Calipari rolls out plan for change

Coach offers big ideas to restore UK brand

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2009 

Among the subjects touched on at John Calipari's news conference Wednesday were:

■ The number of 7-footers in China. There are 1,000.

■ His preference for neutral-site games, say in Nashville, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Houston (where Texas would like to play the Cats). "Because what I want to do is split the tickets," he said. "Reason? Because it's an NCAA venue. That's what the NCAA is."

As for UK's traditional neutral-site game in Louisville, the new coach would like to split the tickets with the same "name" opponent every season, the role Notre Dame filled (sans the split of tickets) for many years.

UK will play either Virginia or Stanford in Cancun, Mexico, next season.

■ Big Blue Madness in Commonwealth Stadium. "And get 70,000 people there," he said. Calipari envisioned such celebrities as Ashley Judd and Justin Timberlake attending such an event.

Yes, Calipari plans to bring to Kentucky basketball the kind of change President Barack Obama could believe in.

He talked about his vision for the program during an hourlong give-and-take with reporters in which both sides are still getting to know one another.

"I'm usually out of the box," Calipari said, "to where you shake your head and say, 'This guy is out of his mind.' "

As for an outdoor Madness, he wondered aloud about the Central Kentucky weather in mid-October.

"I threw it at the athletic department," Calipari said. "Let's think. Will it work? If the weather's bad, can we then go down to Rupp?

"... I let everybody deal with all the hard stuff. I come up with the idea."

Other Calipari brainstorms included an effort to help former players complete work on degrees (Derek Anderson, Wayne Turner and Ron Mercer have signed up) and a fantasy camp for fans 35 and older that includes accommodations in Wildcat Lodge and the opportunity to play in Rupp Arena with former stars such as Rajon Rondo and Tayshaun Prince.

Ironically, the method to the expanded Madness and other possible changes rests on a restoration rather than an alteration of Kentucky basketball.

"We want this brand to be back where it was 15 years ago, 10 years ago," Calipari said.

To illustrate the point, Calipari recalled the impression made when a Kentucky coach entered a recruiting venue. "It's like, Oh, man," he said. "... I'd walk over and ask, 'Do you really want this guy?' If they said, yeah, I said, 'OK, have a nice day.'

"And I walked (out of the gym)."

As part of the effort to supersize Kentucky basketball, Calipari said he will leave for China on June 3. Besides conducting clinics, he wants to establish Kentucky's name in the world's most populated country.

After noting that the Memphis-Tennessee battle of No. 1 and No. 2 in 2007-08 set a record for ESPN with an audience of five million, Calipari said that 10 million Chinese watched Memphis play the national team without Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. And the game was tape-delayed and played in the summer.

"It's the last bastion of how do we do this?" Calipari said of China. "How do we become No. 1? We do it by creating relationships."

Calipari, who said he had visited China two or three times previously, spoke with school president Lee Todd about recruiting Chinese students to UK. He also said that 15 Chinese coaches will spend a week at UK, and, if Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart approves, one or two Chinese coaches would spend this coming season with the Cats.

The mention of China raised a question about recruiting. That's when Calipari estimated that the country had 1,000 7-footers.

Calipari, the first UK basketball coach to Twitter, previewed another Internet venture.

"We're going to bring out a Web page," he said. And not just any Web page. "It's going to be the Web page to end all Web pages. It'll come out in about two weeks."

The page will include video and phone calls, but Calipari emphasized what it won't have.

"No filters," he said. "Just me talking. ...

"They want to be part of it," he said of the fans. "And I love it."

As if anticipating grumbles that the new coach might be distracted, Calipari volunteered that his Web duties would involve only a few minutes.

"My time will be spent on recruiting and coaching," he said. "The greatest thing about being here is I can do that. I don't have to fund-raise. Get this one: I don't have to sell tickets. Can you imagine?"

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