Calipari does it all, on and off the court



By David Schuh | Managing editor

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Not many people can do what John Calipari does. Yeah, sure, he coaches decently enough. And his recruiting prowess is serviceable.

But Monday night had little to do with his day job.

Calipari donated more than $1 million to 17 Kentucky charities at the UK Alumni Game, showing the influence of a program he has harvested in five years in Lexington.

He brought former Cats back to Rupp Arena for the enjoyment of fans, and he knows that it makes UK look better in the eyes of recruits. Yet, the real beneficiaries of the night were the ones holding the checks at midcourt.

“Let me thank all of you on behalf of the charities and all of us for what you’ve done to help this be a special night for a lot of people,” Calipari told the crowd during a timeout.

In 2012, the inaugural alumni game raised $350,000 for local charities. He just about tripled that in a year.

I don’t think exponential growth works in this case, but that number is bound to get larger as the event grows.

There have been basketball coaches at UK with similar personalities. Rick Pitino is the most common comparison, but nobody has used the position to directly benefit those around him quite like Calipari.

“You want guys to know — you come back here (and) still have an impact,” he said.

Albeit of lesser importance, Monday night had to be attractive for prospective players. Seeing John Wall return to school in September to notch a triple-double in front of nearly 20,000 fans isn’t something you get at most schools.

“Especially if you’re a point guard,” Eric Bledsoe said after the game. “There’s no question you want to come here.”

Those alumni come back because they are proud of their school. They follow Calipari’s most-recent recruits. They come to Lexington every year and play against the current team. That environment isn’t one that you see across the country. And there have been times you didn’t see it at UK.

“It’s all like a brotherhood,” John Wall said. “Coach Cal and the University of Kentucky do a great job of getting everybody organized and put stuff together.”

Calipari’s real job is no exact science. He recruits high school kids and tries desperately for seven months to mold them into NBA players. Sometimes he succeeds, other times he fails.

But when it comes to this part, off the court, nobody is better. He can’t miss.

No one is sure how long Calipari will be the head coach at UK. But regardless of how his remaining seasons go, if he continues what he has done in the community, he’ll leave a program surrounded by proud alumni and fueled by appreciative fans.

Several other programs around the country have NBA alumni. Few use them to excite current and future players and give back to the community like Calipari does at UK.

He strutted onto the court Monday, said the right things to the crowd, and calmly gave away seven figures to local charities.

He has unsuccessful seasons. He misses on a recruit here and there. But nobody does it like Calipari.