John Calipari, head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, reacts after...

John Calipari, head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, reacts after a play against the North Carolina Tar Heels. (March 27, 2011) Credit: Getty Images


To many, he represents all that is wrong with college basketball, and forever will.

But there was no sign of protest Sunday as John Calipari walked off the court, pumping a fist in the direction of adoring fans as the band played "My Old Kentucky Home'' -- in downtown Newark.

It all was part of the understood bargain that universities and their supporters make when they invite Coach Cal: He will win, and win big, but there might be, um, complications.

There was no way not to consider the duality of Calipari after his team defeated North Carolina, 76-69, to win the NCAA East Regional.

On one hand, it made him only the second coach to lead three schools to the Final Four, a feat previously accomplished only by Rick Pitino, with whom he often has been compared.

On the other, his first two trips, with Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, were vacated by the NCAA because of rules violations, although he was not found personally liable in either case.

Then there's this: Calipari made it to the Final Four one year after losing five first-round draft picks -- four freshmen -- by simply reloading with three new freshman stars.

One of them, Brandon Knight, led the Wildcats with 22 points and was the regional's outstanding player, enhancing the likelihood he will be Kentucky's latest one-and-done phenom.

Calipari is as media-savvy as coaches come. So it was interesting when he took a simple question about how the victory would enhance his legacy and answered both philosophically and a tad defensively.

"I hope my legacy as a coach is about what has happened for players,'' he said. "I hope, if anything, it is about what my wife and I have done in the communities where we've worked.

"You know, we will all be judged 50 years from now. The good news is there will be no emotion to it, where someone wants to be nasty and mean. It won't be that. It will be: Here's the facts. Here's what he's done. There it is. Play it out. Do you like it or not?''

Like it or not, he will be talking about such matters again in Houston before facing Connecticut. Journalists no doubt will note the fact that his UConn counterpart, Jim Calhoun, was suspended for three Big East games next season in the wake of recruiting violations.

They'll also point out the contrast between highly paid superstars Calipari and Calhoun and the other coaches, young Shaka Smart of VCU and Brad Stevens of Butler. Then again, Smart and Stevens have as many national titles as Calipari: zero.

That ultimately is what Kentucky coaches are judged on, but for now, fans surely are pleased to have gotten this far.

This Final Four will be the Wildcats' 14th but their first since 1998, a shocking drought.

Calipari was hired to end that. It was a bonus that he did so over another member of college hoops royalty. Kentucky and Carolina now are tied for the most NCAA Tournament victories at 105.

There is no point anymore in doubting Cal as either a recruiter or game coach, and there is no reason to think ill of him for taking advantage of the system by embracing one-year wonders. "We lost five first-round draft picks, and everyone wants to say you can't win with young players,'' he said. "I say if it is experience or talent and I have a choice, I'm taking talent.''

As for how to view the rest of it, that is for each of us who follows the game to consider for ourselves. Like it or not.