Self vs. Calipari almost as big as Kansas vs. Kentucky
If you've watched Kansas play Kentucky even just once in the past 10 years, you know the game means a little more than a regular game.
Whether you're talking about the media hype leading up to tipoff, the craziness the game brings out in fans from both sides or just the incredible number of elite athletes and future pros on the floor, these KU-UK showdowns feature pretty much everything that's right about college basketball.
That extends to the sideline, where the coaching staffs at both schools are among the most accomplished and talented in the history of the game.
Bill Self and John Calipari are both in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Both have national title rings and both represent the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting.
The rivalry, between both the schools and the coaches, will be renewed at approximately 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at United Center Chicago, where the two programs will square off for the third time in the history of the early-season showcase. Kentucky has won both of the previous meetings (2011 and 2014) and owns an all-time edge of 22-8 in head-to-head matchups with Kansas.
Because of those factors, and the fact that the game means so much to so many people, it's not uncommon for Self and Calipari to get a little crazy during these contests. Add that to the list of what's right in college basketball.
In seven meetings against each other — six for Self at Kansas and one at Illinois — Calipari owns a 4-3 advantage against Self.
All three of Self's victories against Calipari have come at Kansas, with the Jayhawks winning in each of the past two seasons and also in the 2008 national title game over Calipari's Memphis team.
Calipari's four victories over Self include one with Memphis against Self's last Illinois squad during the 2002-03 season, two with the Wildcats during the 2011-12 season (including Calipari's lone national title in 2012) and a 32-point drubbing over Kansas in the 2014 Champions Classic.
So after all these epic matchups with one another, what is the relationship like between these two blue blood bosses?
Self explained it a little on Sunday.
“There's absolutely zero ill feelings,” he said. “I certainly respect the amazing job he and his staff have done, not only at Kentucky but also at Memphis and then at UMass, as well. He's done an unbelievable job, been fabulous.”
Though the two coaches took slightly different paths to reach their spot at the top of the college basketball mountain, they both started in the same place — as graduate assistants at Kansas under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
“We're somewhat connected,” Self conceded, “because we both got our start at KU. Our paths never crossed there, but I certainly have a lot of respect for everything they've done and accomplished. How could you not? I can't speak for him, but I'd say the feeling is mutual.”
Although the two elite coaches, who both serve on the board of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, figure to share a few laughs, a couple of handshakes and maybe even an icy glare or two as Tuesday's matchup unfolds, their spot on the sidelines is hardly the most competitive environment in which these two coaches find themselves operating.
Year after year, blue-chip prospect after blue-chip prospect, many of the top players in each recruiting class have Kansas and Kentucky on their shortlists. Though the two programs often are looking for different traits in their players, staples such as athleticism, speed, explosiveness and elite skill lead Calipari and Self to a lot of the same gyms and living rooms to watch and recruit a lot of the same players.
Though the scoreboard in that realm is about 50-50, like it is on the floor, Self admits that the two are equally as competitive in recruiting as they are when their teams hook up on the hardwood.
“There's absolutely no ill will or hard feelings,” Self said. “But there is something very competitive when you get Kentucky and Kansas together and, of course, if that's the case, then you'd probably think the coaches are pretty competitive, too, because we do recruit against each other quite often.”