So soon, Kentucky?!

By Roy S. Johnson
Updated: May 29, 2009

NEW YORK – Come on. You knew it was going to come to this when he was hired, that sooner or later, John Calipari would blow up in the Wildcats’ paws like a Fourth of July firecracker. The good folks at Kentucky probably knew it, too. Maybe they were just in denial — though no one thought it would happen this soon.

Two months was all it took for the cloud that always seemed to hover over Calipari to burst like a summer storm. The charges are that a former player (reports are sourcing the player as Derrick Rose, now of the Chicago Bulls , the NBA Rookie of the Year) submitted a doctored SAT score at Memphis, Calipari’s last sideline-stomping ground; and that the player’s relative copped a few free plane rides.

If true (and, of course, there are denials all around), Memphis might be forced to vacate its 2008 Final Four appearance.

And Calipari, it seems, will have to give up nothing. He is no doubt a great coach and by all accounts a decent guy. He’s already saying he had no knowledge of either incident until informed of the allegations by the NCAA earlier this year.

Even Kentucky is paying the charges little mind. Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart says the school knew about the allegations during the interview process and discussed them with Calipari. (He did not, however, say how long he discussed them with JC. Barnhart: “Did you have anything to do with these?” Calipari: “No, sir.” Barnhart: “Fine. So when can we start winning again?”) Barnhart even said the NCAA’s enforcement director told him Calipari was clean.

That may ultimately prove true but the coach has been one step ahead of dirty for much of his career, which is why most schools with big-time programs shied away.

Not Kentucky. Not a program so desperate to win it ran off a decent man and good coach who actually won a national title at the school — Tubby Smith, now happily at Minnesota – to chase a return to glory. A return already tainted.

Maybe this is Tubby’s Revenge, or perhaps payback when a school punts a good coach because he’s just not good enough (see: Notre Dame football).

Maybe it’s the NCAA’s way of taking a shot at the one-and-done’s who now shuttle through while waiting to become eligible for the NBA draft. In the letter outlining the allegations, whose contents were first reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the organization had harsh words for the alleged player involved, saying he “failed to deport himself in accordance with the high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with … intercollegiate athletics.”

I won’t even address the haughty irony of those words.

Though that the NCAA would place any player as the perpetrator and not the victim of a system that can easily be said to exploit young men like him every day is not surprising.

Just as Kentucky fans — even those who want to believe their latest move was the key to salvation — should not be surprised that the key might have already broken off in the lock.

Before the program even got close to opening the door.