By David Schuh
UK basketball is larger-than-life in the grand scheme of college basketball. As the single most recognizable thing in the state, millions rigorously follow the team and its coach. And this gives John Calipari and his student athletes an opportunity that most don’t have.
Calipari gets it. He understands exactly what it means to be the head coach at UK. It has become apparent to Cats fans in the last three years that it would be difficult to find someone better suited to lead such a powerful program.
He also understands the ability he has to effect change in the local and state community. He recently organized an alumni game with many past UK greats playing each other in an exhibition game at Rupp Arena. The game raised $350,000 for charities around the state, a number Calipari hopes to far surpass in years to come at the event.
“When you’re sitting in the seat I’m in, you’re the keeper of tradition,” he said. “By coming together, we can have an impact on these organizations.”
His players visit local elementary schools. They help coach groups of fantasy campers at the John Calipari Fantasy Experience. Calipari makes sure these star recruits know that they’re more than just basketball players.
But it’s not just the charities. Again this year, Calipari and the entire UK team spent hours Thursday night with Big Blue Madness campers, taking pictures, signing autographs, playing cornhole and making those dedicated fans feel like part of the program.
“I hope you enjoyed yourself here,” Calipari said to the campers. “Thank you all for doing this and being part of what we do and being a part of what we recruit.”
It’s those little things that separate UK from programs with a lesser platform. Those players can do so much for the community by just being who they are.
That’s the culture he has created. Calipari has used the immense resources at his disposal to build a basketball program predicated on family. He makes everyone with a blue shirt on feel like they’re his best friends.
His design for the program is to make it the “gold standard” of college basketball: to have the biggest and the best fan base, facilities and, of course, championship pedigree.
That is what it takes to be the coach at UK. Calipari realized that from the beginning and will continue to elevate it as long as he’s in Lexington.
David Schuh is the Kernel managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.