Calipari is basketball's showman

Calipari is basketball's showman


Kentucky head coach John Calipari is the ultimate showman. Tribune News Service

Steven Cole

Barnum, renowned for his American Museum, was a master of humbug. He promoted and marketed his museum in every way like no other. For example, Barnum exhibited Joice Heth, marketing her as the 161-year-old nurse to George Washington. No one lives to be 161-years-old; however, people came to the American Museum to see this exhibit. In playing on people’s naivety, Barnum operated in the inherent space between trickster, where he made a profit by deceiving people, and moralizer, in that he was morally right and correct in capitalizing on people’s naivety in a 
democratic society.

In the Barnum tradition, Calipari is the ultimate showman. Following first season in Lexington, where the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight, Calipari made the comment that having five players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft was “the best moment in Kentucky basketball history.” For a program that has won eight national championships, to many this comment came across a hyperbole.

While it may have been hyperbolic, it was a selling point. Since that season, Calipari has branded his program as a “players first,” where players with NBA aspirations come to develop their game in order to prepare for the next level.

Where Barnum exhibited Heth, Calipari has sold recruits on the idea that his program is the only one that will get you to the next level. Now, recruits believe they need to go to Kentucky in order to cultivate the skills necessary for the next level. That is the national perception.

However, Kentucky is not the only place where high-level recruits can develop their talent in a year. This is evident by Duke’s recent success with one-and-done talent. In the past three years, Duke has had their share of players declare for the draft after developing their talent in Durham for year. Yet few recruits see Duke as the place to enhance and enrich their talent in only one year. In this light, Calipari, like Barnum, is a master showman.