I was on the floor of Madison Square Garden for the 2010 NBA draft. To my right was a table of Kentucky players and Wildcats coach John Calipari.
Kentucky players were selected with two of the first five picks and five of the first 29. Calipari celebrated each pick with much more joy than he celebrates victories in Lexington. You could even see him shaking his head when, with the fifth pick, the Timberwolves selected Syracuse’s Wes Johnson over Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins.
Johnson is now a reserve. Cousins is a star.
Whether Calipari has a good heart, or he recognizes a good marketing opportunity, or both, he has made the new reality of college basketball work in his favor. He recruits top athletes, telling them that he will help them quickly move on to the NBA.
He wins games, and he keeps his promises.
But Calipari, contrary to rumor, does not possess the power of eminent domain in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Calipari has won exactly one NCAA title — the same number as Gary Williams at Maryland and Kevin Ollie at Connecticut.
Calipari has won exactly one NCAA title at Kentucky — the same number as the frequently ridiculed Tubby Smith.
Calipari’s in-state rival, Rick Pitino of Louisville, has won a national title (in 2013) since Calipari won his (in 2012).
Calipari has coached the Wildcats to an undefeated record through the regular season and conference tournament, and made them prohibitive favorites to win it all this March.
Should Kentucky win the title, Calipari will have made history and, perhaps, proved that a college basketball coach can build a dynasty without relying on the gilded attribute called “experience.”
If Calipari were a businessman, he’d be flipping houses.
That’s to his credit. He’s using the rules to his advantage, which is what all outstanding coaches seek to do.
But what if he doesn’t win with this team, which already has proved it’s the best in college basketball?
Any loss Kentucky suffers this month will be considered a dramatic upset, and will leave Calipari with as many NCAA titles as Jim Harrick at UCLA.
This NCAA tournament will be about Kentucky unless Kentucky loses, and then it will be about the team that beat Kentucky, until someone beats that team.
This is the most important tournament of Calipari’s career. He has much to gain, and much to lose.
Other thoughts on Selection Sunday, the Sweet Sixteen, The Elite Eight, March Madness and other alliterative basketball phenomena:
• Two years ago, Tyus Jones won a state title with Apple Valley. Saturday, his brother, freshman Tre Jones, won a state title with Apple Valley. This week, Tyus will begin his quest to take Duke to its first national title since 2010 and second since 2001.
Tyus will do so playing alongside fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor, whom he played against last winter at Apple Valley with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in attendance.
• The state of Iowa sent three teams to the tournament — Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. Former Timberwolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg led Iowa State to the Big 12 Conference championship.
• The Wolves are likely to land one of the top four picks in the draft. Okafor, Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns and Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell are likely targets for the Wolves and any other teams drafting that high.
• Seven Big Ten teams made the tournament, tying the conference with the Big 12 for the most entrants.
• The selection committee favored large markets and power conferences. UCLA, Texas and Indiana were not deserving of bids.
• Wisconsin became a first seed for the first time, and that’s significant. No first seed has ever lost a first-round game. First seeds have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen 88 percent of the time and to the Elite Eight 71 percent of the time.
• My first-guess Final Four: Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Virginia.
• My first-guess championship game result: Kentucky 76, Duke 68.