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Should John Calipari be on the bench? Shaedon Sharpe’s decision could add to the turmoil

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LEXINGTON — John Calipari appears to be getting his wish.

“Please direct your disappointment and anger at me,” Calipari posted on his social media accounts on Saturday, two days after his team’s shock loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. “These kids did all of this for BBN and I wish I could have dragged them to the finish line.”

Even before Calipari’s Facebook and Twitter posts, the vast majority of online fan complaints had been leveled in the direction of the Hall of Fame coach.

The complaints weren’t new, but a dominant two-month stretch midway through the season marked the full return of the super-confident version of Calipari fans have nicknamed “Swaggy Cal.” The press conferences that followed the big wins became justifications for his coaching credentials. A veteran roster built around transfers was supposedly proof that Calipari had not been left behind in a sport that became increasingly reliant on experience in March.

But TyTy Washington’s injuries and Sahvir Wheeler abruptly stopped that momentum, and Saint Peter’s brought the doubts back to the surface.

Kentucky Basketball: After the loss to San Pedro, is John Calipari’s British legacy in jeopardy?

Is the offensive system broken after all? Can Calipari coach a team without the number of elite future NBA professionals who had their first teams in Kentucky? Will the reform of name, image and likeness be the way to greater continuity in the roster as promoted?

“I wish I had an answer or two,” Calipari said after the loss. “I just do.”

John Calipari contract details

UK head coach John Calipari, right, gets frustrated with UK’s Sahvir Wheeler (2) during their NCAA Tournament first round game against Saint Peter’s at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, In. on March 17, 2022. Saint Peter’s won 85-79 in OT.

There has been no shortage of calls from angry fans for Kentucky to make a coaching change since the San Pedro loss, but to be clear, Calipari is in no danger of being fired.

While it’s true that the last Kentucky coach to miss the NCAA Tournament and lose a first-round game in a two-year period was fired, Billy Gillispie also hadn’t previously coached Kentucky to four Final Fours, two national championship and a title. More importantly, under the terms of Calipari’s so-called lifetime contract, Kentucky owes him more than $46 million if it fires him without cause.

The only way Calipari won’t be Kentucky’s coach next season is if he voluntarily opts out of that contract. The idea of ​​the Hall of Famer admitting defeat like that seems even less likely than St. Peter’s surprise on Thursday morning, barring an unexpected vacancy at a school with deep pockets and a motivation to turn heads. .

UK basketball roster: Which Wildcats will return, who will leave after the shocking loss to Saint Peter’s?

Calipari was tied to jobs at UCLA and Texas in recent years, so it’s not impossible that he would leave Kentucky for another college job, but it no longer seems likely that an NBA team would be interested in his services. He is still two years away from the clause in his contract that would allow him to transition into a comfortable ambassadorial role for the university.

“My focus is on these kids and recruiting so that we continue to be a program that has the opportunity to do something special every year,” Calipari tweeted Saturday. “The culture we’ve built on this show expects that and demands it. I love and appreciate our fans.”

How decisions by Shaedon Sharpe and Oscar Tshiebwe will affect John Calipari

It may be impossible for Calipari to bring back all the disgruntled fans before the start of next season, but what happens next this offseason will speak volumes about his approval rating.

Additions to the roster, whether through the transfer portal or reclassification of high school prospects, may move the needle a bit, but the return of National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and much-hyped first-year guard Shaedon Sharpe could be essential steps to save any positivity this summer.

Remember: John Calipari makes the case for Shaedon Sharpe to return to Kentucky basketball

Unfortunately for Calipari, the possibility of either decision going in his favor seems ruled out at best at this point.

After the loss of San Pedro, Tshiebwe said he was unsure of his next move. He planned to talk to Calipari and his family about starting a professional career or moving back to Kentucky.

Tshiebwe is projected as a second-round pick in the 2022 NBA draft if he leaves school, but it’s possible he could move up to the back of the first round. Even if he doesn’t, there’s a strong argument that a return to Kentucky faces more risk than potential reward in terms of his draft actions.

When Tshiebwe announced in February that visa issues preventing him from participating in NIL deals had been resolved, optimism around the show about a possible comeback soared. However, since that announcement, the expected wave of NIL deals has yet to materialize. If there is any lingering concern about how those endorsements would affect Tshiebwe’s student visa status, starting a professional career becomes even more appealing.

March Madness: Kentucky Basketball Guards battle it out in NCAA Tournament upset loss to Saint Peter’s

The more sensible portions of the fan base could excuse Tshiebwe’s departure after his historic season. However, it will be hard to find a significant portion of the Big Blue Nation willing to give Calipari the benefit of the doubt if Sharpe leaves as well.

Sharpe, a former No. 1-ranked prospect in the high school class of 2022, graduated a semester early to enroll at Kentucky with the intention of practicing only this season before playing in 2022-23. After reports surfaced that Sharpe was eligible for the 2022 NBA draft, Calipari and company publicly flirted with the idea of ​​him playing this season only to finally announce that they were sticking to the plan to practice only with the team.

Sharpe’s camp has publicly insisted he still plans to play for Kentucky next season, but NBA draft analysts continue to report that he is expected to start his pro career this summer, projecting him as a possible top-10 pick. Even Calipari has acknowledged that Sharpe is likely to test the waters of the draft to work for teams.

“I think the best thing for him was how we did it,” Calipari said of Sharpe after the San Pedro loss. “Would he have been a good player this year? Yes, he had been pretty good. He would have been pretty good. But he joined us in the middle of the season. Trying to get him to do all the things we were doing was hard.

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“Then it was a point late, maybe we could, we should have it there. We just, you know, together, we choose, hopefully.”

Considering Sharpe plays at the position the current Wildcats collapsed at amid injuries and poor play down the stretch, the fact that Calipari decided not to use a potential top 10 pick in games has already pissed off a lot of fans. If Sharpe leaves without even playing a game in Kentucky, the complaints will only increase.

At that point, just a return to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 might be enough to salvage Calipari’s approval rating.

Until then, Calipari need not worry about discontent directed at anyone but himself.

Email Jon Hale at [email protected]; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.

This article originally appeared on the Louisville Courier Journal: UK Basketball: San Pedro loss prompts calls to fire John Calipari

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