UK basketball notebook: Calipari says UK job is '24/7'

Coach loves atmosphere despite unique pressures

Herald-Leader Staff WriterSeptember 26, 2010 

Most college basketball coaches must work to drum up fan interest in their programs. The Southeastern Conference has seen coaches wear plaid jackets or attend a women's game bare-chested. Former LSU coach Dale Brown was in a category all his own when it came to promotional stunts: a mascot descending a rope from the ceiling, Mike the Tiger caged (thankfully) and wheeled around the court, references to Hitler, the Kremlin and masturbation.

Then there's Kentucky Coach John Calipari.

Before speaking at the annual UK Basketball Tip-Off Dinner in Louisville on Thursday, Calipari noted the enviable position he's in.

"We're all striving for this," he said of the bottomless well of fan interest in UK basketball. "Every coach in college basketball wants this environment."

As Memphis coach, Calipari's duties included selling 3,000 to 5,000 tickets to help fill the arena each year. "You had to," he said. "You had no choice."

As Kentucky coach, Calipari has athletic staffers who do much of the non-coaching chores.

Yet, the UK job places plenty of demands on its coach.

"It's like a coat," Calipari said as the minds of listeners no doubt conjured constrictive winter wear. "It's 24/7. You're at another school, when it's the off-season, there is an off-season.

"I'm aging right before my eyes. I see lines and gray hair I never had before."

Not that Calipari was complaining. He's traveled the state again this season. As the Tip-Off Dinner ended, he volunteered to sign copies of his book, Bounce Back, or any one alternative item. But only one. "I want to get home to my wife before midnight," he said before what became a long line of fans began stretching across the Louisville International Convention Center ballroom.

Earlier in the week, Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack after his team beat Notre Dame. This led a reporter to ask Calipari how he handled the stresses associated with his job.

Calipari turned to David Scott, his Tonto of the Internet, and asked, "Should I get into my faith?"

Scott, who tweets for the UK coach and runs his Coachcal.com Web site, frowned and shook his head from side to side.

"Don't do it, huh?" Calipari said before adding, "I exercise. I spend time with myself in the morning. I'm spending a lot of time with my wife right now."

But Calipari, who said he attends Mass each morning, will not slow his pace.

"My mind races," he said. "I'm one of those people. My mind is always racing."

Krebs writes book

Former UK player Mark Krebs has written a book titled Beyond A Dream. The book, which will be in bookstores Friday, chronicles the adversity he and his family faced the last few years.

Most poignantly, his mother, Terri, battled breast cancer, undergoing 390 chemo treatments and seven surgeries before dying on June 30.

UK Coach John Calipari called within a half-hour after Krebs' mother died. The former UK player also heard from former UK coach Billy Gillispie, each of Gillispie's assistant UK coaches here and various athletic department personnel.

"Even though she passed away, (the book is about) how much she taught me," Krebs said. "Pretty much my mom's and my stories go down parallel lines. I fed off her to get to Kentucky. She fed off us to live and fight through all the chemo."

Krebs' basketball adversity included summoning the courage to try to walk on the UK team. After making it, he played for three coaches in four years.

His mother's cancer diagnosis meant a financial burden as well as an emotional blow. How would the family fund her treatment? How could Krebs pay his way to college?

"Within three months, my whole life turned upside down," Krebs said.

To help others facing soul-shaking difficulties, the former UK player set up the Terri Krebs Dream Foundation.

As for the book, family friend James Gerner put the idea of a book in Krebs' head.

Krebs put off beginning a working career.

"I think I'm in that position now to help people out on a direct level," he said. "There are very few times in people's lives to make a difference."

Krebs acknowledged how much he misses the basketball atmosphere.

"I'm busy," he said, "but it's not the same as far as that type of brotherhood. The team unity is what I miss."

Jeter cheater?

John Adams, the supervisor of referees for college basketball, happened to watch Derek Jeter fake being hit by a pitch and getting awarded first base. He was not amused.

"It's possible to fool every now and then," Adams said when asked to put the Jeter ploy in a basketball context. "I don't think it's very smart for the player who fooled the ref to tell everybody he did it."

Why was that not a smart thing to do?

"Jeter's going to see those umpires again," Adams said.

Asked after the game, Jeter was asked where the ball had hit him. He smiled and said, "The bat."

Jeter saw no alternative to pretending to be hit by the pitch.

"What can I do?" he said. "My job is to get on. (Umpire Lance Barksdale) said it hit me."

Adams suggested the "let-sleeping-dogs-lie theory" was Jeter's best course of action.

"Refs are going to miss plays as long as sports go on," Adams said. "It happens so fast and your mind doesn't process information fast enough." UK basketball has had instances of miscarriages of justice. Replacing the player fouled with a better free-throw shooter has worked against the Cats (see: Tennessee, Ernie Grunfeld) and for the Cats (see: Travis Ford directing Jared Prickett to the line at Vanderbilt).

Then-UK coach Rick Pitino was not amused. He reprimanded the guilty players and said the switcheroo was beyond so-called gamesmanship.

"That's the way I'd expect him to handle it," Adams said. "He's upfront about everything. I know he had nothing to do with it."

As for players who try to influence calls by flopping or pointing to suggest their team should be awarded possession, Adams said, "That's part of the game. It's up to us to stay on top of the game and get it right."

Student-athlete

When asked recently what people were major influences in his life, C.M. Newton first mentioned his father, who overcame alcoholism. He also cited his high school coach.

Then he named Adolph Rupp.

"I came to Kentucky wanting to study veterinary medicine," Newton said. "I grew up on a farm."

After signing up for zoology, biology and other "ologies" as an incoming freshman, Newton took his schedule to assistant coach Harry Lancaster for approval. Lancaster suggested Newton speak with Rupp.

Rupp took a look at the schedule and said, "Hell, Newton, we didn't get you here to be a student. We brought you here to play basketball."

Newton became a physical education major.

Political science

During an appearance at the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches last weekend, Bobby Keith recalled leading Clay County in the state finals.

Keith gave instructions to star guard Richie Farmer late in a close game. "Call a color to (tell teammates) to clear the right side," Keith told Farmer. "Call a fruit to clear the left side."

Farmer called orange."Why did you call orange?" Keith asked.

"I wanted both wings clear," Farmer said.

Recalling this exchange, Keith said, "That's why he'll be the next lieutenant governor."

'Average fan'

Loyola Marymount Coach Max Good enjoyed speaking to the KABC audience.

"Only coaches understand other coaches," he said. "I hate to talk basketball with anyone other than a coach. The average fan will blame the players, blame the coach and 30 minutes after the game half of them can't find their car."

Madness

ESPN picked Kentucky as one of the sites to showcase on its Midnight Madness show on Oct. 15. So how does the network decide which Madness festivities to attend?

"ESPN has many variables that factor into who we pick for the Midnight Madness event," senior publicist Rachel Margolis wrote in an e-mail. "It is a combination of strong story lines and big stories of teams that are expected to do well, mixed with great environments.

"We like to try and mix geographical locations as well."

Free speech?

Earlier this month, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury made SEC history. He became the league's first basketball coach to pay a fine imposed for publicly making critical comments about the officiating.

He — correctly — noted that the referees missed a violation by UK's John Wall. Wall broke too soon into the lane to try to rebound Eric Bledsoe's intentionally missed free throw in the final seconds. DeMarcus Cousins scored at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Kentucky won in OT.

Poof went a victory in the SEC Tournament finals and Mississippi State's only chance at an NCAA Tournament bid.

That the missed call came three weeks after another UK overtime victory over State spiced with curious officiating led Stansbury to speak his mind.

The Mississippi State coach's exercise in free speech led SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to levy a $30,000 fine.

When asked to comment on paying the fine, Stansbury declined.

"I've said enough already," he said.

Happy birthday

To former UK wing Rodrick Rhodes. He turned 37 on Friday.

Has any player had a more interesting UK career than Rhodes? It started in unprecedented fashion. As a top-five national prospect, he and his family were in position to ask Rick Pitino to publicly declare his intention to remain UK coach before making a commitment.

It ended with his transfer to Southern California as a senior, which coincidentally or not freed up a scholarship for Ron Mercer and sparked wisecracks about Pitino working the waiver wire.

Those bookends bracketed a three-year UK career that saw Rhodes score 1,209 points, exasperate and excite Pitino and suffer an emotional meltdown after missing two free throws in the final seconds against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.

"A great experience, good and bad," Rhodes said last week. "I wouldn't change it. My past was my past. ... I'm not a guy who lives with regret."

After playing in the NBA, Rhodes became a coach. He worked in the UMass office for former UK teammate Travis Ford and at Seton Hall. That led to an assistant coaching job at Idaho State. Now he works as an assistant coach at Texas-Pan American.

"It was my passion," he said of becoming a coach. "I played basketball all my life. The transition was easy. It was a way to give back."

Rhodes seeks to have an impact on players like Pitino, his high school coach Bob Hurley and Houston Rockets Coach Rudy Tomjanovich had on him. He wants to help his players be better athletically and as people.

One question hit him like a blind pick: How would Rodrick Rhodes the coach view Rodrick Rhodes the player?

"That's a loaded question," he said after a long pause. "It's a great question."

Perhaps it was the telephone call from Lexington or the reflection that comes with a birthday, but something made Rhodes think of his Kentucky days. He suggested a sportswriter (blush) be more conscious of the feelings of UK players when writing stories.

"These are kids," he said. "You have a lot of power in your hand with that pen. And it's sharp."

Rhodes has two daughters: Rodiera, 14, and Ravin, 11.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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