It turns out distance doesn’t mean much at all. You would think if two things we’re close together, they would be similar. Think about it. People, for instance. Ones that live in the Southern part of the United States all share distinct similarities, as do people that live in the Northern part of the United States.
But as it turns out, distance means nothing. Or maybe, to these dynamic pair, it doesn’t.
That’s because the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are separated by a mere 64 miles and live in two different worlds, likewise they also have appeared to be headed in two different directions.
One University has emphasized the motto of ‘playing for the name of the front’ with a slogan painted on every corner around their campus. One – at least as indicated by their play – has played for the name on the back of their jersey. I think you’ll be able to quickly decipher which of the pair is which. Both have had plenty of success. One has been to two straight final fours and won a National Championship. The other has also had a National Championship and lays claim to every five-star recruit that plays College Basketball.
It’s been a fun ride the last couple years. This rivalry has reached this great height for multiple reasons but the most important has been the Championships. The College Basketball National Championship trophy hasn’t left the state of Kentucky in over two years. This rivalry has always meant something to those in the Bluegrass State, but now it’s implications spur a National audience. Nothing in College Basketball can compare, North Carolina and Duke are fun but they’re not this. Kentucky and Louisville have used two completely different approaches to reach success.
The striking differences between the two programs is apparent when evaluating the two Head Coaches. There is no love lost between Rick Pitino and John Calipari, and the two have made that apparent with subtle jabs between each other from time-to-time. The only similarity between the pair is that they’ve needed each other. Both have provided a spark and motivated the other to win that much more. One arguably wouldn’t be coaching anymore without that spark.
“Rick [Pitino] has pushed me,” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said with a rye smile. “What he was doing at Louisville inspired us and me here. We better work. We better get after this.”
That’s probably the sole entity that Rick Pitino and John Calipari would find common ground on.
Other than that, they’ve chosen two entirely different paths.
They recruit differently.
Rick Pitino prefers to go after the player that best fits his team personnel. The player that may not be the most polished of the bunch but fits his run-and-gun system like the Sun on a Summer’s day. The player that is less about ‘I’ but more about ‘US’. The ‘Team First’ approach. It’s about winning Championships and helping build character in the process.
“First we look for athleticism because we run and press a lot. The second is no ego. Ego to me is edging greatness out. The recruit thinks they’ve arrived and they don’t have to put in the extra work. Ego is a killer of potential,” The Head Coach explained. “I look for a guy with balance, that doesn’t think they have arrived. It is different from having confidence. Confidence comes from putting in the work. You’re confident because you put in the work but you don’t think you have arrived.”
Gorgui Dieng, who now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA, is a prime example of that. A raw individual but one who embodied the essence of the humility. Rick Pitino has a way of taking that type of player and making him a college basketball superstar.
John Calipari opts for an entirely different route. Have an ego? That’s fine, we’ll work to blend that together. But Calipari prefers the most talented player of the bunch. The one that every other school is desperately trying to get in the door with ; that’s the guy that Calipari wants. He calls it a ‘player first’ approach. He views College Basketball a bit different than others. Maybe it’s get to the next level first, than win a championship second? His style is loved by those that lay claim to Big Blue Nation, but loathed by others who say the one and done approach is ruining College Basketball.
“I marvel at what John does,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I couldn’t do it. I can’t say hello and goodbye in seven months. It’s just not me. I love getting to know Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. I feel like they’re my children, part of their life. Not that [Calipari] doesn’t feel that way about his kids. I could never do it because I just emotionally get too attached to these guys.’’
But Calipari will never apologize for getting the best players in the Country. After all, why should he? He’s simply doing what the system allows him to do. As for whether it works? We have two contrasting examples of that. One season ended in a National Championship, the other ended with nothing but a #1 recruiting class and a NIT 1 st Round loss.
In a gambling sense, Rick Pitino would prefer poker, Calipari a game of high-stakes roulette .
Of course the differences between the two Head Coaches are only tipping the surface when seeking out the differences between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
The Universities themselves have a incongruousness about them that would fit the billow of the Grand Canyon.
One sits in the cultural & economic epicenter of the State of Kentucky. A University that is as urban & diverse in culture as it is in its city. A University that – although it has broken away from in some essences – is known as a ‘Commutator’ school.
The other University, by comparison, sets in a rural part of Kentucky. Consequently, one that tends to attract students from rural parts of Kentucky. Horse farms, not the ‘big city’ life is it’s approach. By a large margin, it encompasses groups of people that come from a different way of life than those at the other.
The differences between the two schools couldn’t be much wider than it already is. But maybe that’s what makes this rivalry so special – it’s diversity. After all, I’ve always been told that opposites attract.
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