John Calipari sat on a stage deep behind the raised floor of the Superdome late Monday night and claimed he felt the same at that moment as he did nearly two hours before.
Don’t let him fool you.
He is different. And will be different from here on out.
Calipari solidified his finest coaching job of his long career, guiding perhaps the most talented team he has ever coached to the national title, the eighth in Kentucky history but the first for him.
Three years ago, he had five players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft.
That team only reached the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
That Calipari took six surefire NBA draft picks this season to the NCAA title sounds like it shouldn’t be a surprise.
But to get them to play as unselfishly as they did all season, to get them to consistently defer to teammates like they did all year, says more about the job he did than the signing of any top-rated recruiting class.
The stat that Calipari kept going to throughout Final Four week was that Anthony Davis – the national player of the year and the Final Four’s most outstanding player – and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took only the fourth- and fifth-most shots for the team says a lot.
Those two players would be the best on any other team in the country. Time and again, though, they let their teammates do what they do best, asserting themselves and helping in other ways.
The question is how did he do it?
“None of these guys were promised they would start, how many minutes (they’d play),” Calipari said. “Then you got to recruit them the right way so they know you’re trustworthy. And then they got to trust that you’re doing it for them.
“It’s not about me.”
Monday night’s game wasn’t perfectly coached.
In the second half, when Kentucky started missing shots, Calipari “pulled the reins back a little bit,” not a wise move when you’ve got thoroughbreds that like to run instead of trot.
But the youngsters persevered, standing strong in the final two minutes to hold off Kansas and handing Coach Cal his first national championship.
After the game, he was peppered with questions about finally securing one, about prevailing in the pinnacle of his of profession.
And true to his word, he didn’t change his tune. He wasn’t any different.
“I told my wife I’m glad it’s done,” Calipari said. “Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball and getting these players to be the best that they can be, helping young people, you know, create better lives for themselves and their families and also helping them prepare for life after basketball.”
Here’s where he’s wrong, where things will absolutely change.
Calipari will never again have to answer questions about getting the monkey off his back.
Because Monday night, in the super structure where miracles and great finishes happen, Calipari finished on top.
Yes, Tuesday will be a new and different day indeed.