By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Big Blue Nation is unlike any other fan base in the United States. Since coming to the University of Kentucky, John Calipari has found that out first hand.
“This fan base is engaged and intelligent,” Calipari said during the University of Kentucky Satellite Basketball Camp Tour at North Laurel Monday morning. “And they are everywhere. No matter where I’ve been someone comes up to me and tells me they are a UK fan.”
Calipari is entering his fifth year as head basketball coach at UK. During his first four years, he led the Wildcat program back to prominence, including a national title in 2012. In his four years, he has a record of 123-26 with a national title, two SEC titles, and an Elite 8 and Final Four appearance. He has had 17 players drafted in his four years at UK. And while he had success at both Massachusetts and Memphis, Kentucky is an entirely different world.
“The difference is this is the first BCS school that I’ve coached at,” Calipari said. “At Memphis and UMass it was like using a water pistol in a battle against big guns (referring to competing with professional programs like the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics). Here UK is the big gun.”
Last season was, by Wildcat standards, a disappointment, finishing 20-12 and missing the NCAA tournament. Calipari noted that on the court his team had a disappointing year, even though they finished second in the SEC, but off the court it was totally different.
“It was very rewarding for the players,” Calipari said. “From Nerlens (Noel) to Archie (Goodwin) to Alex (Poythress). They all benefited and learned as a team.”
Calipari and the term “one and done” seem to be synonymous, even though the UK coach doesn’t feel it should be. He would actually like to see players stay at least two years.
“There’s no negative to staying for two years,” Calipari said. “It’s good for the kids and good for the game. I’m the one guy out there saying we’ve gotta change this somehow. We’ve gotta encourage these kids to stay two years. But the NCAA’s gotta do some stuff, and if they don’t do it we need to separate from them. I’m not afraid to say it. Look, they’ve embarrassed me. I’ve done nothing, so they’re not gonna come in, show retribution to me and do stuff. I don’t really care. But something’s gotta change with this one-and-done rule. I seem to be the coach saying anything.”
But if a player is a certain first-rounder, Calipari said he won’t tell them to stay another year.
“If they are a lottery pick, I will tell them to go,” Calipari said. “Especially the way things are.” He was also quick to note that not everyone is ready for the NBA right away. Players like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant only come along every once and a while.
“Everyone of the five star players I’ve recruited at Kentucky have been drafted,” Calipari said. “They have reached their dream.” While it’s true that many of the players recruited by Calipari just stay one year, he does have a perfect graduation rate of 10 out of 10 of the players who stayed all four years.
“This past term we had a team GPA of 3.4,” Calipari said. “Twelve out of 13 players had a B average and there were two with 4.0s. I’m more about success rates than graduation rates.”
UK runs five of these satellite camps throughout Kentucky, along with a Father-Son one day camp and a three day overnight camp at UK. Calipari said these satellite camps allow those children who can’t make it to the camps at the college a chance to learn and meet the UK coaches, along with getting items autographed and getting their pictures taken with the coaches.
“I get my photo taken with more adults than I do kids,” Calipari said. “These satellite camps connects us with the state.”
Calipari addressed several things to the campers and the parents, from ball handling to shooting to body language.
“Watch your child’s body language on the court,” Calipari told the parents. “When they are babies and they have anxiety they tell us by crying and screaming. When a 13 year old drops their head or slumps their shoulders, that body language is their way of crying. You have to figure out why they are acting that way. I’m dealing with that with one of my sons right now. If a coaches’ son doesn’t know any better how can your son or daughter?” And he added when children are doing drills, if they are struggling with one, move on to the next drill.
“It’s like when I go out and hit with my golf clubs,” Calipari said. “If I’m hitting my driver and I get frustrated with it I move on to a different club. Do that with drills. You don’t want to work with frustration.”
Whenever a coaching vacancy opens up in the college or pro ranks, Calipari’s name is usually one of the first to come up. But rest easy, Big Blue Nation. The coach said he is perfectly happy here in the Bluegrass State.
“I’ve been dealing with that my whole career,” Calipari said. “This is not the kind of job you leave. This is my dream job. I’m happy at UK.”
And the BBN is happy that he’s happy.