If I mention the names of John Calipari and Thad Matta I am sure there would be some to immediately take sides on who they think is better. Some would base it off of wins and losses and others may base their choice on their preconceived notions of the person. No matter what side you take, understand that we are in close proximity to two of the best coaches in college basketball.
There are similarities between the two. Let’s start with their willingness to embrace the “one and done” rule. They believe scooping up these five-star recruits gives an advantage over the competition. They stack your team with talent and keep it off other teams. Calipari is the poster child for the one and done player with names like Derrick Rose, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Matta also has a history of recruiting these types of players including Mike Conley Jr, Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, and B.J. Mullens.
Another similarity is their success. I don’t think it is a coincidence that each coach has had some of their most successful years while utilizing the one and done concept. Calipari has a wining percentage of 82.5 percent at Kentucky while Matta stands at 78 percent at Ohio State. Can you really argue with those results? Matta has been to two Final Fours with one runner-up finish. Before last year Calipari’s teams had three straight Elite Eight appearances resulting in two Final Fours and a National Title. There will be ups and downs but with these two their teams will always be in contention.
Now let’s focus on the differences. It starts with preparation. I have been to many UK with Calipari as coach. One of my favorite things to do is stay for the post game coaches interview. He continuously says ” I’m not worried about what other teams do. I’m worried about what our team is doing and how we execute our schemes.” Matta on the other hand puts a little more time into studying his opponents. In a 2011 article by Jerry Tipton on KentuckySports.com, Aaron Craft said, “It’s heavy. For us we do better when we have a little more advanced studying on the team we play.” Both coaches are meticulous and calculated in their approach. There is no right or wrong way to coach your team. It is about the players on the team and how they are willing to prepare.
When compared in appearance and demeanor Matta comes off as a hard working individual who gets the best out of his kids. He doesn’t project himself in the spotlight often. He lets his winning do the talking for him. He is very intense on the sidelines and coaches until the very last second. He yells, sweats, and viciously chomps his gum with the best of them. He has always been thought to run a clean program and a great recruiter. Some say that he is only a recruiter and is an average coach. What some fans don’t understand is that it doesn’t matter what you know, if you don’t have the players capable of doing it then you won’t win. No coach can step on the court and do it for you. As a player you have to accept responsibility and perform.
In comparison Calipari has been bashed so many times for his “car salesman” style. His slicked backed hair and his nice suits make him look like he is fresh out of Good Fellas. He also portrays incredible intensity on the sideline but shows no filter consistently dropping curse words in plain view of the public. He is labeled as a cheater due to past allegations at previous schools. However, he never begs his players to come back. He refuses to be greedy and try to keep the players in school. He cites the opportunity for players to provide better lives for their families. There always be recruits but some players may only have one shot at making their dreams come true. To me that sounds like a guy who has good intentions for his players not someone simply using them for his own benefit. So why are two coaches that use similar concepts viewed so differently? Perception is reality. Sometimes the media can misconstrue things but one thing is certain. Every coach carries a persona.
I don’t think people understand how much time is put into coaching. Many think they can do the job better than the current coach. They always use hindsight for mistakes that were made. Speaking from experience, nobody knows how much is put into the preparation besides the coaching staff. Scouting, game planning, coaching clinics, long practice nights, monitoring kids on and off the floor. It is a full-time job and not everybody can do it. Whether it is high school or college it takes a special kind of crazy person to put up with all that goes into running a program.
So what side are you on? Are you a Matta Man who always makes sure to slip on his necklace made of buckeyes before each game? Or do you side with Coach Cal? Do you bleed blue and live under the impression that you may actually die if your precious Wildcats lose? Regardless of your choice, understand that these guys are cut of the same cloth. Yes, they vary in appearance, style, and beliefs but they are apart of a very exclusive club of D-I basketball coaches. They have made incredible sacrifices to get where they are.
*Photo Courtesy of The Silver Bullet