John Calipari’s name is in the news again.
No, there is no controversy with John Wall, or any of the other Kentucky men’s basketball players for that matter. But he might be following his star point guard to the National Basketball Association to become the coach of the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls recently fired Vinny Del Negro from his two-year stint with the Bulls after the Chicago media reported that he butted heads with Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson.
The guy being talked about as a possibility to replace Del Negro is the former coach for Massachusetts, who put the Minutemen in the Final Four during the 1996 season.
Calipari’s name is intriguing for many reasons. First, he has experience coaching Derrick Rose at Memphis.
Rose helped the Tigers reach the championship game against Kansas, and was the indisputable best player in college basketball during the 2008 season. If he’s not Rose’s top choice to replace Del Negro, he’s certainly one of them.
Then there is the 2010 free agent class. Calipari is one of the best recruiters, period, and he is a big name that almost anyone would be excited to play for.
In addition, he already has connections with this year’s top free agents. He is close friends with LeBron James and has the same agent as Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Publicly, Calipari hasn’t said anything other than the fact that he wants to stay at Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean anything. Coaches go back on their word all the time. UMass is living proof of that when Travis Ford agreed to a contract extension with the Minutemen, then bolted for Oklahoma State soon after.
It’s why Calipari’s own employer doesn’t even believe him.
Kentucky offered Calipari an extension with more money the minute rumors started about his possible departure.
It’s true that college coaches usually fail in the NBA. Calipari left UMass following the 1996 season, which ended as a complete flop when he coached the New Jersey Nets. But that situation was much worse than what the Bulls have right now.
Chicago also tried the college coach experiment before when it hired Tim Floyd out of Iowa State as Phil Jackson’s successor.
It ended terribly, but that was just bad timing as the Bulls dismantled their championship team faster than former general manager Jerry Krause could say “organizations win championships.”
However, things are different with Calipari. He has much more respect in the NBA than he did the first time around, and as long as Chicago gets one of the top free agents available, it will improve no matter who is coaching.
If Calipari becomes the next Bulls coach, who he takes with him becomes just as intriguing. Rod Strickland, who is currently an assistant for the Wildcats, will likely get some sort of position, as he also worked with Calipari at Memphis.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his next option is currently at UMass. Vance Walberg, the current assistant coach for the Minutemen, invented the dribble-drive motion offense, which Calipari popularized.
There are lots of reasons to believe the chances of Walberg following Calipari are next to nothing, but it would make plenty of sense if it did happen.
Although Calipari has never hired Walberg at Memphis or Kentucky, NBA teams hire specialists all the time.
Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau (also a candidate for the Bulls’ coaching job), was an assistant coach at Salem State and Harvard before he received an assistant coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He is now one of the league’s top assistants with an expertise in defense, and will probably get a head coaching job sometime this summer.
Although Walberg is over 50 years old, he didn’t start coaching in college at any level until 2002. His credentials are ideal for UMass as he is there to help coach Derek Kellogg teach the offense, but not necessarily for an NBA job.
However, the offense alone is popular enough for him to at least deserve a shot at being on an NBA bench. Walberg understands that basketball is more about executing one-on-one than set plays, and that’s exactly what the dribble-drive is about.
The offense hasn’t worked so far with the Minutemen in Walberg’s first two years, but that has more to do with them being a young team that has seen its makeup change over the past two years.
With the Bulls, he would be working with a player who knows the offense in Rose and a young team that has experience playing with each other for a while and will only get better.
The last time Chicago had a young player with as much talent as Rose was Michael Jordan. The “Jordan Era” didn’t begin until the Bulls replaced Doug Collins with Phil Jackson.
His assistant, Tex Winter, created the Triangle Offense and helped Jackson teach it to an up and coming squad. If Calipari ends up in Chicago, Walberg could play the exact same role in helping Rose become the next icon in the Windy City under an offense that he created.
Adam Miller is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.