The Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals have scores to settle, and I’m not only talking about the fact that John Calipari has the last win over his buddy (tongue in cheek), Rick Pitino. Rick of Louisville is trying to win his fifth straight postseason game against John of Lexington.
These coaches and teams have beefs with each other. Let’s get to the juicy, real nuts and bolts of what lies beneath the surface.
Let’s start with Marquis Teague, Kentucky’s quickster point guard who could easily have been on the other side of this rivalry. During the recruiting process, Teague was once rumored to be very close to committing to Louisville to play for the same man his father played for at Boston University. That’s right, Teague’s dad played for Pitino, and Marquis picked Calipari over Pitino. The audacity right? When it was time to tutor his youngest, Teague’s dad went with Pitino’s rival. You think that sat well with Pitino?
How about Anthony Davis? Early on in his recruiting process the Cardinals made a pitch for him and they had an interesting angle. Davis’ close friend from Chicago had committed to play for Pitino and the Cardinals worked that angle hard, but to no avail. That close friend’s name: Louisville freshman Wayne Blackshear.
Speaking of Davis, let’s rewind to the 2010 NBA Top 100 Camp. Two months before camp began; Davis was barely on the national radar. On June 21, he stood up in front of camp to accept the award as the event’s most promising prospect. Davis shared the awards spotlight with Chane Behanan, the winner of the MVP award for the camp. Behanan was a late addition turned star and Davis was a late bloomer on the cusp of becoming the best player in the senior class. Together, they provided the storylines for one of the summer’s best showcases.
Behanan comes into play in this rivalry again via a juicy nugget of recruiting lore. It has been said that the night before Behanan was set to make his public affirmation for the Cardinals, Kentucky called to offer him a scholarship. Calipari has been able to close strong late in the recruiting process and sources said that the push for Behanan didn’t sit well with the Cardinals' brass.
However, this recruiting rivalry is bigger than Pitino vs. Calipari, though that subplot is laced with tales of one-upmanships and good, old-fashioned recruiting venom. A different decision by Teague could have altered the rivalry. So could a different decision by Pitino back in 2002.
Rajon Rondo is a Louisville native who left his senior year to play at Oak Hill. It has been said he always wanted to wear the Cardinals red, and he could have. But Pitino had his eyes on someone else. That someone else was Sebastian Telfair. Telfair committed to Louisville, Rondo “blew up” at Oak Hill and Kentucky swept in and took Louisville’s native son and made him the toast of Lexington. Scheduled to “compete” for the starting point guard job with Western Kentucky transfer Patrick Sparks, Rondo fared slightly better in Lexington than Telfair did after committing to Louisville. Telfair declared for the NBA draft out of high school and Rondo went on to play for the Boston Celtics, ironically the team Pitino used to coach in the NBA.
Calipari and Pitino are big personalities at big schools in hotbeds for college basketball. It's inevitable they’re going to run into each other on the recruiting trail. Given their history -- one time friends, now chilly combatants -- the coaches are pawns in a game of high stakes recruiting that plays out in front of rabid fan bases.
Even if they were good buddies -- which they aren’t -- they couldn’t tell anyone. These kinds of rivalries have casualties and their relationship will never be amicable, even though the man in red once brought home glory to Big Blue Nation.