Calipari's passion to be the main star on a big stage and have a chance to compete with Pitino for the spotlight in the Bluegrass won't be the reasons he leaves Memphis, where he has built a powerhouse, to coach Kentucky. However, the chance to be a marquee player on the college basketball scene is part of the reason UK will be able to lure him here.
Former UK All-American Kenny Walker played for Pitino in the NBA. He's still friends with the current Louisville coach and is an avid UK fan. He likes the idea of having Calipari at Kentucky.
"He is really just a little younger version of Rick Pitino. He has a very charismatic personality. He's a great communicator. He's a great motivator. He's a proven recruiter. Those are all things you need at the University of Kentucky," said Walker.
"He really has all the qualities you need for this job. He's very good with fans and the media. He relates well to the players. He is the complete package."
Walker admits he might have initially preferred to have Florida's Billy Donovan or Michigan State's Tom Izzo as the next coach after Billy Gillispie was fired last week after two seasons. However, Walker became intrigued with Calipari for one reason.
"I want a guy that wants to be here and he made it clear that he wants to be here," Walker said. "All I have heard about Calipari is how much fun it is to play for him and that's what college basketball is about. Get an education, get some exposure for yourself and have fun. Then take it to the next level if you can.
"He will get guys to do that and make it a pleasant experience for them, and I don't think that has been the case at Kentucky the last two years."
Walker, like others, wondered about the difficult game-day practices Gillispie held. He wondered if players were sometimes pressured to play when they were not 100 percent physically.
Mind games hurt players
"The mind games never stopped. It was a grind for those guys, and you could see it," Walker said. "I think it really got to the point where guys were not enjoying what they were doing.
"Calipari and guys like Pitino and Roy Williams (of North Carolina) have a style of play that kids want to play. Kids want to get excited about playing and making the (NCAA) tournament. Those are things he brings to the table that have been missing at Kentucky.
"One thing I thought Pitino was great at when he came to Kentucky was motivating players. A lot of coaches can X and 0. But in today's game, you have to be a great motivator and Calipari is that and he made it clear he wants to be at Kentucky. That's a winning combination."
It could be.
No official announcement has been made that Calipari has resigned at Memphis. No press conference has been called at Kentucky. Yet sources at both UK and Memphis insist Calipari has agreed to be UK's new coach.
Could something derail this move as it did two years ago when Florida coach Billy Donovan seemed set to take the Kentucky job? Absolutely.
But don't count on that happening.
This is Calipari's chance to determine his legacy. If he can revive a UK basketball program that has dropped out of the national championship discussion, it will be the crowning jewel in his career just as it was for Pitino when he came to UK 20 years ago and resurrected the program.
"I think Calipari gets everything about Kentucky basketball. He is a sharp guy," Walker said. "This is the home run that (UK athletics director) Mitch Barnhart needs. Kentucky will be relevant again very quickly with John Calipari, and I think that is what all of us want."