John Calipari, el entrenador de la Republica Dominicana

Why is he doing this?

Why is John Calipari, the head coach at the University of Kentucky, taking time he doesn’t seem to have – “his days are like 20 hours long,” said Dominican assitant Del Harris – to coach a national team that has yet to make the Olympics, ever? The answer is three-pronged.

One, he wants to build basketball into the mainstream consciousness of the Dominican Republic as another option to a better life. Right now, there’s just baseball, where athletes are thrown into the professional ranks in the minor leagues at young ages. With basketball, athletes would be able to come to college and get an education, as well. Francisco Garcia said he gets all the time why he plays basketball instead of baseball, and Calipari wants to help that change. This is the point that brings about the most skepticism. To Calipari, it’s the most important.

“He wanted to impact the society of the Dominican Republic,” Harris said. “I know the NCAA won’t believe that. They’ll think he’s got something on the line. But he really wants to help.”

Two, Calipari wanted to help himself as a coach. He is installing the Dribble-Drive Motion offense with a new group – similar to what he’s about to do at UK – except that he has about two weeks to make it happen. He will encounter a wide variety of athletes and coaching styles when playing the international game.

“We (Calipari and Harris) were sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts,” Calipari said, “and he’s going over pick and rolls and stuff like that, and there were two or three things where I said, we could have done that last year.”

Three, he wants to take this Dominican Republic team to the Olympics. He’s taking this part seriously. In a recent Dominican team practice, he wasn’t afraid of halting the practice to tell everyone to stop messing around. He wants to win.

“I told Eduardo (Najri, the general manager) we have to have (players) X, Y, Z here,” Calipari said of the conditions to accepting the job, “to ensure we have a chance to win.”

Another stipulation was bringing the Dominican team to use the Joe Craft Center – “It’s like an NBA facility. Everything you need is right here,” Charlie Villanueva said – as training grounds. The players are in a hotel for now, but will be moving into the old Wildcat Coal Lodge when the UK players move out.

Right now, the team is getting acquainted with Calipari’s system. Garcia said there’s a lot of “throwing balls all over the place,” but the players like the system, and the guy teaching it – even the Louisville players.

“I didn’t know he was so down to earth,” Edgar Sosa said. “He’s a great guy and works to his player’s strengths. He gives you the confidence to go out and do what you do best. I didn’t know he was that type of coach.”

“From what I’ve known, he’s a yeller and a screamer,” said Villanueva. “He’s not like that.”

We’re the underdogs, Calipari said, but this team has talent, with three NBA players leading the way. And the Dominican feels like they’ve got the right coach to maximize the talent.

“This is an experiment for the Dominican,” Najri said. “It’s the first time the federation has ceded control to a private company. That gave us the flexibility to do some of the things we wanted, and that included getting coach Calipari.”

The roster currently practicing is far too large and needs to be cut down to about 12, but Calipari is already shifting time toward the top six players to give them a better chance  at making the Olympics for the first time ever.

“They’ve been to one qualifying tournament, in ’77,” Calipari said. “And they call those guys ‘The Immortals.’”

Accomplish what he hopes to, and they will be called something even greater.

“We’d be remembered in the country forever,” said Villanueva, “and Coach Calipari would, too.”

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