The timing is odd, now that college basketball is back in its 11-month cocoon — for casual fans, at least — before re-emerging next March.
But ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” documentary, “One and Not Done,” which premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, is worth a look for those interested in what makes Kentucky coach John Calipari tick.
Not that director Jonathan Hock ever fully gets to the bottom of that, if it is answerable at all.
Calipari seems destined forever to be a polarizing figure who either is a coaching and recruiting genius or a symbol of all that is wrong with college sports. Or both.
But Hock gives it the old college try over two hours, interviewing an array of Calipari’s former players, from Marcus Camby to Derrick Rose to Anthony Davis, and more.
The overall tone mostly is sympathetic as we follow Calipari through his various stops, and various NCAA sanctions, but the film certainly does not ignore critics of Cal’s approach to life and to coaching.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the audience at a recent screening there gave the film a 30-second ovation when it was over. Then Calipari and his wife, Ellen, came onstage.
“That was really hard for me to watch,” Calipari said. “I didn’t think I was that bad.”
Hock wrote in a “director’s take” on the “30 for 30” website:
“The problem of John Calipari is the problem of college sports. Why should the person who is one of the best in his generation at what he does — a national champion and a Hall of Famer — make so many people angry? How come all his players love him, while so many others hate him? And why would the person who prepares more people for successful careers in their chosen field make people question the very enterprise of college basketball?
“The answer is as complicated as the man himself. But here’s what’s not the problem with John Calipari: You never have to wonder what he is thinking or feeling, and if you give him trust and openness, you’ll get nothing but the same in return. He’s funny, moody, generous, spiteful . . . In short, he is exceedingly human.
“If you already love Coach Cal or hate him, seeing the man presented raw and in full may not change your mind one way or the other. But my goal with this film was to present as complete and honest a portrait of a human being as I could — one who looks in the mirror every day and doesn’t see the millionaire coach looking back at him, but the faces of the immigrant coal miners and laborers who lived and died in poverty to give him a fighting chance to make it.
“The American Dream is beautiful, but ambition can be ugly. John Calipari doesn’t see a contradiction in that.”