Jim Jackson knows John Calipari quite well. In fact, he played for Calipari in New Jersey in 1997, a time when Calipari was still in his mid-30s.
Calipari didn’t last long in the NBA – he was fired in his third season with the Nets – but Jackson believes Calipari, 56, would have more success in the league today.
“I think maturity-wise and understanding the game, he’ll understand the difference,” Jackson, a Big Ten Network analyst, said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “The game has changed since the early ’90s, okay? Keep in mind, the game has changed. Second, I loved him because at first, when I got traded to Jersey, I was like, ‘What the hell? I’m going from one bad situation from Dallas to a worse situation in Jersey.’ When I got there and got to play with Cal, I had my only two triple doubles with Cal. He let me run the point. He told me one time, ‘Jimmy, I would rather have you take a terrible shot than to pass it over there to somebody that can’t shoot, so shoot the damn ball.’
“So I didn’t have a problem with Cal,” Jackson continued. “I loved him. He let me kind of just do whatever. I just think he’s grown so much as an individual. And once again, the game has changed. If he wants to make the move, I think he’ll be in a better place.”
But how exactly has the game changed in the last two decades?
“Think about it,” Jackson said. “When I came in, you had older guys, veteran players. I came in (the league) in ’92. You didn’t have a lot of (players coming from high school). I was a junior. Shaq was a junior. Alonzo Mourning was a senior. Christian Laettner was a senior in our draft class. Older players. You had older players and more mature players in the league. So what you had was a group of individuals who are a little bit older and a little bit more mature. The game was more physical. When you came in as a young player, you had to really earn your stripes in order to get on the court. Now it’s assumed that young players get on, and the league is younger so you’re getting taught by younger players who are superstars, which is a lot different. So the mindset in the game was different at that time.”
Interestingly enough, Calipari coached Jackson in the NBA and will coach against Jackson’s son, Traevon, in the Final Four. Kentucky (38-0) plays Wisconsin (35-3) on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET.
Jackson believes the Badgers have a chance to win.
“They’re a well-oiled machine,” Jackson said. “I thought the Duke game early in the season kind of set the tone, when Duke was able to come in and take a W at Madison. The Rutgers loss was a little bit different just because Frank (Kaminsky) didn’t play and my son got hurt in that game. But still, it stung a little bit because they thought that was a game they should have won. So with the losses that they’ve had, they’ve learned from. They’ve grown. But this team, guys, I’m going to tell you: They’ve been on a mission, and the mission has been to get back to the Final Four.
“It kind of fell in line,” Jackson continued. “Think about it. They played Oregon last year. They played them this year. They played Arizona last year and played them this year. And now (they) have a third chance to kind of repeat and play a team that played last year during the run. Why not? Why wouldn’t you want to play the best?”
That’s certainly what Calipari has at Kentucky. While many people believe Cal has it easy coaching so many great players, Jackson doesn’t see it that way.
“Let me tell you something,” he said. “It’s just as hard having too much talent trying to figure it out as it is having no talent. He’s done an outstanding job of getting those guys to buy in to playing the right way, so you got to give him kudos for that.”