John Calipari's postgame interview with CBS Sports sideline reporter Evan Washburn Screen Grab: CBS

John Calipari and accountability go together like water and oil.

Following a shocking first-round defeat in the 2024 NCAA Tournament to a 14-seed, the University of Kentucky’s head coach deflected blame for the Wildcats’ exit at the hands of Oakland University. Notably, Oakland had never advanced past the opening round before this historic upset. While acknowledging the team’s youth, the legendary coach seemed to place most of the responsibility on the players’ shoulders.

Despite boasting one of Calipari’s most gifted and energetic squads, Kentucky wasn’t without its stumbles. A road blowout to South Carolina by 16 points and consecutive home losses to Florida and Tennessee were stumbles during their season. However, Calipari managed to course-correct, guiding the Wildcats to a coveted 3-seed in the tournament. This strong finish fueled expectations – many saw them cruising past the first round and even making a deep run in March Madness.

They did no such thing.

“You know, what I hate is this team that really worked and did some good stuff,” Calipari told CBS’s Evan Washburn, “we didn’t play great; they did. They made some unbelievable shots…But they shouldn’t be — our team and our season — defined by that game, but it will be. This is the profession we’ve chosen. We had some guys that didn’t play the way they had been playing all year. We did everything we could. We knew the zone would be tough, but we missed shots we don’t miss.

“And, the preparation, I thought they were in a great (place) — trying to keep them loose. But when the game started, you had some guys not play to the level they could play.”

Washburn carefully crafted his next question. The CBS sideline reporter asked Calipari how a loss to a 14-seed would affect him. He acknowledged that it was not about him but wondered how he would handle it given his years of experience.

“I told them after, ‘This one is painful,’ and the reason is, there are other times you lose a game, and you know your team is what it is,” explained Calipari. “But this team, I really felt, was built for this moment. Even though we were young, I knew that could catch us. But we had our chances. We threw the ball away and took a bad shot. There were things that happened, and then we give up a corner 3 the last play. But you gotta give Oakland credit. They made unbelievable shots at the buzzer. They deserved to win the game. I hate to say that we didn’t, but we didn’t.

It’s notable that Calipari’s initial comments blamed the players, especially considering his team’s supposed meticulous preparation for the game, as touted by him in his interview with Washburn. This “we were young” excuse rings hollow in light of his program’s one-and-done philosophy, especially when Calipari’s program structure itself seems to create the very situation he uses as an excuse for such losses.

Perhaps a deeper look at his coaching, recruiting and preparation strategies is warranted. While the players certainly missed key shots, that’s part of the tournament’s unpredictability. The onus falls on Calipari to navigate these challenges, not assign blame to the very team he’s tasked with leading.

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About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.