Dallas • Everyone has an opinion of John Calipari.
He’s a pariah to some, successful only because of his ability to attract one-and-done stars destined for the NBA. They point to him as a scourge of college basketball, arguing that he’s complicit — responsible, even — in stripping "student" from student-athletes.
NCAA Final Four
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Then there are those who see him as an elite coach, the architect of successful programs at UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky. He’s churned out players who are making millions in the pros, and it is hard to argue that he’s let any of them down.
"He does get the best guys, but he challenges them and pushes them to be who they are," said New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans, who played one season for Calipari at Memphis.
"That’s the thing about playing for him," Evans said. "You’ve got to be willing to take on the challenge, and take on him getting on you every day in practice. Some guys can handle it, some guys can’t. Before you get there, he’ll tell you that."
Those who accept the challenge are usually rewarded.
His group at Memphis headlined by Derrick Rose reached the national title game in 2008, though the trip was later vacated. Another troupe of young stars led by Anthony Davis beat Kansas to win Kentucky’s eighth national championship in 2012.
And the latest group of fabulous freshmen has the Wildcats back in the Final Four, knocking off three of the top four seeds in the Midwest Region along the way. They’ll start five first-year players Saturday against Wisconsin, headlined by twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison and power forward Julius Randle, a potential lottery pick in the June draft.
"He’s tough on us," said Randle, when asked to describe what it’s like to play for Calipari. "You may not like it some days, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s best for us."
Calipari is hardly unique. Ohio State’s Thad Matta has churned out five one-and-dones since 2006, and Rick Barnes of Texas has produced four. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has lost a couple, and could lose standout Jabari Parker makes his stay-or-go decision.
It’s just that Calipari is the biggest offender — or opportunist.
Since 2006, he’s sent 13 one-and-done players to the NBA. They’ve combined to make more than $181 million in salary alone.
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