Coach Calipari emerges as a fascinating figure in this documentary.
By Jason Martin
If you can't rebound in this game, I love you to death, but I gotta take you out. - John Calipari
Watching Jonathan Hock's 30 for 30 profiling Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, I came away with several thoughts, but the quote above sums the man up better than anything else he's ever said. It came very early in the documentary, which premieres tonight on ESPN. Coach Cal does plenty of yelling in footage that spans his days at UMass, Memphis, and Kentucky, as well as his unsuccessful and tumultuous stop in the NBA at the helm of the New Jersey Nets. As he screams and pushes his players to find another gear, one common theme emerges.
John Calipari loves rebounding, and he harps on that particular skill more than any other.
We're limited by what the film showcases, but it's inconceivable that hitting the glass isn't among his favorite things to teach. If you apply the larger, non-basketball connotation to rebounding, it defines the man perfectly. The son of a family from the Calabria region of Italy, John Calipari's entire life has been controlled by a desire to win, but also to belong. He wasn't from a well-to-do household, knew he wouldn't play in the NBA, but still found his way to the Five-Star Basketball Camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. There he would learn from names like Rick Pitino, Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, George Raveling, and Hubie Brown.
Cal fought for everything he had, and he did so with unapologetic swagger. From his time as a part-time assistant under the aforementioned Larry Brown to his first full-time assistant job with Pittsburgh in the powerful Big East to the decision to take the UMass position absolutely no one in the country wanted, he never wanted more than to be a basketball coach. When he was old enough to understand he needed a plan, his was simple. He wanted to teach, and he wanted to lead young men as a high school coach.
Hock's film covers John's entire career, up to and including last year's NBA Draft and his 2015 Basketball Hall of Fame induction. It isn't a love story, and the balance of a talented salesman and a solid motivator with an unpopular, arrogant, potentially conniving individual is what makes the documentary work. Calipari is presented with more positives than negatives, but it's not feasible to tell this man's story without the blemishes, and there have been many.
At UMass, no one old enough to remember it will ever forget the rivalry with Temple and the confrontations with legendary Owls coach John Chaney. If you haven't seen the press conference incident in a while, or if you're too young and have never seen it before, you're in luck. It isn't a long segment of the film, but it's there, and Calipari explains it, as do journalists who watched the fiasco take place. It was a basketball game, just a game, but these two men were ready to go to war over it. That's how much they cared, and whether you respect either or not, you do have to appreciate the lengths to which they attempted to succeed at their chosen profession.
Perhaps the strongest portion of the entire story is an in-depth look at the Marcus Camby saga. We all recall Camby as the star of the UMass team that went to the Final Four and, subsequently, the reason the wins were taken away and the reason the university was forced to pay back tournament money. Camby contributes quite a bit to the film, including a staunch defense of his coach. These two men love each other, and both use the "L" word in describing the other. Camby, like many players Calipari mentored, came from the projects, and had nothing. His family had nothing. To a man, none of the big, memorable names that sat down for the documentary have a bad thing to say about him. They might have been dogged out in practices or games, but John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Derrick Rose, Dajuan Wagner, and so many others all prove incontrovertibly that Calipari cared about them, long after they stopped playing basketball for him.
On the other hand, you'll be forced on more than one occasion watching One and Not Done to question whether or not what you're hearing is fully legitimate, but that's why it's a story worth telling.
If everything we think we know about John Calipari is true, why does Jonathan Hock need to profile him? Could all of it be factual? Sure, but the reason this 30 for 30 is worth your time is because it shines a light on an imperfect system. If Cal exploited it past the letter of the amorphous "law," the NCAA never proved his complicity. Later in the film, we travel to Memphis and relive the Derrick Rose era, including the SAT score, the loss in the National Championship game, and a second school that, at least partially, was forced to erase part of its own history. In both cases, it involves Calipari.
Also discussed is William Wesley, better known to sports fans as "Worldwide Wes," the "friend of the program" that hung around Memphis and seemed to be a true power broker. How did he meet John Calipari? Wesley asked him to coach his nephew, a talented player by the name of Dajuan Wagner. Here we arrive at John's philosophy as a coach, but also as a human being. Wagner was an incredible player for Memphis, and helped put the fledgling program on the map. He was prepared to return to school, knowing the Tigers were primed for an extremely successful season, but his coach tore up his scholarship and told him to "get the hell out of here."
Wagner would go sixth in the NBA Draft, and his first season showed plenty of promise. Then came colitis, and shortly thereafter, the end of his career. Calipari asks an important question to the documentary audience. What if Wagner had stayed at Memphis for another year? What if the ailment happened while he was in college? He wouldn't have made a cent. His initial NBA contract paid him over seven million dollars. Morally, if you as a coach know your player is prepared to go pro, is it fair to let him stay?
It became the way John did business. If you played for him, he would get you to the NBA. He would tell you to take everybody else on the floor with you on the same ride. How much of it was a sales pitch for HIS future and how much was about the kids? That's a conundrum that will never have an answer. It depends on your feelings on Coach Cal.
Jonathan Hock brings in the voices and the people from which you most want to hear, including many former players, key assistants, and journalists ranging from Bob Ryan to Dan Wolken to "Going Bigtime" author Marty Dobrow. Jim Calhoun, John Thompson, George Raveling, and Bill Self speak to Cal's record as a coach and what he's meant for basketball, both good and bad. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern discusses the purpose of the one and done, and what it was designed to do for the league.
Accompanying all the interviews is an impressive array of archival footage, ranging from practice video and game night conversations between Calipari and others in the coaching fraternity, including Mike Krzyzewki and Rick Pitino, to sideline rants during tough in-game moments. There's even video of a Kentucky player's meeting at the Calipari home, including a teaching lesson downstairs in the den.
Some of the biggest names he's ever coached are shown at their most unvarnished. Of these, no one got it worse in practice than Anthony Davis. One piece of video shows Davis at practice unable to pull in a rebound and being verbally dismantled until he gets it right. Karl Anthony Towns tells the story of how Calipari sat down with him during the recruiting process and told him he might not even play. Davis adds a similar anecdote. Calipari would tell these all-world talents that Kentucky wasn't for everyone, and as Davis remembers it, John said "You have no guaranteed spots on my team." For Davis, it was something he had never heard before from a coach. It was unique, and it stood out.
John Calipari provided access many in his position wouldn't, and without it, the film would be woefully incomplete. After a loss to Texas A&M last year, Calipari screamed his team was cheated as he exited the floor. He then walked in to address his team, and here's how he handled the situation. "You got cheated. Don't worry about it." Every second of it is in the film. Cal is undeniably arrogant, but he's willing to be himself, warts and all, on camera for Jonathan Hock. As a result, this is an extremely effective profile.
It's difficult to try and rank 30 for 30 installments because all are generally good. You'll occasionally find one that doesn't include depth or resonance, but generally, they're all watchable. One and Not Done is far more than watchable. Its release is timely, and may encourage further discussion on the mysteries behind John Calipari. He's a man that doesn't evaluate himself on championships, while everyone else does. He's a loudmouth, often a malcontent, and one of the great recruiters of all-time. Bobby Martin describes him as a man "that could talk a starving dog off the back of a meat truck."
Shrouded in controversy, John Calipari is engaging and open with his story. Whether you believe his words is then up to you, but you get the feeling he doesn't care either way. It's out of his control. So much detail is packed into the two hours that it's almost an achievement as a viewer when the final credits roll. The documentary starts with rehearsal for the Hall of Fame, and then ends with Calipari and many of his players at the ceremony itself.
Rebounding on the floor for greats like Davis and Cousins was integral, but for John, it's been the story of his life. UMass goes from two wins to the Final Four, and then it gets taken away. He's accused of bailing to save himself in the wake of the Camby scandal. He deals with constant turmoil in the NBA, and uses a racial slur in reference to a critical reporter. He goes to Memphis, another team with no national profile, lands Wagner, ends up with Derrick Rose because of how he treated William Wesley's nephew, and almost wins a National Championship. Then the wins, the banner, all of it goes up in smoke as Lexington calls. He goes to Kentucky, and becomes the first coach to use the one and done rule as his primary recruiting philosophy. Some now claim he's changed college basketball for the better, while others believe he's destroyed the sport.
He's still standing. When the documentary comes to an end, that's the lasting measure. He keeps rebounding. He keeps pulling down that ball and he gives himself another possession. He's defied the odds, and whether you're a fan of his work, his tactics, or his accomplishments, this is a tale worth experiencing. It may leave you with a different impression of Coach Cal, or it may reinforce what you already believe, but One and Not Done is entertaining, engaging, and fascinating.
When it's over and you've had time to think, ask yourself one other question, because I certainly did. Was this another recruiting pitch? If you were a player, and you watched this story, wouldn't you want to play for John Calipari? If you say no, you're lying to yourself. He's the ultimate player's coach. He might also be the greatest salesman in college basketball history. Marcus Camby says it best. "He could sell water to a well."
If you love sports, college basketball, or intriguing figures, you should absolutely watch One and Not Done. Jonathan Hock's work with 30 for 30 has been impressive, with Survive and Advance and The Best That Never Was among his past credits. His profile of John Calipari stands alongside those as another well-structured, worthy effort.
I'm @JMartOutkick. Don't be the poop in my ice cream. That's a Cal quote.