Over the past several days the search for a new head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky has taken several turns.
Much maligned coach of two years Billy Gillespie was let go over the weekend, and immediately names and rumors began to circulate around the sports world as to who Wildcat nation would tab as their guy to lead them back to national prominence.
Such names as Florida coach Billy Donovan and Xavier coach Sean Miller were thrown out as possibilities. Donovan was lassoed in by Florida, while Miller never appeared to be in the running.
After several days had gone by with no real front-runner, all of a sudden a name came up that appeared to be a logical fit for the Wildcats: Memphis coach John Calipari.
John Calipari received his first head coaching job in 1988 when he became coach of University of Massachusetts (UMass). Upon arriving to the campus in '88, he immediately changed the face of the program.
Over his nine seasons at UMass he compiled a 193-71 record including a 91-41 mark in Atlantic 10 play. He was named A-10 Coach of the Year three times, in '92, '93, and '96. He was also named Naismith National Coach of the Year in 1996 after leading UMass to the school's first ever Final Four appearance.
He helped accelerate the construction of the Mullins Center where the Minutemen currently play basketball and hockey. He reached out to the greater Boston and New York area to try to expand the fanbase.
When he left for the Nets shortly after the '96 season, Calipari had become the second winningest coach in UMass history.
While at UMass, Calipari had one team with which most will associate his time at the school: the Final Four team of 1996. And most will remember that team for one player in particular: the Naismith player of the year in '96, Marcus Camby.
However, what most tend to overlook about that team were the allegations that players, with the focus being on Camby, took illegal and improper benefits from school boosters, all the while with Calipari turning his head and pretending he knew nothing of the sort was happening.
A 1996 article in the Hartford Courant, Camby's hometown newspaper, quotes Camby as saying that he accepted jewelry from an agent, Wesley S. Spears, wishing to represent him. Only at the time, Camby didn't know that Spears was an agent. He also admitted to taking $1,000 after the season was over.
In addition to giving Camby jewelry and $1,000 after the season, Spears also gave his friends up to $300 a week in an alleged attempt to represent Camby after he turned professional.
Camby acknowledged he took the $1,000 after the season, but said he had no idea that his friends were being given cash, plane tickets, and gifts over the past five months.
Regardless of what may or may not have happened, red flags in the form of paying players were starting to pop up around Calipari's first program.
After a brief stint in the NBA as coach of the New Jersey Nets for three years and being an assistant for two more for the Philadelphia 76ers, Calipari finally landed a head coaching job back where he belonged—the college game.
In 2000, John Calipari was hired as the head coach for the Memphis Tigers, a once proud program led by a youngster named Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. Immediately, Calipari got results.
Over the course of his time at Memphis, culminating with the most recent '08-'09 season, he won 253 games, posted nine consecutive 20-win seasons, and earned nine straight postseason bids.
He was named C-USA Coach of the Year in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In 2008 he was named Naismith College Coach of the Year, and this past year was named Sports Illustrated Coach of the Year.
However, while at Memphis he has caused a bit of controversy. His ability to continually bring in blue-chip recruits to a Memphis program, that until recently was mediocre at best, has created a stir among coaches and other fanbases.
The controversy centered around two main ideas. One, that FedEx was offering illegal pay to recruits and players for "internships" and, secondly, involved a mystery man that went by the name of Worldwide Wes.
For most of the decade, Memphis was never accused or even thought of as a dirty program or accused of bringing in recruits with illegal help. That is until Memphis began to reach the elite of basketball and bringing in talents such as Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans on an every year basis.
The controversial side of the story began in 2001 when a heralded point guard by the name of DaJuan Wagner was nearing a decision to turn professional or go to college for presumably a year and then go pro.
In 2001, Wagner was the consensus best high school basketball player in the country. While Wagner likely would have been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft as a senior out of high school, Worldwide Wes persuaded him to go play for at least a year at Memphis for John Calipari.
Several days later, Milt Wagner, DaJuan's father, was hired as Coordinator of Basketball Operations for Memphis.
If it didn't already sound fishy enough, the fact that Milt lacked a college degree made the hire even more questionable.
After only one season at Memphis in which he averaged 21 points a game, Wagner elected to go pro.
Now while many people presume that Wagner did this on his own accord, it might not be the case. Calipari reportedly called DaJuan into his office and tore up his scholarship in front of him to make sure he understood he wouldn't be coming back.
Another instance in 2007 regarding Wes and coach Calipari have people wondering what's going on behind the scenes at Memphis.
In January 2007, the Nike Super Six hoops extravaganza was scheduled to take place at Madison Square Garden. Players such as OJ Mayo, Michael Beasley, and Derrick Rose were in attendance to participate in the event. However the unmistakable, can't-miss prospect was Derrick Rose.
Throughout Rose's career in the AAU game, Wes was seen on the sidelines of most of his games. When Rose's college choice came down to Memphis, Illinois, and Indiana, there was little doubt that Rose would inevitably choose Memphis, simply because of the tie and pull that Wes had in connection to Memphis.
Again, another one-and-done prospect Wes lures in, and another one-and-done prospect signs with Memphis.
For its 2008 class rankings, rivals.com ranked Tyreke Evans as a top 10 player in the country. By the fall of '08, he had narrowed his list of schools down to five.
Since he was 12, Evans had often been thought of by recruiting services and scouts across the country as at least having the tools to be able to play in the NBA someday.
While on the AAU circuit in 2006, a college scout came up to another person watching Tyreke play and they began talking. The scout introduced himself by name and the unknown man on the sidelines responded by introducing himself as Worldwide Wes.
Sure enough when the time came for Evans to decide where he was going to play college basketball, the answer surprised almost nobody. He signed to play basketball at Memphis.
Memphis considered wearing FedEx promotional jerseys for a game this season against Southern Methodist University. The jerseys were orange with blue and white writing. However, Memphis AD R.C. Johnson said that there was constant criticism about the team wearing the jerseys.
In response to the criticism, Calipari, one who has never been shy about testing people's nerves, said that he found nothing wrong with the jerseys and thought that it was one of the classiest moves he had ever seen.
Cbssportsline.com's Gary Parrish cited a source saying that FedEx and Memphis nixed the plan because "they feared a backlash both locally and nationally about an NCAA team and blurring the lines between amateur sports and commercial revenue."
The NCAA was contacted and Memphis was told it could wear the jerseys as long as "FedEx" didn't appear on the jersey.
Obviously every college program relies on corporate funds for money, but it's hard for any school to compete with the money that FedEx contributes to the basketball program.
In addition to everything else that seems questionable about the Tiger program, there has been the recent rumblings about paid internships available for incoming basketball players.
Numerous questions have continued to come up about the actual work required for these players. Players like Rose and Evans reportedly have received these internships, but do little to no work while still receiving the salary they were promised.
Fast-forward to present day. Currently Memphis has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country according to rivals.com having signed five stars including Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins, and they are believed to be the leaders for the No. 1 recruit in the country, guard John Wall.
If able to sign Wall, it would mean that Memphis would have signed the No. 1, 2, and 3 recruits in the country, a class paralleled perhaps only by the Fab Five of Michigan.
While Wall may very well end up going somewhere else to play basketball, it is likely that he would have already signed somewhere else had Abdul Gaddy signed with Memphis instead of Washington.
Gaddy is from Tacoma, WA, playing basketball at nearby Bellarmine Prep school. He is listed as the No. 13 recruit in the country on rivals.com and the second point guard in the country behind John Wall.
Earlier in the recruiting season Calipari expressed interest in Gaddy and that Memphis would love to have him come play basketball for them in the upcoming 2009-2010 year. This appeared to have all the makings of another one-and-done guard signing with the Tigers.
However, there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Gaddy's mother, Oseye Gaddy has been a longtime employee of the company FedEx, whose headquarters are located in Memphis and who sponsors the Memphis basketball program. In August of 2008, she received a telephone call from a man telling her she had been given a promotion.
The man who called was the CEO of FedEx and prominent Memphis booster David Bronczek.
Out of the almost 200,000 employees throughout the world, Bronczek had chosen to reach out to a seemingly ordinary customer service representative working all the way across the country in Tacoma, WA for a promotion in Memphis.
Gaddy committed to the Washington Huskies in October and later remarked that the phone call had no impact on his decision. The university reported self-violations against the program to the NCAA, but no real action has since been taken.
While nothing has indicated that Worldwide Wes has anything to do with any of the prospects committing to Memphis, one has to think that with both the school's and Wes' track records, there was at least some talk somewhere down the road in the player's recruitment.
Many people may frown upon outside influences such as Wes and FedEx in college basketball. One thing that Memphis and Calipari have been able to do is keep everything clean.
Look back at all of the questionable signings and hirings in the Memphis program and you will not find one NCAA investigation or violation.
All of this leads us to where we are today.
Calipari has reportedly been offered an eight-year, $35 million deal to become the coach of the University of Kentucky, a school that prides itself on winning. While many feel that Calipari should, and ultimately will, take the job, I'm not so convinced.
People don't quite understand just how good he has it at Memphis.
Sure he can bring in the same type of talent he currently does at Memphis, but at what cost?
For one, he has to play against legitimate competition for a full year. There would be no more of the joke conference schedule in C-USA. Now he would have to play the likes of LSU, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas twice a year.
At Memphis he could rest easy knowing that no matter what he needed, FedEx was always nearby to be able to produce it for him.
Calipari has turned Memphis into more than a successful program. With the help of World Wide Wes and FedEx as well as occasional financial help from Autozone, Calipari has turned Memphis into an empire. One that makes it possible for him to span the country and come away with the best talent in America year in and year out.
To be clear, I am NOT blaming the players themselves. In many ways it is definitely a smart career move, and who are we to judge them for that?
My main point is that Calipari currently appears to be building an empire around a reputation for being a one-year springboard to the NBA, and that does not seem like a good or reputable thing to be doing in college basketball, especially with FedEx and Worldwide Wes right around the corner.
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