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April 3, 2014

The Final Four Calipari faces skeptics with grins, wins

John Calipari waited until the question was asked, but he quickly wanted to set the record straight about his abilities as a recruiter.

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” he said. “When I was at (Massachusetts eight seasons,) we had one McDonald’s All-American, Donte Bright. When I was at Memphis, we may have had three over my (nine) years. We weren’t getting top 50 players at UMass. We were winning. We were a terrific team. I had to coach guys four years.”

This is not the first time in this tournament — or during the last five seasons at Kentucky — that Calipari has pointed out he has built programs differently and won.

But the Calipari everyone knows at Kentucky has become synonymous with one-and-done freshmen, five-star recruits who bolt to the NBA after one season.

After winning the NCAA Tournament in 2012 with a cast of freshmen led by Anthony Davis and making the Final Four this season with five starting freshmen, it’s hard to argue his current method doesn’t work.

When No. 8 seed Kentucky meets No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the semifinals Saturday in Arlington, Texas, it will be the third time in four seasons that the Wildcats have reached this elite stage of the season.

Yet there may not be a more polarizing coach in college basketball since Bob Knight roamed the sidelines at Indiana and later Texas Tech.

And Calipari knows he is a lightning rod.

Calipari said this about what he tells recruits: “Every game is the Super Bowl. You’re scrutinized because people are attacking me, so you’re going to get scrutinized because they want to come after me. What we’re doing has never been done. You can’t do this. So you’re getting that hit. If you can’t deal with all that, don’t come here.”

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