What Cal left behind

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Neither Ken Bennett nor Don DeWeese knew John Calipari when he first arrived in Memphis. There was no reason to expect it from either of them. One is a doughnut shop owner. The other founded an outreach program for at-risk youth out of his van.

Neither had reason to be with Calipari on his first day in Memphis, but both were with him on his last.

The Arrival

When Calipari’s name first surfaced as a potential candidate for the Memphis job in 2000, Bennett had connections in the program that enabled him to hear about the possibility before it was official. He thought that would be the extent he would know Calipari.

“My expectation was that I would never really know him,” said Bennett, the founder of Street Ministries in Memphis. “I knew I wanted to meet him, just like anyone would want to meet a coach.”

Bennett left a few messages with Calipari for a year expressing his interest in meeting the new coach, unsuccessfully.

After a year, Bennett’s job with the ministry and Calipari’s job with the basketball team intersected. Memphis was thinking about bringing in Antonio Burks, who was in Bennett’s program and on a path to go to junior college. The two sides discussed the move. After the first meeting, Bennett turned to Calipari to finally introduce himself.

“I’m excited you’re here,” Bennett said. “At the same time, this is like my kid, and I don’t want him to come and just sit the bench. “Cal said, ‘he’s better than anything we have.’”

Calipari didn’t have much to work with in the early years, but he kept building the Memphis program.

He helped get a state-of-the-art practice facility. He helped get the Tigers playing in the Grizzlies arena instead of The Pyramid (now scheduled to become a Bass Pro fishing store). He helped get Memphis a Nike apparel contract worth $660,000 per year, unless Calipari left, in which case it would be worth $400,000 per year. He did this at a small-conference school with a campus that has a railroad track dissecting it.

Calipari kept building his friendships.

DeWeese first met the coach when Calipari stopped into his store one day to buy doughnuts for his children. Soon after, Calipari was an established visitor. DeWeese said Calipari would spend about 30 minutes per day in Gibson’s, his bakery.

He brought in Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, at first, before switching to Gibson’s coffee, before switching to apple juice when he went on a health kick his last two years. He talked with the “regulars” — the frequent Gibson’s customers and people who didn’t care all that much about basketball. They weren’t season ticket holders; they were friends. Calipari would sometimes serve them coffee from a brew he made.

The parking-lot view of Gibson's Donuts, owned by Don DeWeese, where Calipari frequently visited.

“This was his cave,” DeWeese said from a booth in Gibson’s, four Memphis Tigers paintings hanging on the wall behind him. “He could come in here and people weren’t trying to get something from him. They treated him like John Calipari, not Coach Calipari.”

With that trust, the regulars — DeWeese included — found themselves the beneficiary of Memphis basketball information. He can’t count the number of times he heard Calipari say something to the Gibson’s crowd in the morning and then hear the same thing at night on TV. He also can’t count the number of times he heard Calipari say something to the Gibson’s crowd that wouldn’t leave the room.

“He didn’t take a lot of Memphis players, because they’re harder to coach, because at every game, they got their whole posse there.”

Or: “If Cal knew he was getting a player, we might know a week ahead of time.”

They knew these things because Cal knew they wouldn’t go elsewhere with it.

“It’s always nice knowing inside information, or secretive stuff,” DeWeese said, but he never felt the urge to tell anyone he shouldn’t. “If you’re around sports, you know when to not open your mouth.”

Calipari’s friendship with Bennett also deepened.

“They were tight,” DeWeese said. “Tighter than brothers. Tighter than assistant coaches. He was far closer to Ken Bennett than any of his assistant coaches.”

Calipari wound up naming him the team chaplain. Any time Calipari needed to discuss something important — when a player got in trouble or when he considered the N.C. State job — he would call Bennett and the pair would stroll around a local golf club late at night, Calipari talking and Bennett listening.

“He knew it was in confidence,” Bennett said. “And he knew I would never tell him what to do.”

Bennett was frequently invited to the Calipari household. They hung out by the pool, talking about family life. On the road, Bennett saw Calipari shed his public persona. If a stranger said he recognized him, the Memphis coach would say he was a local weatherman. When Memphis traveled to Oakland, Calif., Bennett found a place to worship that had one English-speaking Mass and homeless people attending.

“That was the way Calipari wanted it,” Bennett said. “Sometimes I wish people knew him away from the court and the TV camera.”

The Departure

When Calipari first began contemplating the UK job, he called on Bennett to walk the golf course. Bennett could tell his friend was wrestling with something, but wasn’t sure what. A couple of nights later, around 10:30 p.m., Calipari called again, telling Bennett he was weighing something he never thought he would.

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Bennett said. “At that point, I didn’t care about losing a coach. I cared about losing a friend of nine years. Not being able to see him everyday.”

This is the only photo or clip of John Calipari that Don DeWeese had in his store. DeWeese said he didn't have more because he didn't want to flaunt their friendship, although he says he wishes he had a picture of Calipari posing in a Gibson's tie.

Soon after that conversation, Calipari reached his decision to leave Memphis. And on his last day there, he went to Gibson’s.

At 9:35 that morning, he was in the familiar shop, making one last visit. Everyone knew Calipari was considering the UK job. The media were searching for him. The public was looking for him. Calipari found refuge in the sanctuary of doughnuts.
He stayed for an hour.

Even that morning to the regulars, Calipari never directly said he was gone.

“But I could tell from his voice and his facial expressions he was leaving,” DeWeese said. “I can read people pretty good.”

Eventually, Calipari ended up at his own house. He held a press conference outside. From behind the walls, disconnected from the crush of the media and the public, John Robic, Rod Strickland and Bennett watched their friend and coach announce his departure on TV.

“We saw him beginning to break down,” Bennett said. “And he walked off and came in the house, and he was crying. He said, ‘I didn’t know it would be this hard. I love this place.’ But he got himself together and got back out there.”

Once Calipari returned inside again, Bennett and Calipari hugged and shed tears.

Calipari was destined for UK in a whirlwind. Bennett drove back to his Memphis home in silence.


Soon after Calipari left, scandal hit. Derrick Rose was ruled retroactively ineligible for a reportedly invalid SAT score, and the NCAA made Memphis vacate its 38-win season as national runner-up.

“I think it’s a travesty and everybody else does, too. Because we know we won all those games,” DeWeese said. “Did Derrick Rose take that test? I don’t know. I doubt it. I don’t think John Calipari had anything to do with the arranging of the test. Did he have knowledge of it? Maybe. But they’ve never proved he had anything to do with it.”

The Memphis community still lashed out — and hard — at Calipari. The coach who had taken them back to the top of the college game had, in a very short time span, seemingly taken everything back. When he left, he took his recruits, his secretary, his athletic trainer and, most importantly, himself.

Banners with the final results of every year in Memphis basketball history hang around the top of the practice facility. The 2008 banner is absent.

Bennett says time has allowed for some healing. The wins may not have happened in the media guides, but they happened in real life. Those wins brought the community together — “the glory years,” Bennett calls them — and he says people have stopped dwelling on it.

He does admit, however, the season could feel a little “tainted” and has a little “smudge” lingering with it. Other people feel more strongly about how the season went down.

“I had a guy come up to me,” Bennett recalls, “and say, ‘I know if I talk to you for five minutes I can’t hate John Calipari anymore. And I love hating John Calipari.’”

“Everybody in Memphis hates John Calipari right now,” DeWeese said. “But they don’t have a clue who the real John Calipari is.”


DeWeese no longer sees his old friend every day. Neither does Bennett. But the old circle stays in touch. Within five seconds of sitting down, DeWeese had pulled out his phone and showed a contact and number under the name “John Calipari.”

“You want to talk to Cal right now?” DeWeese asks. “If I text him right now, he’ll text me right back.”

Last season, Calipari had the group attend the Ole Miss game.

“I didn’t cheer,” Bennett said. “I just watched the game and prayed for my good friend John Calipari.”

In early April, legendary Memphis player and coach Larry Finch died. Calipari returned to the city for the memorial service. He returned to Gibson’s in the morning, revisiting his old cave. And in came Gene Bartow, another legendary Memphis coach who led the team to the Final Four in 1973.

“They held court for 55 minutes,” DeWeese said. “It was like a swarm all the way around them. Nobody ever talked except them. It was magical.”

It was just like the glory days.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @KernelASmith or on Google+ or discuss with him at asmith@kykernel.com

Scotty that is the question I always ask UM fans, where would this program be today if UM had not hired Cal when they did? To be honest most do not want to answer because they know the answer and it does not benefit there agenda. I understand being upset he left, but to have local radio hosts refer to Cal as scumbag, to have his son heckled and booed at a AAU game in Memphis, to not allow your wife or children to come back to Memphis because your afraid for there safety is just taking it to far and just need to move on.

hahahahh I live in Memphis trust me half way through last year Josh was about to be booted out door, then he made a nice run to get to tournament to save year. UM fans kill me, just wait til this year if Josh has the mass exodus of coaches and players again then people will have to start pointing the finger at something he is doing. Love Josh but this guy has issues, I watched as Garcia,Sallie,Niles, and a HS All American with a top recruiter get the hell out of dodge, with players that stayed including the year before with Mack, Sallie being benched for banging heads with Josh to watching Witherspoon and Coleman and JJ showing obvious dislike for there young coaches decisions. We will see if Josh has this under control this year because how this team lost and played last year had a lot of people questioning Josh and his coaching ability. And cant wait to hear how Sallie,Coleman,Niles,Garcia and a couple other players still on the team really feel about Josh, because Ive heard some interesting opinions that may of or may not of been expressed by these players. So lets sit back and see what happens this year UM fans before you make Josh out to be what he may not be, because you have to admit for a coach only in his 3rd year he has had a lot of players and coaches jump off his band wagon for some reason.

I am a lifelong Memphis fan. I am 40yrs old. So I have seen a few coaches come and go. The hate tword Calapari in my opinion is severly misguided. Tell me where was the Memphis program between Larry Finch and John Calapari?  The answer The Abyss! Aweful! Calapari brought this program back to prosperity and to the nations forefront every year. Is he a cheater? Maybe! I am sure he skirts the line and the grey area of the ncaa rules better than any other coach… But that is besides the point. What if Memphis had won the title in 08. Would Memphis fans had vacated the title in their mind? No! They know how good that team was wheather or not Rose took the test. The fact that Cal has been gone only 2 seasons and Memphis is back in the forefront and getting top recruits says allot about the shape Cal left it in and the job Pastner is doing…. It is just the natural order of things now days. Coaches leave and there are always hard feelings. I dont hate Cal! I thank him for what he did for Memphis while he was here. I just hope we meet UK one day in the big dance and kick their ass!

i’ve said it multiple times now, keeping your hands clean in messy matters doesn’t absolve him…he knows how to cheat, put all the blame on the school, and move on before the punishment comes down…again, he’s done it his whole career (UMass and Memphis)

remember, we spent 9 years with the guy…with that hard earned money from my pest control gig going to support his 2.5 million a year contract…the NCAA “doesn’t like” Cal because he makes a mockery of their rules by tap dancing in grey areas…make no mistake…they WILL come down on him, and he’ll be off to the NBA again…it’s simply his nature.

i’m just glad we have Pastner…young mans going to make a great coach…and having guys like damon stoudamire, luke walton, and frank matrisciano around ensures we will keep pulling 5 star players LONG after Cal moves back to the big leagues. (see Adonis Thomas, Will Barton, Elliot Williams, and soon Jarnell Stokes)

Haha do you not see the difference between him recruiting players in the 2009 class to UK for the 2009-2010 season and recruiting players to Memphis for the 2010-2011 season? He had an entire year to recruit the 2010 class to Memphis

I’ll ask again. Please show me evidence that Calipari is cheating. I have never seen any, nor has anyone else. You allege to know he is cheating. How do you know, as a technician at a pest control company, better than the NCAA, who did thorough investigations at UMASS and Memphis? Answer the question, Drew.

Yeah Gillispie was a failure, that iss why we fired his drunk ass after 2 seasons and hired a real coach. You do realize that the NCAA was only enforcing the 500 wins thing because they don’t like Calipari, right? Villanova honored its 1971 Vacated Final Four team at halftime in 2001 and the NCAA has gone 10 years without saying anything to them. Even Memphis violates the NCAA’s laws you are mocking us for violating. Your basketball media guide contains pictures and references to the 2008 and 1985 Final Fours, both of which technically never happened. So yeah, we broke a stupid rule we were unaware we were breaking, apparently. Memphis makes the same mistake, go look at your own media guide.

Until you can show me ANY evidence of him cheating, I’m not worried a single ounce about us getting in trouble while he’s here. He may leave for the NBA eventually, but after he leaves I’ll always appreciate how he brought us back from being a NIT level team to a championship contender in a single season. I’ll always e grateful he helped resurrect my program, just like Memphis fans should be.

I’m still waiting for you to provide any facts or stats or any proof to back up your claims and disprove mine. Until you provide them, you’re just a jealous Memphis fan who deep down wishes they had Calipari back just like all the others.

keep rambling, pal…it sounds like you know full well what Cal is and want to make excuses for him…hell, we did the same thing…i guess after the utter failure that was billy “the drunk” gillispie…UK fans became willing to sell their soul to win again…again, we understand…but drop the delusions…Cal did the same things at UMass and Memphis…have “that season” and get the hell out of dodge before the NCAA can catch up with him…just don’t be shocked when he jumps to the NBA 6 months before UK has a final four vacated…

he’s already going to get to celebrate 500 wins TWICE! LMFAO!!!!

Point is he made the calls to recruits in an effort to get them to go to UK instead of Memphis, then turned around a few days later and told them not to go to UK, but to go to Memphis. Obviously a 17-18 year old and his parents are going to be able to smell right through the BS and realize that if the coach had their best interest at heart the entire time he wouldn’t be telling them to go to a certain school to play for a certain coach, then turn around a day later and tell them it’d be best if they went to a different school with a different coach.

Haha you think any coach would want to be at Memphis over Kentucky? Calipari said he waited for the phone to ring from Kentucky 2 years ago after Tubby left, before it did.

Way to take that quote out of context, he said that in his press conference at UK when talking about why he didn’t come to UK for the money. You don’t know what you are talking about, at all.

What did he do that is cheating? TELL ME PLEASE. You keep hinting at cheating, but the NCAA hasn’t shown him doing anything wrong. Wheres your evidence? Oh thats right, you don’t have any. All you’ve got is a team full of thugs from your dirty trash hole city. They’ll be in the streets in 10 years just like so many other players from Memphis.

You said “****er even tried to take the sno-cone machine from the Memphis athletic office.” That is an obvious reference to the popular belief Memphis fans hold that Calipari stole from Memphis, especially the recruiting class. I proved that wrong, with facts. You don’t have an argument because literally everything I’ve said is truth that can be backed up by facts. Wall may have been coming to UK for Cal, but he’s fully embraced the culture at UK and the fans to the point that he is likely returning during the NBA lockout to take classes and be a student assistant on the team. Its Calipari’s fault that Memphis isn’t an attractive selll compared to UK and Kansas? How is it his fault that Memphis has been irrelevant since the 80’s aside from his tenure?

You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Have fun watching us play again in April, while your season has ends a couple weeks before in the first weekend, if you make it.

drop the delusions of grandeur, bud…the only reason Cal left Memphis was to stay ahead of the NCAA shock wave…and he’ll do the same thing to UK…Cal even says we offered more money (thanks FedEx)…he knew what he did, and he got out while he could…being smart enough to keep your hands clean doesn’t absolve him…and i see how defensive you are about that recruiting class…i didn’t even mention it and you bring it up because you know full well Wall was going to play for Cal…not a school…and because of Cal we lost X Henry and Dodson.

Cal tried to “nuke the program” on the way out…and that, we do not forgive…or forget.

Josh wan’t halfway to UK…he was still in the parking lot.

Gibson’s has always had Tiger stuff in it and has always been a hangout for Memphis coaches in both football and basketball. It has always been a place to get info of anyone who is coaching in Memphis in any of the sports. 
Cal didn’t just happen into Gibson’s…it’s expected for any coach to go there…Cal knew he would be making the rounds there…it’s just understood.

Ky Fan, ignore Drewp…this article was truly about a Man, not a Coach, just a Man and a good Man at that. All who understand and witness John Calapari know he is worthy of respect and we are Honored to have him, just as Memphis was…Larry, gallery721.com

Drew, shut your fat a** up because you don’t know the f*** you are talking about. The NCAA did thorough investigations at UMASS and Memphis and found NOTHING indicating he did a single thing wrong. He left plenty of talent behind in Memphis, several top 100 players. Josh Pastner just didn’t and doesn’t win the way John Calipari did and currently does at UK. Only 1 player asked to be released from their LOI to Memphis, and it was Darnell Dodson, who was a non-factor basically the whole season and left after a year due to drugs. So yeah, taking him sure gave us a hell of an advantage. Other than that, Wall and Bledsoe never committed anywhere, especially not Memphis. Cousins was only a verbal since he had signed a LOI with UAB previously, so how is him decomitting from UAB to go to Memphis fine but going from Memphis to UK is dirty? Don’t forget that Josh Pastner was the one who called Wall, Cousins, Dodson, etc. and told them to go to UK, because he was ready to leave Memphis for UK too! He was halfway to UK before everybody turned Memphis down (because you’ve been irrelevant aside from the Calipari era since the 1970’s) and he got the call. Why would they stay with Memphis if the new head coach at Memphis had just been telling them about how great UK was literally hours earlier? Clearly he doesn’t have their best interests at heart, and the recruits recognized that and went with UK and Calipari. It seems to have worked out pretty great for Wall, Cousins, and Bledsoe, don’t you think? They still come to UK events and shout out UK on TV and in interviews and at All-Star games. But I’m sure you’ve seen that. So how about next time you want to say something retarded you just hop on the treadmill for a few minutes, I’m sure it takes just as much effort to run with that weight as it does to type with that brain.

i’m glad Cal is gone…he’s already cheated at UMass and Memphis…he’s just smart enough to stay ahead of the shock wave…you won’t find Josh Pastner in Rose type situation…and it’s just a matter of time before UK vacates a season.

****er even tried to take the sno-cone machine from the Memphis athletic office.