Beisner's Corner || I was wrong about the Calipari "30 For 30"

03/07/2017 10:55 PM


When I heard they were making a “30 For 30” about John Calipari, my reaction was probably a little different from yours. I didn’t care. I truly had no interest in spending two hours of my life watching a film on Kentucky’s coach.

And it was nothing personal against Calipari. I like him quite a bit, have never had a bad interaction with him and I find him to be incredibly fascinating on a personal level. Growing up in Texas, college basketball wasn’t really that big of a thing, so the first vivid memories I have of falling in love with the sport came from watching and mimicking the Fab Five and watching this young brash guy coach a UMass team that was flying all over the floor. John Calipari was a rock star to me as a kid and it’s been awesome getting to be around him in this phase of his career as an adult.

But so much of what the world gets from Kentucky John Calipari is a sales pitch. It’s the same players’ first message or changing families lives or whatever it may be at the time…but he stays on brand, especially when he’s featured on ESPN. I get it, too. That’s a big part of keeping this Kentucky basketball machine running and it doesn’t matter if he says it on Tuesday to the local media, he still needs to say it on Wednesday when he’s on Mike and Mike because he’s speaking to a different audience. That’s just good business and no one is better at the business than John Calipari.

So when I heard there was a documentary coming on Cal, I just assumed it was for that other audience. It was for the people who haven’t been there almost daily for the press conferences, for the people who haven’t read the books, for the people who haven’t seen him interact with the fans and community. There’s an audience for a two-hour infomercial on John Calipari’s vision of Kentucky basketball, but I’m not it. I’ve lived that infomercial for nearly a decade.

A few days ago, though, ESPN sent me an advanced copy of the Calipari film, “One and Not Done”, and I couldn’t resist the chance to taunt all the other people at the office by telling them I’d seen it before them, so I watched it. And, man, was I wrong. I was wrong in the most spectacular way.

“One and Not Done” is a fantastic film and all of the things I never expected it to be. It’s a chronicle of Calipari’s career, starting with his time as a kid in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, and culminating with his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. It covers the ups, the downs and all of the things in-between, reminding everyone that John Calipari is the most fascinating college coaching figure of the last 30 years.

The thing about the film that I found to be so outstanding was the honesty. The story is told through the voices of other people, although Calipari plays a significant part as well, particularly during the stories of his childhood, which includes really cool pictures and videos of a young, skinny Pennsylvania point guard.

Calipari’s UMass players tell the story of their rise and the passion raging inside of their young coach. Opposing coaches explain how he sparked one of the greatest turnarounds in college basketball history and why it was so hard to like him while he did it. There’s even an admission from Calipari that he wouldn’t have liked himself either back then because he was so arrogant.

The film doesn’t shy away from what made him such a polarizing figure for nearly two decades and it touches on the NCAA issues, as well as Calipari’s incident with a New Jersey reporter. But it does it without judgement and lets the people involved tell the stories. Marcus Camby talks about the UMass situation and Derrick Rose and a former NCAA investigator discuss the Memphis situation. The curtain is lifted on Worldwide Wes and Calipari explains how they met, their relationship and how it set the groundwork for what he does with players at Kentucky today. There are criticisms from rival coaches, including one who is a very prominent figure now, saying he has respect for Calipari, but hates the way he’s forced him to now recruit one-and-done players.

The emphasis on putting a player’s best interests first is something we’ve all heard a million times, but it carries a lot more weight when Dajuan Wagner, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns are sharing why he meant so much to their families. You can hear Calipari talk 100 times about what he tells players when it comes to the NBA Draft, but when a camera takes you in the office while he has the conversation with Jamal Murray, it means more. When the coach can stand in a press conference every week and tell you he has his players’ backs, it’s one thing. But when you see him walk into a locker room and tell them they got cheated by the refs and to keep their heads up, it’s something else.

John Calipari isn’t a monster and he isn’t a god. But he isn’t like the guy down the street either and his basketball journey isn’t ordinary. “One and Not Done” paints that vividly and naturally, making this a must-watch documentary.

This is a film for Kentucky fans. This is a film for UMass and Memphis fans. This is a film for people who have hated John Calipari for years and this is a film for people who are only casual fans of college basketball. That’s because it captures the essence of the Calipari the media sees glimpses of in those rare moments when you’re allowed to go behind the curtain. It shows you the Calipari that former players would do anything for. It tells the complete and honest story of a Hall of Fame coach who cut his own path and changed the game of college basketball forever.

And that’s kind of the irony in it all. That honesty and those moments captured on film can’t help but make even the most anti-Calipari basketball fan nod with respect. So, maybe, in a weird way, it is an infomercial. But that’s not because it’s trying to be. It’s because, as John Calipari likes to say, “I keep it real.” And ESPN’s “One and Not Done” keeps it as real as it possibly could and, in doing so, tells a beautiful story of John Calipari.

“One and Not Done” airs April 13 on ESPN.


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