UK basketball head coach John Calipari is in the beginning stages of assimilating six new players onto the roster of a team looking to defend last year’s national championship.
Calipari met with the media in September to talk about early preparations. This is some additional on-line only content beyond the previously published two-part series.
Question: Could you coach at UK for 20 years?
Calipari: I would’ve loved it back (while younger). So the stuff you have to do and the stuff you have to take, it’s just part of this job. But I think I’m ready. I need to lose a little weight. I gained a little weight.
Q: What is your definition of ‘crap’ that the coach of UK must put up with?
Calipari: Everybody knows your job better than you. You take it. I say take it; I don’t listen to it and I don’t hear it. DeWayne will tell you I can’t even barely turn on a computer. Because we talk all the time and the guys I talk to — we don’t put anything out that I don’t first see, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook , something on the Internet or on the web page. But being the coach here, there are a lot of people not rooting for us and me. Would you agree? Am I like being paranoid or is that true? I mean, it’s just what it is. There are people that aren’t rooting for you. There are people that aren’t rooting for this school. And you’ve got to deal with all that. How do you slow this down? And that’s just part of what this is, and it’s not being paranoid —it’s what it is. And you know what? To be here, you deal with it. Or go somewhere else and coach.
Q: What did you think of the recent CBS anonymous poll among coaches that placed you in a bad light?
Calipari: I didn’t see them all. DeWayne had called me (to tell me about them). The thing that you just don’t want for the profession we’re in — let’s not hurt the profession. You’ve got to be smarter than that, please tell me. When you hurt the profession with the stuff you do, you almost want to say, “Why are you in this? Why would you hurt the profession?” But we don’t know the question that was asked or that it was even answered. We don’t know anything other than this guy says this was what he did and this is what they said. We don’t know anything. But my point was just — Why hurt the profession? One, we don’t talk about other schools in recruiting. I would never damage another coach because it damages our profession. I don’t do it. I think there are a lot of coaches like me, but there are others that I guess choose to do it.
Q: Did you ever take an opportunity over the summer to soak in the championship?
Calipari: I’m telling you, you guys think that it meant that much to me. It meant more to my fans and my family and the people that want to say that I’m this or I’m that, or I’m better than this or that, better than this guy or that guy. But the reality of it is, the only time that I’ve kind of, and you’ll think this is crazy, but there was a video done about the last three years and I watched that video because goofball (Peevy) gave it to me. I watched that video and it kind of touched me, like, wow. If you want a (moment), that would be it. But it wasn’t that we had won the national title. It’s that we’ve — you kind of forget that play against Mississippi State, but when I saw it, it just goose-bumped me. Or John Wall’s first (game-winning) shot. We could’ve lost that game. That shot, we shouldn’t have won that game. And then I can even remember the Stanford stuff. We had no business — and if DeMarcus (Cousins) didn’t foul out, we wouldn’t have won the game. So he had to foul out for us to win. And then you go back to Brandon Knight, when we play at Louisville, and that’s where Josh’s (Harrellson) coming-out party. And then the shots we made down the stretch. How the heck did we beat North Carolina and Ohio State? Tell me. How did we beat those two? Are you crazy? And we did. And we should’ve won the national title (2011). It’s crazy. And then last year, you look back on that in its entirety and you say kind of like, “Daggone,” like, “Whoa.” And then you just say, “I don’t want to think about that because we’ve got to move on here and we’ve got other stuff.”
Q: Is the UK fan base about what you expected when you accepted the job?
Calipari: Well, first of all, that fan base, 99 percent of them are — that’s what they’re into and they’re about Kentucky. Then you have one percent that are — I don’t know what they are. But if you try to lump that together, you lose sight of what this is. This is the greatest fan base. Now, did I understand to what level? No, did not. But when I figured it out, it didn’t take me long. It changes who we are and puts us on a page that no one else can touch, because of that fan base. Everything we do is to try to separate from the pack. Well that was the first thing that we did — we’re connecting with these people. We’re going to have an army of people with us and they’re going to know and we’re going to be transparent, and that’s one of the first things.
And then, I did some stuff early, and it was by chance. Do you remember what I did when I first took this job — by chance? I did a tour. Do you remember what that tour was? The book tour. That book was written a year and a half, two years earlier. I never knew I was taking this job. It was by chance. That tour showed me, like, “Oh, my gosh, it doesn’t matter where I got in this state; these people are into this program and it means something to them.” And then you do Midnight Madness and you’ve got the grandmother, the granddaughter, the grandchild, the great grandchild, and they’re all under one tent. Then you start saying, “Wait a minute. This is a little bigger than I’m thinking.”
And the last thing, and I’ll just say: What I also learned is when you’re in this seat I’m in, which is you’re the keeper of the tradition; whoever is this seat is the keeper of the tradition as much as anything else you do. So if you come in and you think, “Well I’m just going to watch tape and coach my team,” you cheat the position. Which means connecting to the past. If you ever try to eliminate the past, it’s because you wanted the program to start with you, like it was going to be all about you. The reality of it is this thing started in the 30s. You’re the keeper of the tradition. That’s one. And the second part of it is you have a chance to move people for the good or bad by how you act and the things you do. Or you can sit in the office and watch tape. So you almost, if you’re not going to cheat the position, understand you better be the keeper of the tradition and keep people around and connect the dots and bring everybody back in and be a gatherer.
Q: Looking back, what was the significance of losing the SEC title game last year?
Calipari: I don’t even remember it, to be honest. All I know is I got Darius in the game — he took his 17 shots, we got him ready for the NCAA Tournament , which meant if he took 17 shots we probably lost, which we did and we moved on. I don’t even remember. I think the one thing I remember is we were up a few at the end and couldn’t make a shot. That’s the only thing I remember in the game. I don’t remember anything else, other than we were up and how in the heck did we not make? And we got good looks if I remember right. We had great looks at the basket and we didn’t make them.
Q: Did you view Kentucky as the epicenter of college basketball before you were coaching the Cats?
Calipari: Well, I liked Tubby when I was coaching against him. We beat them one time. But for a while, Kentucky was, when they walked in to recruit, everybody went, “Ugh. Kentucky’s walking in.” And that changed for a while. Then it became, “OK, maybe we can get these guys.” The kids (recruits) know three years. When I go in to recruit a player, he only knows the last three years. He could care less after. He would know nothing about the ’98 team. He wouldn’t know a player, nothing. Matter of fact, he’d probably know our team a few years ago and before that he probably couldn’t name one player on their team. But that’s not just Kentucky, it’s any team.
But their families understand the history of this place. The 2K game means something. It did. It did then. And we knew, we scheduled — believe me. We needed to get there before Carolina, and we knew it I didn’t want it to have to be us playing them – oh, my gosh – for the 2K. That’s all we needed. But this is a unique place. The expectations are high. You’re under a magnifying glass. Stuff that goes on, on other campuses — psssshhh. If it goes on here, it’s a big deal. If it goes on here, I’m telling you it’s huge. It’s all part of what it is.
I’ll just leave you with this: The whole thing here — it’s a players-first program. It’s not changing. Every decision I make is based on what’s right for these kids. That’s not changing. Everything I do is based on them, and if I do right by them and keep doing right by them, they’ll drag us where we want to go. Now I’ll say this: This team will drag us maybe as far as it can go and that may not be what we all want, but I look back and say, “Hey, I feel great about that.” I think of the team two years ago and the first team I had here; those two teams, both of them had a chance to win both national titles. You all may say we should’ve won it in 2010, we should’ve won it then. Well if we don’t go 0 for 20 against West Virginia then maybe we do. Because I think we were better than the other teams. And then that next year, where you didn’t think and we ended up going farther, and we should’ve won it then. Man, that’s just how it is here. You just want to be up at bat.
I think we’ve got good kids, but it’s going to be hard. This is one that it’s not going to be as easy as it looks to figure stuff out how we play. That will be the challenge of it. But that’s exciting.