Skip to content

Tom Izzo: If Kentucky’s players were white, ‘I think it would be different’

Apr 9, 2012, 9:15 AM EDT

AnthonyDavisMichaelKiddGilchrist

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answered bluntly when William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asked him if race played a factor the perception of highly talented, predominantly black college basketball teams. By extension, that would include national champion Kentucky.

“I want to answer that as honestly as I can,” Izzo said. “I think it would be different. I hate to say that. It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”

After winning a national title at Kentucky, John Calipari has five players, including national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, on track to enter the NBA draft, shed their amateur status, and begin to make money off of their talents as a professional.

For all the criticism that Calipari has faced in his tenure as a college coach, it is undeniable, especially at Kentucky, that he has helped players launch lucrative basketball careers, a path which gives them an opportunity to better themselves and create financial stability for themselves and their families.

One of the attributes that makes Calipari so successful at the college level, aside from the sincere caring he has for his players and their futures (which any coach worth his salt should have, anyway) is the recognition of one fact:

Not every career is made in a classroom.

For high-major players, many of whom come from humble beginnings in working class households, college is an apprenticeship program, a stop along the way to a professional career (and a highly beneficial one, at that).

Why can’t the college experience be viewed that way?

Cramming a star athlete into a science laboratory and forcing him to play with pipettes and flasks for four years can do just as much good as forcing a future technological entrepreneur, someone with the potential of Steve Jobs or Bills Gates, to study geology without end.

There is no negative connotation here, no implication that athletes somehow possess less intelligence than any other college student, as the NCAA’s ‘dumb jocks’ campaign so counterproductively planted into the minds of fans.

The argument is about harnessing the type of intelligence that a certain student has and helping that person utilize it to make a living. While others may succeed with a calculator or paintbrush, Anthony Davis is one of the most kinesthetically intelligent students in the country.

And believe me, he is on track to make a lot more money off of that intelligence than most. With good financial planning, he could be set for life.

If there were colleges and universities that prided themselves on churning out star artists and business professionals after one or two years, leading them into high-paying jobs and giving them opportunities to succeed, would we have the same outrage as we see with these Kentucky underclassmen possibly entering the NBA draft?

For the players at the very top like these players in Calipari’s program, they have an economic opportunity that has not been afforded to many others in the general population.

It makes for great debate to take the intellectual “high road” and say that players should stay four years, graduate with a degree, and have a fall-back plan.

But the reality of the situation is this, and any business professional (regarded so highly it seems, in comparison to athletes) will tell you: When the difference between staying in school and going pro is a decision between zero-income amateur status and multi-million dollar professional and sponsorship contracts, there comes a point where it is imprudent not to go pro.

For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.

As Rhoden of the Times writes so eloquently in metaphor about the jump to the NBA for players from low-income backgrounds:

“But when you are being pursued by the poverty hounds and see a fence, you jump it and take your chances with whatever is on the other side.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

[Post updated 9 April 2012, 3:03p.m.]

Latest Posts
  1. Iowa State lands Iowa Western CC point guard Donovan Jackson

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT

    Steve Prohm AP

    With Monte’ Morris being a junior and Nick Noskowiak leaving the program, Iowa State needed a point guard in the 2016 class.

  2. Michigan State caps Italy trip with one-point loss to Georgian national team (VIDEO)

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:41 PM EDT

    Lourawls Nairn Jr. AP

    These games against seasoned competition will help Michigan State in the tough Big Ten this season.

  3. Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije helps Nigeria clinch Olympic berth

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:27 PM EDT

    Michael Gbinije AP

    Gbinije averaged 7.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game at Afrobasket.

  4. Avoiding summer fatigue key for Illinois junior Malcolm Hill

    Aug 30, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT

    Malcolm Hill AP

    Hill led the team in minutes played last season, and it’s been tough to keep him out of the gym this summer despite attempts to get him to spend some time resting.

  5. Stanford getting great production from Reid Travis on overseas trip

    Aug 30, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Reid Travis is looking like a potential go-to scorer for the Cardinal this season after some strong outings in Europe.

  6. Colorado State finds difficulty scheduling good non-conference games

    Aug 30, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    Larry Eustachy AP

    Colorado State is having a rough go of getting great programs to play in their building.

  7. POSTERIZED: Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey dunks on a defender on team’s foreign trip (VIDEO)

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Purdue Northwestern Basketball AP

    Scottie Lindsey put one on a defender during Northwestern’s trip to Spain.

  8. Assistant coach Dwayne ‘Tiny’ Morton leaves Seton Hall staff

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Seton Hall Athletics Seton Hall Athletics

    According to the New York Post, Morton will go back to teaching full-time.

  9. Michigan State falls short against Italian national team (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2015, 9:04 PM EDT

    Tom Izzo, Alvin Ellis III AP

    Michigan State scheduled games against three national teams preparing for next month’s Eurobasket championships (Russia, Italy and Georgia).

  10. European shooting guard not joining Western Kentucky program

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT

    Ray Harper AP

    According to head coach Ray Harper, Kristaps Gluditis was regarded as one of the top shooters in Europe.

  11. French power forward Killian Tillie commits to Gonzaga

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptc5mwmxmje1ngi4y2iwzjgyn2qxyjgxntuxnzu1ndm0 AP

    Tillie is a skilled forward who will have the chance to contribute immediately in 2016-17 due to the eventual losses of Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski (both are seniors this season).

  12. North Carolina’s Theo Pinson calls his shot before draining a deep shot in the Dean Dome (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Virginia Tech v North Carolina Getty Images

    Theo Pinson makes a bold statement and backs it up by burying a tough shot.

  13. Washington loses veteran guard who will not return to the team

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Washington is losing another player as the team only returns two scholarship players from last season.

  14. Michigan’s Spike Albrecht begins shooting jumpers after offseason hip surgery (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Michigan received some positive news as a key member of the 2014-15 season returned to the floor.

  15. Summer mixtape of five-star 2016 guard Seventh Woods (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Seventh Woods still has plenty of highlight plays up his sleeve.

  16. Michigan State falls to Russian National Team 93-75

    Aug 28, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The Spartans are now 1-1 on the trip.

  17. Joey van Zegeren’s three alley-oop dunks in the third quarter highlight Northwestern’s win

    Aug 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    It’s Joey van Zegeren’s first year with the Northwestern program.