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UK Basketball: Players remain coach John Calipari's top priority

October 08, 2012|By LARRY VAUGHT | larry@amnews.com
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari will be greeting fans at Big Blue Madness again Friday and says he's recharged and ready to go again with a young team that is being picked to once again contend for a national title.
Clay Jackson

LEXINGTON - As he gets set to begin his fourth season at Kentucky, coach John Calipari says his priority remains doing all he can for his players.

“You are coaching at Kentucky and you understand this is life and death for some people, but it is not life and death for me. I have told you before, I want to win championships for the state and the Commonwealth, but the most important thing is helping these kids,” said Calipari. “It is a players first program. If we do right by them and make decisions based on them, they will drag us to where we want to go.

“I said three years ago and we had guys write stories and try to get people to comment on it. Those five guys going in the first round (of the NBA draft) were the biggest (moment in UK history), or one of the biggest ... I¿think I said biggest and I was probably right .. because now you have every player in the country wanting to play here. It started with those five going in the first round, something that had never been done and may never be done again unless it happens here. Now all of a sudden it has changed what has happened for us. We stay players first and they drag us with them. Let’s see where this team can drag us.”

Here are other thoughts Calipari shared in a preseason interview as UK¿gets set to host Big Blue Madness on Friday and officially start the 2012-13 season.

Question:¿Is there a tangible benefit to having former players on the staff in some capacity like Marquis Estill who you will have on staff this year?

Calipari: “If they do, fine. that would be great. be added. but not why we are doing it. We just added one of first players I recruited who just got done playing in Europe to the weight staff. Brian Shorter. He just finished his degree. Orlando (Antigua) and I¿got after Pitt to get this kid back and finish his degree. Now we are getting him started in that weight and conditioning stuff. The greatest thing is being in position to do it. Does Brian Shorter add something? I don’t know. If he does, great. But if he doesn’t and we help another young man get on with his life.

“Marquis Estill, I just got a letter from a seventh-grade teacher who was a brand new teacher and the kid was so nice to her that he had a relationship with her and she helped him with math or something. Now he made her feel good as a teacher when she first started and was unsure and he was such a nice kid. Now I am the biggest fan of this kid. I just got that letter about him. These kids are good kids.

“I told Nazr (Mohammad), he had some time left (to get his degree). Said when you are done playing come back and be on my staff a year and finish up. We did it obviously with Wayne Turner, who was really good for us.”

Question: Are you happy with how the non-conference schedule ended up after the controversy of not continuing the Indiana series?

Calipari: “Yeah and again if we could of, I wanted to play the Indiana games. I thought those would be great games in Indianapolis. It’s fine. We have got Baylor. North Carolina is being added back (the following year). You will have Louisville and North Carolina, one of them away, one home every year. You will have some neutral (site) games every year. We are still in the process of the Duke stuff every year. We will play at a neutral site. Then we will play two or three other games. What if everybody comes back? We may add some single shot games and play more to prepare the team. I think we are playing the schedule that fits. We would like to play more (high profile games) but that is more for me and the fans. This is about these kids. When you start talking about the SEC adding two more games, you can say you are not playing as many non-conference games. Well yeah, we are playing two more conference games. We are playing one of those teams twice, Texas A&M.”

Question: Are your batteries recharged enough to do this again?

Calipari: “Probably when I am done in my last year, I will run out of gas then. I took some time before (coaching) the Dominican Republic that I have never taken before. We got back and I took some time and went to Boston with my daughters. I am just enjoying it. The pace you go here is the pace you go. If you want to coach here, you take a lot of crap. If that is what I have to do to be the coach here, I will take a lot of crap. I am the coach at Kentucky. It took me 20 years to get this job. The stuff you have to do and have to take is just part of this job. But I think I am ready.”

Question: What is your definition of crap?

Calipari: “Well, everybody knows your job better than you. I don’t listen to it and I don’t hear it. I can barely turn on a computer. We don’t put out anything out that I don’t first see whether it is Twitter, Facebook or anything on the web page. But being the coach here, you have a lot of people not rooting for us and me. I am I like being paranoid or is that the truth. It’s just what it is. There are people not rooting for you. People that are not rooting for this school. You have to deal with all that, and it is okay. Right now we are at that point where how do you slow this down if you are those people. How do you slow this down. We can’t deal with this. What do I do? What do I say? What do I write? How do I slow this down? It is just part of what it is. To be here, you deal with it or go somewhere else and coach.”

Question: What did you think of the CBSSports.com polls that quoted anonymous coaches and criticized you severely?

Calipari: “I didn’t see them all. Stupid. Then the thing that you just don’t want for the profession we are in, is just don’t hurt the profession. When you hurt the profession with the stuff you do, why are you in this. Why would you hurt the profession? But again we don’t know if the question asked was even answered. This guy says this is what he did and that is what they said. Was it said? We don’t talk about other schools in recruiting. I would never damage another coach because it damages our profession. I don’t do it. I think there are a lot of coaches like me, but there are others that choose to do it.”

Question: Do you like being in the ground zero area of college basketball with Indiana and Louisville both highly rated and even Murray State making a name going into this season?

Calipari: “Ohio State is going to be good. That is fine. We are a national program. I guess if you live around here it is great. But this thing for us is the epicenter of college basketball is here. Whether they are good, that’s great. I don’t care what those teams do. I really don’t. I just want them to lose to us. Other than that I could care less. I don’t follow their teams. I don’t watch the games. I don’t root against them. If the game is on and I think I am rooting against them I will turn the channel because I don’t want that stuff coming back to us. It always does. But for the fans around here, I guess it is great.”

Question: What do you think of the Kentucky program before you came here and where it was at?

Calipari: “I liked Tubby (Smith). When I was coaching against him we beat them one time. But for a while Kentucky was when they walked in to recruit everybody knew Kentucky was walking in and that changed for a while and then maybe we can get these guys. The kids know three years. When I¿go in to recruit them, they know three years. They would know nothing about (19)98, not a player, nothing. But that’s not just Kentucky, it is any time. But their families understand the history of this place. The 2K (2,000 victories) meant something. It did then and we knew it. We needed to get there before (North) Carolina and we knew it. I said, ‘Can we win these games to make sure we get there before they do?’ I didn’t want it to be us playing them. That’s all we needed.

“This is a unique place. The expectations are high. You are under a magnifying glass. Stuff that goes on at other campuses, goes on here  it is a big deal. Goes on over there, ‘Hey I didn’t mean it. The guy walked into the kid’s fist.’ That’s life. But if it goes here, I am telling you it is  huge. It’s all part of what it is. Again, the whole thing here is a players’ first program. It is not changing. Every decision I make is based on what is right for these kids. That is not changing. Everything I do is based on them and if I do right by them and keep doing right by them then they will drag us where we want to go.

“Now I will say this. This team will maybe drag us as far as it can go and that may not be what we all want but I will look back and feel great about that. I think of the team two years ago and the first time I¿had here, those two teams both had chance to win national titles. To be honest, you may say we should have won in 2010. If we don’t go 0-for-20 (from 3-point range) against West Virginia, maybe we do. I think we were better than the other teams. Then the last year when you didn’t think we should win it and we ended up going farther, that’s just how it is here.”

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