John Clay: UK job not big enough for Calipari

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 14, 2009 

John Clay

Random notes from JohnCalipari's press briefing Wednesday morning in Memorial Coliseum:

■ One thing that strikes you about UK's new basketball coach is scale.

Where Billy Gillispie appeared to want to shrink the job, Calipari is expanding it. Calipari's going for it. Big time.

He's talking about holding Big Blue Madness at Commonwealth Stadium. It's probably not doable, but he's talking about it. He's going to China. He's ramping up the schedule. Not to overdo the theme, but he's having Kentucky be KENTUCKY!

■ He's also a two-way-street coach. Yes, his players will have to conform to his demands. But he's going to conform some to them, as well. These days, it's a requirement.

Example: Calipari used a simple analogy Wednesday. Twenty years ago, you phone a recruit. The line is busy. You call back. Not today. Twenty years ago, you phone a recruit. No one answers. You let it ring and ring. Not today.

"Kids haven't changed," he said. "What's coming at them has changed."

■ You could say the same thing about AAU coaches. They can be a pain, sometimes even a necessary evil. But most big-time recruits play AAU basketball and have an AAU coach. Deal with it.

That doesn't mean deal with it in a way that breaks NCAA rules. That doesn't mean deal with every one, even the undesirables. But some are unavoidable, and some are even looking out for the best interest of the kid. So deal with it.

■ Calipari talked as if Jodie Meeks is already back on the team.

■ His idea of bringing a big-name team to play the Cats in Louisville is spot-on. Too long, the Cats have operated as if Jefferson County would turn out to see UK play basketball against anyone.

Maybe if Kentucky were a regular Final Four visitor. But it's not. There's too much else going on. You have to give the fans a reason to come out. A big-name foe would bring them.

■ For those who have asked, yes, Calipari will play a zone defense. Just not a lot of zone. Not as much zone as some may want, he said. His defensive bread-and-butter is a pressing man-to-man. But he's flexible.

■ Calipari has been out of the NBA for nine years, but you'd think it was nine days.

He used Boston Celtic Kendrick Perkins to talk about Patrick Patterson on Wednesday. He mentioned that Celtics Coach Doc Rivers runs portions of the dribble-drive. He explained the difference between a player's first NBA contract and the second NBA contract as if he's an agent. He talked about LeBron as if he coached him at Memphis. And Larry Brown is his mentor.

■ You think maybe the NBA connection helped Rick Pitino when he coached here in the 1990s? Just a little?

■ The approach to Meeks illustrates a difference between Calipari and his predecessor. Both want the guard to take fewer shots. But Calipari articulates why he wants Meeks to take fewer shots in a way that will help Meeks.

The NBA doesn't look at statistics, the coach said Wednesday. The NBA looks at efficiency. If Meeks scores the same number of points, but by taking fewer shots, and getting to the foul line more, that will help the team, and get Meeks where he wants to go: The NBA.

■ On the RPI: "You can see I've studied this, because I've had to." That's a plus. In the weak Conference USA, Memphis needed smart non-conference scheduling to improve its NCAA seeds. It didn't need victories, it needed to prove it belonged with the big boys.

■ When Calipari was asked about the returning players, he mentioned Darius Miller first.

■ Cal said Twitter takes him four minutes a day.

Here's a Cal tweet from Tuesday night: "Just had the best fried chicken EVER. ... Mr. Bill's favorite stop, Merrick Inn with Luther Deaton and Billy Wilcoxson."

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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