INDIANAPOLIS — John Calipari has been dealing with detractors for years.
They call him the embodiment of everything that’s wrong in the one-and-done world of college basketball. He’s a crook who landed two programs on probation, a snake-oil salesman who only won a national title because he was able to sell Kentucky to some top prospects.
Perhaps that perception has finally started to change.
After molding a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans into a 38-0 juggernaut that’s two wins shy of another title, Calipari was voted AP coach of the year Friday.
He received 40 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Tony Bennett of Virginia was runner-up with nine votes, and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey got five.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky was honored as the AP player of the year.
“I know this, I’m the same guy I’ve always been,” Calipari said, when asked whether opinions of him — particularly those in the media — have softened over the years. “Well, not really. A lot of things change as you get older. My heart’s the same. Hopefully I’ve matured and grown up a little bit. That’s questionable also, I hear.”
Speaking of growing up, Kaminsky has done that the past couple of years. After averaging 10 minutes as a sophomore, then having a breakout junior campaign, Kaminsky took another step forward in guiding the Badgers back to the Final Four.
The senior landed 58 first-place votes. Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor received five, and Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky and Jerian Grant of Notre Dame each received one.
“I thought about it a little bit,” Kaminsky said of winning the award. “Obviously, wasn’t one of my main priorities. Getting back to the Final Four was it. But being here and being honored by the AP is awesome. I’m grateful a lot of guys think of me in that manner.”
It’s hardly surprising that Kaminsky was such an overwhelming pick. Besides being a dominant inside-outside threat, the fuzzy 7-footer also has wicked sense of humor. He’s become one of the ringleaders on the fun-loving Badgers, his effervescent personality endearing himself to coaches, players and fans alike.
“I saw him out in the hallway,” said Calipari, whose team plays Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday night. “I said, ‘Look, I’m so tired of looking at your tape right now.’ ”
Probably about as tired as many folks are of seeing Calipari this time of year.
He began making a habit of the NCAA tournament with UMass in the late 1980s and early ’90s, leading the Minutemen to the Final Four. After a failed stint in the NBA, Calipari returned to the college game — and winning — with Memphis in 2000.
But like his first Final Four appearance, another trip with the Tigers in 2008 was vacated by the NCAA. Calipari’s reputation was sullied, even though both transgressions were not entirely his fault: UMass star Marcus Camby was ruled ineligible for contact with an agent, and allegations of academic fraud unrelated to the university brought down Memphis.
“I always say this, the reason I’m not worried about now and how I’m evaluated, legacy — it doesn’t matter,” Calipari said. “Fifty years from now when we’re all gone, people will look back without emotion and say, ‘What has he done? What did he do for people? What did he do for the universities?’ Not just me, but all coaches. Your legacy is, ‘How did he benefit these people?’ ”