It really should come as no surprise that Kentucky coach John Calipari has decided to coach the Dominican Republic’s national team in the FIBA Americas Championship Olympic Qualifying Tournament Aug. 30-Sept. 11 in Argentina.
Calipari had indicated several weeks ago that he was leaning to accepting the job and did not think it would have any impact on his coaching and recruiting at Kentucky.
“Just an update to let you know that I have formally accepted the head coaching position with the Dominican Republic’s national team. I am so excited to begin working with Southgate Sports, which operates all aspects of the team, as we prepare for FIBA’s upcoming Tournament of the Americas,” Calipari announced Thursday on coachcal.com.
He says he has already talked with several Dominican players who play in the NBA. The Kentucky coach also says “we will hold a mini-camp” in Lexington in early August “with some of the Dominican Republic’s emerging young stars” before the team’s official training camp with all players.
Obviously, that could be a red flag for Calipari critics — and there are many nationally — assuming he will be using this as a potential recruiting tool. Maybe Calipari anticipated that, because he posted on coachcal.com that most of those emerging players “are already playing American college basketball.”
That does include Kentucky senior Eloy Vargas. Obviously, the extra work under Calipari for Vargas will be a huge plus. He was not on campus last summer when he was finishing his junior college work and could not make the exhibition trip to Canada with his UK teammates.
Now Vargas will get to work out all summer in Lexington with his UK teammates — and former players who happen to stop by the Joe Craft Center — and then get in five to six weeks of work on the Dominican team under Calipari. That could pay huge dividends for UK next year and likely will have the Calipari critics howling, even though any Division I coach could be taking on the same responsibility Calipari is.
Calipari noted that he hopes UK fans “will show the Dominican Republic the love and support you show our University” during the time the team trains in Lexington.
Fans certainly will turn out for a planned exhibition game in Rupp Arena — where else would be a 23,000-seat facility be needed for an August exhibition for the Dominicans and a team of former UK players along with other former Calipari players. Calipari’s new team will also play another exhibition in the Dominican Republic — before heading to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil for the Jenaro “Tuto” Marchand Continental Cup (Aug. 24-26).
Calipari knows there will be questions about if he is spreading himself too thin.
“Some of you may ask, ‘Why would you do this?’ and my answer is simple: Southgate is committed to re-energizing Dominican Republic basketball and building a solid grassroots program, much like we’ve been helping with in China,” Calipari posted on coachcal.com. “Beyond that, this will be a great learning experience for me to be able to coach against some of the best minds in international basketball. I know that being in the NBA helped me do a better job of preparing our young men to reach their dreams and this opportunity will do the same.”
“I see no downside in this, especially knowing that I’m able to do a majority of the training here in Lexington at the state-of-the-art Joe Craft Center. We’re helping another nation spread the love of basketball and feel what the Big Blue Nation feels 12 months a year. We want to see basketball courts right next to all the baseball academies and build a consistent winner in the Dominican Republic.”
Remember, Calipari has been to China to help that country’s program and annually brings a group of Chinese coaches to the United States to observe his team. He also did not hesitate to recruit Turkey’s Enes Kanter last season. Now he’s adding another global aspect to his coaching that will only enhance the UK brand internationally.
“Southgate and the Dominican Republic welcome Coach Calipari to the team,” Eduardo Najri, Southgate board member, said in the release on Calipari’s website. “Not only are we excited about Coach’s experience on the court, but we also look forward to having him help us develop our grass roots efforts in the Dominican.
“Coach Cal’s commitment to our team, and our country marks a definite ‘before and after’ for Dominican Basketball. I can guarantee that the University of Kentucky has just increased its fan base by about 10 million basketball loving fans.”
And for Calipari, that alone is enough of a reason to accept this two-month job.