Louisville assistant bashes John Calipari for NBA Draft ‘photo ops’

John Calipari, Malik Monk, Kentucky Wildcats, NBA Draft (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
John Calipari, Malik Monk, Kentucky Wildcats, NBA Draft (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Louisville assistant coach Nolan Smith had strong words of criticism for Kentucky’s John Calipari. 

The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry cuts a deep line through the state. There aren’t many more heated rivalries in college sports, especially on the basketball front.

For the last 14 years, the men’s rivalry has heavily favored Kentucky due to the recruiting prowess of John Calipari. Few programs have been able to keep pace with Kentucky when it comes to luring four and five-star recruits.

That’s all Calipari. Per Kentucky Insider, 47 of 78 players under Calipari have been drafted to the NBA. No program has a better track record of player development that translates to the next level. Calipari often celebrates the professional success of his players by joining them in the green room on NBA Draft night.

If you ask Louisville assistant coach Nolan Smith, that’s all for show.

Louisville assistant coach Nolan Smith bashes Kentucky’s John Calipari for attending NBA Draft


That’s a rather bold stance about one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history. On a certain level, Smith’s stance is understandable — Coach Cal shouldn’t be showing up uninvited if his players don’t want him there. But… that’s simply not what’s happening.

Of course Calipari engages in some inherent level of recruitment theater. That’s in the job description for every college head coach. Cal shows up to the NBA Draft to support his players, and yes, that does put him on TV screens in front of potential recruits who might think “wow, that guy really cares about his dudes.”

Thing is, Calipari does genuinely care about his dudes. He’s regularly in attendance at NBA games to support the likes of Tyrese Maxey. He hung out with DeMarcus Cousins at Anthony Davis’ wedding. Devin Booker said Calipari taught him ‘how to be a pro.’

Even if elements of Calipari’s off-court actions are tactical, it’s hard to find a college coach with a stronger relationship to his pros than Kentucky’s head man. If it wasn’t genuine, players simply wouldn’t have him around. He wouldn’t be at games, he definitely wouldn’t be at weddings.

Calipari probably doesn’t get into the green room without a player invite. He’s also not the only head coach to appear in the NBA Draft green room. It takes a very brief Google foray to find photos of Tom Izzo and Draymond Green supporting Michigan State alums Adreian Payne and Gary Harris in the green room a few years back. Cal isn’t writing the book on this.

Smith’s line of criticism here feels very much tactical in its own right. It’s a blatant shot at Louisville’s primary in-state recruiting rival — an attempt to diminish Calipari’s reputation in the eyes of recruits by making him seem solely motivated by self-interest.

Well, breaking news: every college coach is an employee of a larger power motivated by self-interest. Nolan Smith appears to be playing the same game as Calipari.

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