Why Calipari is going global

Luke Winn had a short article in this week’s Sports Illustrated examining Calipari’s recent foray into national basketball.

He complimented Calipari’s ability to always be ahead of the curve, the benefit of having the Dominican team training in the Joe Craft Center, and the already existent Dominican ties for UK in Eloy Vargas and assistant coach Orlando Antigua.

Another one that has been talked about some, but maybe not enough:

While his rival at Louisville, Rick Pitino, backed out of a plan to coach Puerto Rico, Calipari could become a hero if he leads the Caribbean nation to its first Olympics—a feat that would ensure the next wave of Dominican prospects takes a hard look at Kentucky. Once again, advantage Wildcats.

Very true. And while Calipari already has one native on his squad, Vargas isn’t the elite of the Dominican basketball youth — current NBA players Al Horford, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia all play for the national team.

To add my own thoughts: Training in Lexington lessens, although does not erase, the time commitment factor for Calipari. It gives Vargas an opportunity to improve (he’s been invited to the first session, the non-veterans, who are trying to make the team. Not sure of exact numbers right now). Perhaps he learns a little Spanish along the way.

It also gives Calipari a chance to improve as a coach. He’s said it before, and it seemed like a dismissive notion that a coach who has taken three programs to a Final Four could benefit from coaching a team in qualifying tournaments. But after talking to two national team coaches about how exposure to international styles of play can benefit both players and coaches (and consequently teams as a whole), I think it will help Calipari somewhat. Two of his players have played extensively against international competition (Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague), and another actually does play internationally (Kyle Wiltjer, who played for Team Canada). Educating himself in some of the principles and styles of international basketball can only help.

Could there be drawbacks? Sure. If the Dominican Republic doesn’t qualify for the Olympics, as they have done in every attempt in their history, well — I’m not sure what, if any, negative press comes out of that. It certainly wouldn’t be positive, but other coaches who were at the very least recognizable have taken on similar jobs and not fully succeeded. Calipari’s legacy certainly isn’t at stake. It’s also no guarantee that Vargas earns himself a spot on the roster, which could be an awkward situation. And it will take up some time.

Ultimately, it’s another sign of refusing to stay content, but rather striving to progress in some facet or another.