Louisville fans, you should appreciate John Calipari.
Kentucky fans, you should appreciate Rick Pitino.
And the two of them should appreciate each other. Stay with me...
Each of these guys are two of the most polarizing coaches in all of college basketball. They are a lot alike as well. Both are masters at dealing with the media. Calipari will spin any situation or give an outlandish quote like "We don't just play college basketball. We are college basketball." Pitino, the king of hyperbole, will say things like "They are the toughest first round match up I have ever seen in all of my years of coaching (no matter the team)." Both are Italian and they kind of give off the vibe that they're "made" guys.
First I'll explain why UK fans should appreciate Rick Pitino. The reason is pretty obvious: he led that program back to, not only relevance, but a powerhouse in the 90's. He came into a terrible situation after Sutton's recruiting scandal and led Kentucky to an Elite 8 in his third year, a Final 4 in his fourth, a Championship in his seventh, and another championship appearance in his final year at the school.
Who knows what that program would be today if not for Rick Pitino coming in, coaching an exhilarating style of basketball (that us UofL fans enjoy so much now), and most importantly winning? The pressing, the fast breaks, utilizing the three point shot... His teams are usually at their best when they're playing fast and loose, which is obviously way more exciting than a grind-it-out defensive team.
The bottom line is that there is a very good chance that the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky would not be the job that it is today if it weren't for Rick Pitino. For that, UK fans (and John Calipari) should really appreciate Rick Pitino.
Now, why would Louisville fans appreciate John Calipari? He's been a total douche, right? Well, yeah, but there is still a reason to be somewhat fond of Cal. He lit a fire under Rick Pitino's ass. When Pitino was hired at the University of Louisville, Cardinal basketball fans had visions of National Championship trophies in their dreams. In his 4th season at UofL, Rick led the Cardinal's to the Final Four. In the next 4 years the Cardinals reached 2 more Elite 8 appearances, followed by 2 first round losses in the '09-'10 and '10-'11 seasons. It was in 2009 that the Sypher scandal was made public. I can't imagine Rick's head and heart were into recruiting and coaching at a time like that, which also happened to be Calipari's first year at UK.
With his personal life and relationships getting back on track, Rick Pitino had been humbled and visibly rejuvenated. The success of Kentucky in those 2 years (Elite 8 and Final 4) ratcheted up the pressure. Players like Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, and Russ Smith, may have taught him as much as he taught them. Mike refers to him as Louisville Rick and that truly is the best Rick. He is steadily bringing in better recruiting classes filled with kids who fit his style and the philosophy that he has instilled: Louisville First.
Any way you look at it, this is a special time to be a basketball fan in the Bluegrass State. We have the best rivalry in college athletics, the last two National Titles, and the main stage for another postseason rivalry match up tonight. So take some time today (probably, like, a minute) to soak in what the artist formally known as CardsFan922 calls the precious present. Take off your red or blue tinted glasses and really grasp how incredibly fun this is right now. For Louisville fans, a victory tonight would bring us one step closer to repeating. Repeating would mean no Cardinal fan would wear pants for months. For UK fans, a victory would bring a great deal of redemption after an otherwise roller coaster ride of a season.
All eyes will be on the Bluegrass Basketball tonight. Go Cards. Beat UK.