I guess maybe I didn’t have the nose for controversy that I should have had on this story, but when I heard John Wall’s comment about “I try not to listen to Cal,” more than anything, it made me laugh.
It made me laugh because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fans griping about the head games that coaches play with players. It made me smile because I thought that UK could have used at least one player who felt that way last season when Billy Gillispie was banishing people to bathroom stalls.
No, Wall’s dialogue regarding his coach, for the record, is not what you would want a young kid to emulate with his or her coach.
But UK fans need to face reality on this one. The coach-player relationship in Lexington is not what it used to be, not under Pitino, Smith, Gillispie, Hall, certainly not under Rupp.
Think about it. These guys call their coach, “Cal.” The old paradigm has passed away. This is the era of “Cal.” And you pretty much have to accept or reject it as a whole. It’s his way of running things that attracts this level of player today. It’s a tradeoff that he makes, and it’s a tradeoff that UK made when it hired him.
I mean, you just didn’t hear Larry Conley come out for a postgame interview and say, “Adolph didn’t think we were that good tonight but I thought we were all right.”
There’s a new sheriff in town. I’m not even saying it’s an inferior way of doing things. There was a time I might have said that, but I watched Calipari come within a free throw of winning a national championship doing it his way, and had to admit, it’s effective, especially with some of today’s elite players. It may not be how I’d do things, but maybe there’s more than one way to win a championship with a ‘Cat.
So for Wall to say what he said, for DeMarcus Cousins to smile and say, “Every opponent scares Cal” — those are far different comments than they would be for a player under Roy Williams or Bob Knight to make.
Finally, if Wall were happy and satisfied, something would be wrong. He’s clearly not content, and he shouldn’t be. He has a long way to go as a player, and while he may say he lets what Calipari says roll off his back, you can tell he knows exactly what the situation is. Wall needs some adversity, as this entire team does. That’s going to be one of the few things that pushes him, because there are not many opponents who will.
A basketball season is a long process of figuring things out, and that’s the case no matter how good you are, or how highly you’re ranked.
I didn’t see Wall’s comments as a sign of any kind of rift. I just saw them as an indication of how things are at UK now, where players aren’t muzzled, even though the microscope is as powerful as ever. This has been the way with Calipari. Everybody speaks their mind, then goes out and plays.
If there’s a story in what Wall said, to me, that was it — in how different the style is now at UK; not in Wall tuning Calipari out. Watching Wall play, you can see that he’s with the program. He’s not out there doing his own thing. Clearly, he’s been listening.
I’ve always assumed that with coaches like Calipari and Pitino who throw SO much mentally and physically at players, they have to learn in some ways what to hold onto and what to let go of. They just don’t talk a lot about it. Wall did.