- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John Calipari and the University of Kentucky basketball program are in the throes of a deep and passionate romance.

All that is left is the walk down the aisle and the popping of flashbulbs to record this revealing moment in college basketball history.

Perhaps there is a certain symmetry to the union given the unsettling pasts of both parties. Kentucky basketball is sensitive to its connection to Adolph Rupp and its scandalous periods of yesteryear.

Calipari led UMass to the Final Four in 1996 - only it did not really happen because of Marcus Camby’s financial arrangement with an agent. The appearance was vacated, and soon Calipari took up residence in the New Jersey wastelands, where he called one reporter a “[bleeping] Mexican idiot” before washing out as an NBA coach.

Calipari also is best friends with William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley, who has a habit of ingratiating himself with precocious teens and steering them to Memphis. This obviously is done out of the kindness of his heart. “Worldwide Wes” would be building homes with Jimmy Carter if he were not in the business of being a role model to teens who happen to be blue-chip basketball players.

The Calipari-Kentucky coupling is one of the two hard news stories going into the Final Four in Detroit this weekend. The other is UConn, which is dealing with its version of “Worldwide Wes.”

Not that the supporters of both programs should be overly concerned.

If UConn keeps up the shenanigans, the NCAA just might punish Quinnipiac.

The NCAA can absorb the bad press at the Final Four so long as the games are fraught with excitement and the cheerleaders of the losing teams cry on cue. If a dead player at Baylor could not rock the college game’s foundation, a “Worldwide Wes” or two is the equivalent of a gnat. And the NCAA long ago gave up the pretense of student-athletes despite the quaint deployment of the term by the press room monitors.

“You may now ask questions of the student-athletes,” the monitor says while holding back the gag reflex.

The use of the word “mercenaries” probably would be impolite, though more accurate.

Predictably enough, Calipari’s players at Memphis have had a number of brushes with the law, at least one hard to figure.

A Memphis player was charged with soliciting a prostitute in 2005.

You just assumed the nation’s high-profile programs provided women to the players. Or maybe that perk is limited to recruits.

Calipari talks a good game. Give him that.

He waxed poetic on what his team’s appearance in the Final Four meant to the downtrodden citizens of Memphis last season.

It lifted the spirits of so many who have it so tough, he said. He did not trot out any survey numbers to bolster this position, but it had its intended effect.

It was Calipari as St. John, descending from the clouds and blessing the unwashed multitudes looking up to him.

Kentucky president Lee Todd undoubtedly has an obligation to restore the Wildcats to national prominence. It is important to the university’s coffers and the office of the admissions director. The appeal to Calipari reveals the importance, if not the desperation.

Calipari is the Jerry Tarkanian of his generation, only with better threads and a full head of slick hair.

The comparison is not entirely fair to Tarkanian in one sense. At least Tarkanian had the backbone to call out the NCAA on its hypocrisy every other day.

Questionable stuff happens around Calipari, and he is always the last to know. What? Huh? Really?

Yet Calipari will win at Kentucky, with the help of “Worldwide Wes,” of course. There will be costs, presumably weighed by the president before extending the offer.

Those costs beat a trip to the NIT.

That thinking reflects the 16,000 strong on Facebook, exhorting Calipari to make the move to Lexington.

How could he say no to Facebook?

Pass the hankie.

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