A look back: UMass battle cry: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  • UMass coach John Calipari, right, is seen with Marcus Camby during a press conference before a first round 1996 NCAA Tournament game in Providence, R.I., Wednesday, March 13, 1996. UMass advanced to the Final Four where it played Kentucky. Calipari and his players took a perceived lack of respect for UMass as a battle cry throughout the NCAA Tournament. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2020 4:00:20 PM

Editor’s note: With the NCAA Tournament canceled, the Gazette looks back to when UMass made its run to the 1996 Final Four. This story appeared in the Gazette on March 27, 1996.

Tomorrow at 8 p.m., the NCAA Final Four teams — the University of Massachusetts, Kentucky, Syracuse and Mississippi State — will get together at Radio City Music Hall for a glitzy presentation featuring Aretha Franklin. When Franklin starts belting out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” expect UMass coach John Calipari to join in the singing.

Calipari and his players have taken the perceived lack of respect for UMass as a battle cry throughout the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s not a perception,” Calipari said before UMass’ victory over Georgetown last weekend. “Every commentator, every writer, everybody I’ve seen has picked us not to get out of the region. It’s more reality than perception.

“Part of it is we’re still UMass. The respect level is not there. Basically it’s because we haven’t been to the Final Four. We haven’t won a national title.”

Now that the Minutemen have advanced to the sport’s ultimate weekend, the theme continues. The latest piece of evidence is the fact that odds-makers are favoring Kentucky to defeat the Minutemen in Saturday’s national semifinals — this despite the fact that UMass has a better record, a higher ranking and a victory over the Wildcats in the teams’ first meeting in November.

“Until we win the championship, we’re not going to get the respect we deserve,” said point guard Edgar Padilla.

While there is certainly some legitimacy to this claim, it bears noting that the Minutemen are not exactly being dissed all over the country. No team is voted No. 1 by writers for 10 weeks without having a huge amount of respect. Calipari’s National Coach of the Year honor and Marcus Camby’s Player of the Year award do not exactly constitute getting spurned.

Clearly, Calipari recognizes that the “lack of respect” theme can be played to advantage as a motivational tool. It’s been done several times before. This was the great crusade of Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson two years ago when the Razorbacks won the national title.

Before the Georgetown game, for instance, Calipari asked for a show of hands of the assembled media to indicate those who thought the Minutemen would actually beat the Hoyas. He waited approximate a tenth of a second after the question was out of his mouth — not nearly enough time for people to thrust up their hands, and said, “See!”

Kentucky coach Rick Pitino knows the game. Asked Monday about Calipari’s claims of a lack of respect for the Minutemen, Pitino said, “Just tell him that Kentucky is not buying it.”

Of course, Pitino is all too happy to shed the role of favorite that he feels is being thrust upon him.

“We definitely have to make Mississippi State and UMass big favorites,” he said.

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