The Calipari Party Begins: Former Memphis head coach signs 8-year deal, former player calls it ‘best hire UK could have’

John Calipari will be UK’s 22nd men’s basketball head coach.

UK Athletics sent an e-mail at 9:41 p.m. on Tuesday, which officially announced the signing of Calipari to an eight-year deal. He will be announced as UK’s head coach during a Wednesday news conference at 9:30 a.m.

Former UK great Tony Delk, who played against Calipari while he was at the University of Massachusetts in the 1996 Final Four, said he attended Calipari’s coaching retreat last year in Tunica, Miss., where he learned more about the coach.

Former Memphis head coach John Calipari signed an eight-year contract to become UK’s 22nd men’s basketball head coach. His salary has not been announced. Photo by Mark Weber | The Commercial Appeal

Former Memphis head coach John Calipari signed an eight-year contract to become UK’s 22nd men’s basketball head coach. His salary has not been announced. Photo by Mark Weber | The Commercial Appeal

“He is the best hire UK could have,” Delk said. “He’s definitely enthusiastic about the game, loves the game and loves to win. He puts the best product on the court, which is something we haven’t had the last four or five years.”

The lack of product on the court is something Big Blue Nation has also seen over the last few years. Serur Dawahare, 44, of Lexington, was waiting for Calipari’s arrival at Blue Grass Airport on Tuesday night. Dawahare has been a UK fan his whole life — attending games at Memorial Coliseum, where he had the chance to sit next to former UK head coach Joe B. Hall’s wife.

However, lately Dawahare said he realized UK’s talent is down. Dawahare said that should change though, if Calipari truly understands what he has to work with.

“I think we have a product here that’s valuable,” Dawahare said. “It’s built on over 100 years of tradition and I think that needs to be carried on and the way you do that is you recruit to that level and coach to that level and expect the best. If a coach comes in here and expects the best out of a player, whether the player’s ability is up to that caliber or not, we should expect our coach to get us that player.”

Delk said Calipari shouldn’t have a problem recruiting here as long as he doesn’t get relaxed. While at Memphis, Calipari was able to recruit Derrick Rose, Dajuan Wagner, Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney, all of which went on to be first-round draft picks in the NBA. Many Web sites also have his recruiting class at Memphis ranked No. 1 in the nation—including top recruits Xavier Henry, DeMarcus Cousins and Nolan Dennis.

UK head coach John Calipari is known for being a top-notch recruiter. His 2009 recruiting class is considered the country’s best by many Web sites. Photo by Mark Webber | The Commercial Appeal

UK head coach John Calipari is known for being a top-notch recruiter. His 2009 recruiting class is considered the country’s best by many Web sites. Photo by Mark Webber | The Commercial Appeal

Delk said he expects Calipari to keep his high recruiting rate because he’s able to help players achieve their dream—play in the NBA.

“You don’t want to get complacent with recruiting just because you’re at a basketball Mecca,” Delk said. “I think he’ll be able to still do it and do it well though. He’s a great fit here. He knows most importantly for kids is the dream of playing in the NBA and he puts guys in the NBA.”

Besides reaching out to recruits, Calipari has already begun to reach out to former UK head coaches. Calipari called Hall to talk about becoming the head coach and what expectations are like.

Hall said the two had a cordial phone conversation in which Calipari asked Hall about his personal feelings on the job and even Calipari himself.

“He asked me how he would fit at Kentucky,” Hall said. “He asked me my personal feelings about the position and if I have any negatives about becoming the head coach at UK, which I do not.”

While Hall said there are no negatives to coaching at UK, Delk warned Calipari to be prepared for pressure from fans. Delk said he expects Calipari to handle the media fine.

“He’s going to be facing tough pressure from the fans, but he has tough skin and is up for the challenge,” Delk said. “I think he’s going to do excellent.”

And not even 24 hours into his career in Lexington, fans made it known what they see in the future for Calipari and the Cats.

“I’ve been wrong before but I don’t think I’m wrong on this, and I’m probably going to put myself in a bad light with some people, but I like to make predictions once in awhile,” Dawahare said. “I’m making a prediction that if he’s here ten years, I personally think he’ll win at least two championships and take us to at least four Final Fours at the least, that’s my personal prediction. It could be better than that, he could be here 20 years.”

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Paul Frey says:

Who is your editor; spell check? How could such a glaring mistake as declaring him the 22nd coach get through? Just ridiculous and shameful!

MARTYMAN says:

UK Basketball Coach John Calipari…Doesn’t that just sound good! It has a ring to it, like it was meant to be. It has been a long time in coming since we have had a coach down here with the shine that Calipari brings into the program. That is exactly what Kentucky needs again; to shine. WE fans of the BBN needs to help coach out with doing 2 things for he and his family:
1). We need to remember that in order for Coach Cal to get a “Good” feel for this community and people, we need to be as Welcoming and as Friendly as we can.
2). We Fans need to show restraint and Patience. Not just in his first year, but for many years. Remember BBN, though we Expect to Win every year, that does not always happen and we have to learn to swallow that sour pill every now and again. Let’s not jump on the Coach or the players like we are known to do when things do not happen “right away” to our collective likings. Patience BBN-Patience!!!!