John Wall and John Calipari have seemed to get along famously in Wall's brief stop at Kentucky on his way to becoming the No. 1 overall pick in June. This makes sense: Calipari has always seemed like a players' coach, the kind of guy who prefers to treat his players as peers rather than as inferiors. This strategy no doubt has recruiting value, too. When given the choice between Cal's relaxed style and, say, Frank Martin, who do you think a high school kid is going to choose?
But the strategy isn't always flawless, and sometimes, you need to challenge your players with the authority of a mentor. Sometimes it doesn't work to be friends. Calipari apparently put on the mentor mask with John Wall after South Carolina's upset of the Wildcats last week, and Wall isn't too happy about it:
"I don't know. He said I played awful," says John Wall. "I didn't think I played that bad. I don't know what to expect. He's probably going to say I played bad today too so I don't know. I just try not to listen to him and go out and play basketball and try and help my team win."
I'll make the obvious statement here, because someone has to do it: It's not a good thing when your all-world star point guard tells the media he "tries not to listen to" his coach. This is not, at least in the short-term, what we in the business would call "a positive." Wall also said he wasn't having fun:
"To be honest, I really haven't been having fun for the last two weeks. It's just being frustrated and things like that so, I just got to figure it out before we go further in league play."
Which, to echo Andrew Sharp, seems silly. You're John Wall! Fun is supposed to be easy for you! But here's the other thing: College basketball in late January and early February is not always "fun," at least not for players. It's the slog of the season. Players have been practicing and playing in games for months now. Their legs are tired. Their minds are dulled. What probably seemed like a great time in November -- running out in front of 24,000 people at Rupp Arena, for example -- by now seems like just another day on the job. I get it. It happens.
This is where veteran leadership, or at least a coach willing to press his players, comes in handy. College basketball isn't always fun, and if Wall expected it to be -- if he expected to never be criticized for playing poorly by his coach -- then Wall is (understandably and forgivably) naive, and it's Calipari's job to alleviate that.