the chance to win the game with one shot. No, he whined. See, John Calipari has never done anything wrong, neither has his best team money can buy. It was the officials that lost that game, not a Wildcats team that shot 41% from the floor, 63% from the line, and got crushed on the glass. That wasn’t it. It was that the officials called too many fouls on his team.
To crib from Don Wade of the Daily News, here’s what Calipari had to say: “There was a lot of stuff that went on and our kids fought through it … I just wish we could have played a first half with a full roster. But it is what it is. “You know,” Calipari said, “it’s amazing we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance.”
Mind you, Calipari’s players don’t agree. De’Aaron Fox was told of the comments after the game and said “I’m not blaming the officials, man.” The officiating wasn’t good, it rarely has been this year, but it hardly had anything to do with the Wildcats loss. They lost because they shot badly, couldn’t capitalize on the 16 turnovers they forced, and got outworked, not because they got called for one more foul.
That doesn’t matter to Calipari, the crown prince of taking no responsibility for what he’s done. Faced with failure and defeat he showed no magnanimity, no grace, and no class in the slightest. Instead, he does what he always does when given the bully pulpit and pushed the focus and blame elsewhere. The droves of bandwagon jumping UK fans and the loyal ones who believe every they don’t win the trophy has been stolen from them will follow him, of course, but that hardly makes his example anything but reprehensible. The cold comfort of having bowed out in the Elite Eight is at least the knowledge that your program handled it with with class and dignity. That’s true north of the Ohio, but not south of it.