For two months everything he touched had turned to Big Blue gold. Now in one NCAA allegation letter the honeymoon ends for John Calipari and the hand wringing begins.
The charge from the NCAA is a monster – a fishy SAT score of a redacted player (Derrick Rose, according to a source).
Then there's a redacted relative of a redacted player (Reggie Rose, Derrick's brother, according to a source) getting away with some free travel (on the team charter, according to a source) which means Calipari's second Final Four banner at a second school could be coming down.
And, of course, the skepticism continues.
All these years and those wins and Calipari couldn't land a plum job because everyone figured a cloud would follow him from Memphis the way it once did from Amherst. Then Kentucky got tired enough of not winning enough, gave the guy their Cadillac job and in two months he transformed an NIT team into a national title contender.
Everyone in blue thought for his next trick he'd walk across the Cumberland River.
Now Kentucky has its dream coach and its worst nightmare all at the same time. They can wash away their frustrations of defending what did or didn't happen back in Memphis with visions of clipped nets in the springs to come. That's what the Memphis fans used to do too.
Calipari's defense centers on the fact his name isn't in the NCAA letter. Kentucky even says there's a letter from the NCAA assuring him he's not at risk of being charged with any violations.
It's bolstered by the fact Kentucky knew about these allegations and, according to athletic director Mitch Barnhart, the school discussed everything about Calipari with David Price, the NCAA's director of enforcement and the man who sent Memphis the allegation letter.
According to Barnhart, Price gave Calipari a clean bill of compliance.
Then there's Memphis, who despite the allegations would've let Calipari move into Graceland if he'd have stayed and coached the Tigers. They might have been desperate, but they also didn't seem worried about this. The only person at Memphis accused in the report of paying players is (go figure) the women's golf coach.
This is all nice and true but it's also completely in line with the long history of NCAA infraction cases where the head coach never knows what's going on. The blame almost always falls on one of three people 1.) a greedy player, 2.) a rogue booster or 3.) a bumbling assistant.
The head coach is always innocent.
In this case, it's the redacted Rose, the likeable NBA Rookie of the Year, who gets the heat. In the NCAA letter, first reported by Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, they go so far as decry his deportment in a sentence that can only be described as pure unintentional comedy:
"[Rose] failed to deport himself in accordance with the high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with … intercollegiate athletics," the letter reads.
High standards of what? In college sports?
You know, Derrick Rose has always come across as a nice, quiet, hard-working guy. He was that way when he was a Chicago Simeon High star and he's that way now that he's a Chicago Bulls star. Maybe it's the NCAA's supposed "high standards of honesty" that are the issue, not Derrick Rose.
Rose was a lottery pick stuck in David Stern's basketball purgatory – forced to go to college for a season. He was worth millions and while the NCAA plays pretend that these star freshman are amateurs, students or both, the truth is their rules can't stop the wheels of capitalism.
Every top player like Rose, should he so choose, can turn to any number of hovering professional sports agents for anything he needs.
Even a high enough test score (Rose denies in the letter any wrongdoing).
It might have been Memphis, an obvious beneficiary of his eligibility, which did it. It also might have been someone who wanted to curry favor with him and his family so that after he did his six months at college, he might sign with them. Rose might not have even known about what the NCAA richly describes as "fraudulence and misconduct."
Rose probably didn't do it himself, because if you're capable of figuring out how to fix the SAT you probably don't have to.
All we know is after a couple tries, according to a source, Rose wound up with a score in the mid-700s, high enough to be eligible. Since his result wasn't too high, it wasn't flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Then a month after the 2008 Final Four season, after he'd declared for the NBA, the NCAA ruled him retroactively ineligible and the case was on.
It even spread to the Memphis team charter, which Reggie Rose often flew on to games and most of the time paid a corresponding fare for, which would make it NCAA legal. He didn't pay all the time though and that will be an allegation that sticks. No doubt some staffer will take the hit.
What really happened with Derrick Rose's third SAT score, whose handwriting is on the test form (a forensic expert has already tested it) and what and when John Calipari knew about it now becomes the whodunit of Kentucky. (Previous whodunit: what is Rick Pitino being extorted about?).
For everyone else the details don't matter.
Calipari might be cleared (or never charged) but he was cleared and never charged with the Marcus Camby situation at Massachusetts. Eventually there are too many cleared and never charged to remember.
He'll survive because head coaches always survive; especially when they have a killer team for next season.
But perception is reality as Cal likes to say. And the reality is that after two months of glorious, worshipful sunshine, it just got really cloudy in Lexington.