Indiana coach Tom Crean, a Calipari friend and confidant, says these "lightning rod issues" obscure an important point about Calipari. "This guy is one of the best coaches in college basketball," he says. "He gets talent to play very hard, and he makes talent better."
Davis played so hard this season that he impressed even Calipari. "A guard playing hard and him playing hard are different things," says the coach. "He's in a mud-wrestling match [with opposing forwards] along with running hard, whereas the guards are just running." On the rare occasions that Davis seemed to slow, Calipari jumped on him. When he saw the big man jogging during a February game against Vanderbilt, Calipari yanked him to the bench and bellowed, "You don't jog this court! If you need a break, come out!"
Likewise Calipari never let up on Teague, another McDonald's All-American who was so hurried and turnover-prone in the early season that "you would have said we're going to have to play somebody else at point," says the coach. Every day in practice he barked at Teague to slow down, run the team and pick better spots for his own shots. To endure the tutoring, "you gotta be tough-skinned," says Teague, who averaged 4.8 assists and 2.5 turnovers in six tournament games. "Everything he's telling you, he's just trying to help."
"One thing about John, he doesn't back down," says Crean. "You don't ever get one over on him, you don't ever trick him. He is so good at dealing with high-level athletes, I don't think high-maintenance affects him. He goes right through that."
CALIPARI SAYS THE SECRET TO GETTING YOUNG, ELITE players to play hard and unselfishly begins during recruiting. He doesn't make promises about playing time or touches, and he walks out of homes if a kid disrespects a parent or grandparent, "because they won't listen to me either," he says.
The key players during this championship campaign include six likely NBA draft picks—Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are projected to go one-two, while Jones, Lamb, senior guard Darius Miller and Teague should also be selected—but they were as unselfish and as cohesive as they were talented. Even Louisville's Pitino, who has a frosty relationship with Calipari, said after losing 69--61 in the semifinal, "I haven't always liked the Kentucky teams, but I really like this team because of their attitude and the way they play. They're a great group of guys."
The Wildcats led the nation in blocked shots (344), field-goal-percentage defense (37.4%) and scoring margin (16.8 points), but the stat Calipari liked to tout most was this: He had seven players who put up 20 points a game in high school, yet none of them averaged more than 9.3 shots this season. And each of the seven was a Wildcats scoring leader in at least one game. The best thing about this group? "These guys really like each other," he says.
In a group that by all accounts was without an alpha male, perhaps the most unselfish of all was Miller, whom freshman guard Sam Malone calls "the nicest guy on the team and one of the most popular people on campus." Miller is the last link to the regime before Calipari arrived, in 2009--10. The spring before Miller, a Maysville, Ky., native, arrived in Lexington to play for then coach Billy Gillispie, the Cats were so far removed from their accustomed dominance that Miller's AAU teammate Shelvin Mack, a Butler signee, cracked, "At least I'm going to a top 20 program!"
Miller came off the bench as a freshman under Gillispie and started 69 of 76 games as a sophomore and junior for Calipari, absorbing a new crop of superstar freshmen every year. ("No college player has played with more NBA players than him," says Calipari of Miller.) This year he adjusted again, moving to a backup role to make room for Kidd-Gilchrist. "I didn't really have a problem with it," says Miller. "Coach said someone had to come off the bench. It happened to be me."