Beale Street Baskets: Coaching Rivals Square Off

By David Scott - November 16, 2007


NEW YORK -- They have not tweaked each other on the court in almost 18 years. Off the court, though, the tweaking and oneupsmanship has never stopped. Are John Calipari and Jim Calhoun mortal enemies? No, probably not. But are they golfing buddies who vacation with the wives?

Not on your life.

To call Memphis's Calipari and UConn's Calhoun rivals would be an injustice to the term. They've met only twice on the court and both times (in 1989 and 1990 when Calipari was just starting out as a head coach at UMass) Calhoun had far superior talent and far more experience. His Huskies won the first meeting by 29, the second by 19. "In that first game I had to call a timeout," said Calipari, "and tell my guys that our goal was to just get it across half court."

In the ensuing half-decade of those wild 1990s in New England basketball, when Calipari's UMass program caught up to (and passed) Calhoun's creation, the schools could never agree on a mutually beneficial game. Calhoun later admitted is was beacuse he had a personal problem with the Man from Moon, who had stolen Marcus Camby from Calhoun's backyard and stolen more than a share of the spotlight that had mostly been reserved for Calhoun and his Huskies.

By the time both schools finally agreed that the teams had to play - largely driven by the money and exposure the meetings would generate -- Calipari left for the big bucks of the NBA and Calhoun resumed a domination over the Minutemen (and Calipari's successor, James "Bruiser" Flint). A fair fight between the two men's clubs was never staged.

Tonight, at the World' Most Famous Arena in the World's Most Angry city, Calipari and Calhoun will meet again on the sidelines for the first time since January 30, 1990. The fight may not be fair this time either -- UConn is a work in progress and Memphis, as Calhoun pointed out, "is one of, if not THE fastest teams in the country.

Even without the body of work to make for a rivalry, there is an undeniable dynamic to the Coaches vs. Cancer Championship game that goes beyond unranked UConn's chance to upset No. 3 Memphis. All the players who take the floor tonight were just wee lads when Calipari and Calhoun, Parts I and II were played out in small gyms on sprawling state university campuses in the Interstate 91 corrdior.

But Part III will be decided by those now not-so-wee kids and this time, it's Calipari who has the stacked roster, the national rep and, according to the oddsmakers, a nine-point edge.

"We," said Calhoun, with no sign of tongue-biting, "need to find out how we're going to do against one of the better teams in the country."

***

"My relationship with John is one of 'Hi, John, how are you doing?' and 'Hi, Jim how are you doing?' and that's what it is," volunteered Calhoun in his Thursday postgame, without any outward prompting by the assembled media. "But there's plenty of coaches throught the country [like that]. It may be because I'm getting old and he's a lot younger than me. . . Unless you're in a particular group and get to know guys - like the Nike coaches - you really kind of lose touch with an awful lot of coaches."

Especially the ones you don't particularly care for.

"The only thing I would say is that [11] years ago, I was there to play the game [between UConn and UMass]," Calhoun [sort of] joked on Thursday night after his Huskies dismissed Gardner-Webb to set the stage for a Cal on Cal battle. "[Calipari] left. [UConn's] Ray Allen left and [UMass's Marcus] Camby left. I stayed.

"They all made a lot more money -- maybe that's what really upsets me," joked the very financially stable 65-year-old Calhoun.

"There were 15 million reasons why I didn't stay," said Calipari, 48, referring to his lucrative deal with the New Jersey Nets, and then chuckled, "that was his choice to stay. I don't know what to tell you."

In private though, both men would tell you there is not a whole lotta love for the other man. At the time they were roaming sidelines at bordering state schools, there was downright disdain between the ex-Yankee Conference rivals. The pasasge of time, the change of jobs for Calipari and yes, probably a bit of maturing on both mens' parts has quelled the animosity. A bit.

But as someone close to Calipari said this week, "He'll want to beat them by 30," said the acquaintance, "or 40."

With a loaded Tiger team, a sound thrashing is very possible and if Memphis holds a 20 point lead with two minutes left, it won't be a shock to see the Tiger starters still in the game. It would be another way for Calipari to tweak Calhoun the way he once did when he heard Calhoun boast about the tremendous building job that had been done on the Storrs campus.

"That's true," Calipari said on his TV show at the time. "[UConn women's coach] Geno Auriemma has done an unbelievable job with his program."

The jab had a dual effect, as Calhoun and Auriemma have never been very close in their repsective quests to make their programs the toast of Connecticut. Calipari and Auriemma became fast friends, both united in forever pissing off Calhoun, who currently holds a two-love advantage over Calipari in National Titles. (When -- or maybe if -- the two men shake hands, Calipari will be reminded of this, as Calhoun wears a title ring on his right hand ringfinger.)

"We played on [the UConn rivalry] at UMass because we were the first New England team to be No. 1 and we were knocking heads a bit and they were in the Big East," said Calipari on Thursday. "But we never really recruited against each other. It was more of a pride thing -- he's a great coach, he's a Hall of Fame coach and he's done it for a long time. Let me put it this way -- he'll do it twice as long as I'm going to do this."

"As far as John Calipari, he's a terific coach," said Calhoun. "UMass wasn't a national program before he got there. When he got there it was a national program and a Final Four team. And he's got Memphis on the cusp of being that way as well. I have respect for that. He's a very good coach and I have nothing against him personally. There was some misunderstandings.Calipari-Calhoun is certainly not the story."

Oh no? We'll have to see about that tonight when Cal v. Cal at the Coaches v. Cancer gives us the third installment of what could very well end up being a rivalry afterall.

Posted by David Scott at 03:59 PM on November 16, 2007
Comments (2)

Comments

Uconn is a young team, but I think Memphis is waaay overrated. I think UConn is going to surprise some folks. Their frontline is massive. If they can hit their shots and run then Memphis is in trouble. Memphis isn't that great offensively either and I think their guards are about as good as Connecticut's.

Good defense by the New Jersey Nets drama boys, if only we could patch up the difference, this will be a New Jersey good season. They are running, switching in defense, rebounding see those efforts. We don't have yet the Nets team down.

I which I could see some Nets games live. I was looking for tickets all the good seats on ticketmaster were taken I had to check broker. And man you donít want to do that especially for the New Jersey Nets. Thanks god there sites like Ticketwood which work as comparators here is the site
Nets Tickets
http://www.ticketwood.com/nba/NewJersey-Nets-Tickets.php.

I like slam dunks that take me to the hoop my favorite play is the ally-hoop,
I like the pic n roll,i like the given goal its basketball yo, yo lets go!
Go Nets Go!!!

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