Louisville vs. Kentucky, by far the more compelling game in this year's Final Four, tips off at just after 6:00 p.m. this evening. There are a few reasons why this game has more going for it than Ohio State vs. Kansas (including not being Ohio State vs. Kansas), but none more interesting than the in-state rivalry and the coaches who serve as the faces for that rivalry.
Rick Pitino and John Calipari have been running parallel races for years and somewhere along the way they started hating each other. According to Pitino, the story begins when he first met (and befriended) Calipari as a camp counselor.
"When John Calipari was a 17-year-old, 16-year-old at the Five Star camp, I knew him really well as a camper," Pitino said. "Then when he became a counselor from Clarion State I believe, I knew him really well and thought really highly of him as a young teacher in the game."
Pitino would later play a major role in bringing Calipari in as the head coach of UMass. Pitino was an alum and served on the committee responsible for choosing Calipari to lead the Minutemen. He then sweetened the pot with a $5,000 donation to his alma mater.
It is that last little tidbit that seems to have turned into a stick in Calipari's ass. To hear others—like Seth Davis—tell it, Calipari bristles at the notion that he owes his career to Pitino and resents Pitino for telling the story. Most would feel the same way, to an extent, as it downplays Calipari's own achievements while playing up the big brother-little brother dynamic.
Pitino, the consummate shit-stirrer, likely knows this and is not without fault here. It's easy to imagine the pleasure derived from constantly tweaking a would be-protege turned challenger. That he could possibly upset the now more powerful and heavily favored "little brother" must delight him to no end.
Tonight the two meet for a chance to play for the National Championship as leaders of one of the more intense rivalries in college sports with Pitino-Calipari dynamic serving as a digestible form of the larger battle. It's Obi-Wan and Vader dueling for the commonwealth of Kentucky.