Calipari says he is committed to UK amid Nets rumors

UK head coach John Calipari yells about a referee’s call as Alabama’s junior forward Chris Hines falls out of bounds towards him during the second quarter of the UK men’s basketball game against Alabama at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

UK head coach John Calipari addressed rumors that he is a candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy with the New Jersey Nets on Friday.

Calipari said he was happy at UK and that rumors like this, which was first reported in the New York Daily News, come with the level of success he’s had.

“For all of our fans, my name will be bandied about for every job that opens including AAU jobs, high school jobs – supposedly I’ll be taking my son with me – different college jobs, pro jobs, I just say ‘whatever,’ ” Calipari said. “It’s better than never being mentioned ever. If your teams win, that’s the stuff that goes along with it.

“Our fans just have to accept that that’s going to happen. It is never me putting my name in now, but there will be more. I’m happy. This school is committed, as long as this school is committed to me and this basketball program, where would I want to go?”

The 4-48 Nets currently own the worst record in the NBA, and could break the NBA’s record for the all-time losingest season. They’re also in position to have the best chance to land the first pick in this summer’s draft, and most draft pundits expect freshman guard John Wall to be taken with the first pick.

Calipari coached with the Nets from 1996-99, compiling a 72-112 overall record before being fired 20 games into the 1998-99 season.

Cats wary of Tennessee

Nets job or no, Calipari is busy making sure the No. 2 Cats (23-1, 8-1 Southeastern Conference) are ready for Saturday’s rivalry game against Tennessee (18-5, 6-3 SEC). He’s already well aware of what the Volunteers can do against highly ranked teams.

“They beat the No. 1 team in the country this year and they’re adding three players for our game, so they can come in here and beat us,” Calipari said. “They beat the No. 1 team, and as a matter of fact beat them pretty good. The last time my team was highly ranked, he brought a team into Memphis, Tennessee and beat us.”

Calipari also downplayed his purported rivalry with Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, saying he likes Pearl and hopes the game will be about the players.

“I respect him as a coach,” Calipari said. “We don’t exchange birthday wishes or Christmas cards because we’re rivals. Do you know of any two coaches who are going at each other with two rival programs that are going to exchange pleasantries? But I respect him.”

UK will likely debut its new uniforms on Saturday, and Rupp Arena will play host to ESPN’s College GameDay. Calipari said he hasn’t decided if he will take the team to visit GameDay – which has sold out Rupp Arena – in the morning, but that he isn’t worried about distractions affecting his team.

Calipari reiterated that he didn’t think distractions like a phone call from President Barack Obama played a role in UK’s only loss of the season.

Tennessee has hung around in the SEC East race despite a turbulent season that has seen star senior Tyler Smith be dismissed from the team and three other players be suspended before being reinstated in the past few weeks.

“They’re a fighting team,” senior guard Mark Krebs said. “They’re not going to sit there and play and if they lose go ‘Oh well.’ They’re going to come out fighting and fight to the end and that makes them dangerous.”

Even with the threat the Vols pose, Calipari is looking forward to the rivalry game.

“It’s a good thing because you want to see when it’s time to step up, who steps up and who steps back,” Calipari said. “And the only way you can do it is in games like this.”