Calipari discusses student-athlete issues at academic-athletics forum


Professor in the college of Pharmacy, Joseph Fink, interviews UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari about student athletes balancing academics with athletics. Photo by Grace Ann Profancik

By Drew Teague

UK men’s head basketball coach John Calipari spoke to a group on Tuesday about what he knows best: basketball.

Calipari spoke as part of the Academics-Athletics Forum put on by Joseph L. Fink III, who serves as UK’s faculty athletics representative, discussing student-athletes’ grades and their importance.

The Academic-Athletics forum was created by Fink to help give students, facility and staff an opportunity to have close interaction with their coaches as well as to give background and insight into the programs at UK.

To begin Tuesday’s forum, Fink outlined the way the program would run.

“This is the second of these forums we will be doing,” he said.

The first forum featured volleyball head coach Craig Skinner, baseball head coach Gary Henderson and head softball coach Rachel Lawson discussing how over 500 student-athletes at UK have at least a 3.0 grade point average and the juggling act that student-athletes go through with class and sports.

Fink said the program is still in the experiment stage, so Tuesday’s session had live audience questions, replacing the submitted written questions used in the first forum.

With a crowd of 50 people listening at White Hall Classroom Building, Calipari began with an explanation of why he wanted to get involved with this type of program.

“Anytime that we can get involved on the campus and help, we try to do what we can,” he said.

Calipari said he has several of his former coaches involved in his life and program, wherever he goes.

Calipari, who majored in business marketing at Clarion University in western Pennsylvania, said his major has been great for him.

“It has played a big part in my coaching career,” Calipari said. “It has been an education well used. I loved it.”

Calipari talked about how famous programs like UK recruits players.

“Not only are you going to be on a team with good players. Because they can play too, you are going to have to sacrifice some of your game to come here,” he said.

Because UK is one of the leaders in the college basketball world, everyone’s eyes are focused on its program, Calipari said.

“If it goes on here it’s on 60 Minutes,” Calipari said. “You come here, it’s a big deal. Everything’s at a level you’ve never seen. Every game we play, I tell them, is someone’s Super Bowl.”

Of the 120 counties in the Commonwealth, Calipari said he has been to 30 and truly feels the UK team is the “Commonwealth’s team.”

“No matter where you go, it’s Kentucky,” Calipari said. “I’ve never seen such a connection.”

Calipari does not agree with the NCAA rule about one-and-done’s, he said, and thinks the rule should be changed, having the players decide no later than the beginning of June. He said he has had several current National Basketball Association players hurt his recruiting in that way.

“I had one player leave after three years when I was at UMass,” Calipari said. “I want the rule change. The other side of this, I still have to do right.”

Calipari discussed how he puts together the non-conference schedule and how sought-after the UK men’s basketball team is.

“Being here, we’re asked to play in every tournament. We’ll bring 5,000 people, if it’s close we’ll bring 20,000,” he said.

UK currently has the second hardest out-of-conference schedule and the youngest team in the nation, and Calipari said the team will have some early season battles.

“I probably screwed up and over scheduled,” Calipari said. “We’ll probably lose games early this season. Losing early will probably be a blessing in disguise.”

The next program will focus on the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services program and will be on Nov. 16, with the time and location to be determined.