UK basketball notebook

UK basketball notebook: Calipari adds to long list of charitable endeavors

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 14, 2011 

Kentucky coach John Calipari talked with the press before he and his assistants put the Dominican National team through practice on Tuesday August 2, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

Last week's announcement of an effort to improve Kentuckians' knowledge of finance served as the latest in a long line of charitable endeavors for Kentucky Coach John Calipari. As former UK president Lee T. Todd Jr. noted that there seemed to be six Caliparis working as coach, there is a history of him being everywhere when it comes to charity.

His first two seasons as UK coach hinted at his civic-mindedness. Calipari spearheaded the Hoops for Haiti relief telethon and participated in the Samaritan's Feet charity.

As Memphis coach, he launched The Calipari Family Foundation for Children, which was intended to support children's charities and community projects in that city.

Later, the foundation sponsored a speaker series called "An Evening with Coach Cal & Friends." The program brought together hundreds of area business leaders around a common goal. Speakers included Terry Bradshaw, Dick Vitale, George Foreman and Bob Rotella.

Calipari also founded a program called NetWorks, which helped find jobs for former Memphis players.

While Memphis coach, Calipari made several financial contributions to the school. In the spring of 2004, Calipari and his family donated $100,000 to help endow athletic scholarships at the university.

At the end of his first season at Memphis, Calipari and several business leaders formed the Y.E.S. Foundation, an organization designed to educate middle school students about the importance of academics and athletics.

Calipari also helped raise money to fund improvements of the Memphis tennis complex, a resurfacing for courts used by Memphis students for outdoor basketball.

As Massachusetts coach, Calipari contributed to the Jack Leaman Legacy Fund that benefits UMass scholarships.

So Congressman Hal Rogers said a mouthful at last week's announcement of the financial literacy effort when he said he wanted to "honor the coach and all that he stands for."

ESPN GameDay

Last week, ESPN announced the schedule for this coming season's on-campus GameDay shows. The only GameDay involving SEC teams will be Feb. 11 when Kentucky plays at Vanderbilt.

"We are extremely excited to be a part of ESPN College GameDay," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings was quoted as saying on his school's Web site.

By stark contrast, Stallings shrugged off Vandy's participation in a GameDay production at rival Tennessee last season. As the visiting team for a made-for-TV extravaganza that serves as free advertising for the home team, Vandy would show up, play the game and promptly leave Knoxville, Stallings said last season when asked about being part of GameDay.

The role as home team brought a different reaction.

"Memorial Gym should be a terrific venue to have GameDay," Stallings said on the Web site. "Our players and coaching staff are definitely looking forward to it, and I know our fans will enjoy it and represent us well. Having GameDay is a tribute to what our players have accomplished and the excitement they have generated about our program."

Nick Dawson, a director in ESPN's Programming and Acquisitions department, said the UK-Vandy game commanded the network's attention when it came time to pick games to center GameDay around. "Jumped to the top of the list," he said.

That GameDay has not originated from Nashville also factored in the decision, Dawson said.

When asked why GameDay was not returning to Lexington this coming season, Dawson said ESPN simply put the highest priority on identifying the eight best games in the January-March period.

In previewing the UK-Vandy game from six months out, ESPN wrote:

"Expect the eyes of many to zero in on the paint for what could be a battle for SEC supremacy. Kentucky has yet another loaded recruiting class, including Anthony Davis, the top-rated freshman in his class. He may be listed as a power forward, but there's not a coach in the country who doesn't think Davis can command the interior.

"The Commodores have Festus Ezeli, whose ability to rebound and provide an interior presence could be the key to Vandy's success. Most everyone agrees this is Kevin Stallings' best Vanderbilt team but to prove its worth, it will have to get through UK first."

'Flex pick'

ESPN will experiment with its first "Flex pick," a term the network uses to describe giving itself options for a particular GameDay site. This coming season, the "Flex pick" will come on March 3 when the options are North Carolina at Duke or Texas at Kansas.

ESPN's Nick Dawson said the choice will be made based on team records, whether a league championship is on the line and, essentially, which game figures to draw the largest audience.

The choice will make UNC or Kansas the only school to make two appearances on GameDay this coming season. UNC is scheduled to be on Jan. 14 when it plays at Florida State. ESPN will place GameDay at Missouri on Feb. 4 when the Tigers play Kansas.

Coaches offer support

Earlier this year, an oral history of ESPN hit bookstores (and Amazon.com). The book includes seven pages devoted to the well-chronicled 2009 incident in which a "fan" stalked sideline reporter Erin Andrews and secretly videotaped her in her hotel room. Understandably, the incident horrified Andrews. Sympathetic coaches offered her support.

Andrews mentioned in the book how football coaches Urban Meyer and Mac Brown gave her encouraging words.

"I think two phone calls floored me," she said. "One was an incredible message from John Calipari, and he just said, 'I've got a daughter, and I'm very sorry. Do not let this person win. You have to come back. If you don't come back, college basketball will just be miserable without you. You are so good for our sport.'

"The other person — I haven't even worked on one of his games — was Les Miles. He reached out to me, and I remember I was doing laundry at my house, and I was kind of tearing up because he said, 'You know, I have a daughter, and if we don't have you on the sidelines, what's the point?'

"And then all of a sudden, he went into football-coach-speak and I literally was ready to tackle a wall. I understood why guys get jacked up before games. It was awesome."

Hard to please

UK's 2011-12 non-conference schedule includes games with Kansas, St. John's, North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana. That seemed worthy of kudos. Even the usual nit to pick — a lackluster home schedule — does not apply given games against UNC and U of L in Rupp Arena.

But two people who specialize in rating strengths of schedule did not play along. They did not seem overwhelmed.

Here are brief email conversations on the UK non-conference schedule:

Herald-Leader: Do you think the schedule is too much for a freshman-oriented team?

Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com: That's not necessarily a pushover schedule. There are definitely a few tests there. However, there are enough games that should give the freshmen an opportunity to get their legs under them. Also, (John) Calipari usually has better freshmen than a lot of team's upperclassmen.

HL: Do you consider it a typical non-conference schedule for a high-major program?

JP: I'd say it has a couple more tough games than your typical major conference team would have.

HL: What do you (Ken Pomeroy of Kenpom.com) think of Kentucky's non-conference schedule?

KP: That seems like a strong schedule, although the slate of teams as a whole looks slightly weaker than last season and with only one true road game in there, the overall difficulty is clearly less than last season. They'll be favored in every game.

HL: Favored in every game? Even against North Carolina?

KP: Home-court advantage is four points which is a pretty large gap. It's hard to imagine that Kentucky would be considered at least four points worse than UNC on a neutral floor unless UK plays much more poorly than expected in their first few games.

HL: This fishing for a compliment for Kentucky is getting embarrassing, but would you concede that the home schedule is much better than last season?

KP: Oh sure. Strictly looking at the home schedule, it's an upgrade in both entertainment value and difficulty. Rating overall schedule difficulty is heavily influenced by game location, so overall I have to think it rates out easier than last season.

Maui looks ahead

The EA Sports Maui Invitational announced its field for 2012 last week. That field includes Mississippi State, making the Bulldogs the ninth SEC program to play in the Maui Invitational.

The three SEC programs to never play in the Maui Invitational are Auburn, Georgia and Ole Miss.

Former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom, the person in charge of lining up teams for the Maui Invitational, said that there's no bias against Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi.

The NCAA rule limiting programs to one participation every four years makes what Odom called "marquee teams" a must when their turn returns. Plus, television wants the programs with the greatest name recognition to help boost ratings.

"That does make it harder for some schools to break into that rotation," said Odom, who noted that Wake Forest had never played in the Maui Invitational.

Nor had anyone from Auburn, Georgia or Mississippi expressed an interest in playing in the event, he said.

Of course, Kentucky played in the 2010 Maui Invitational. That makes UK eligible to play again in 2014, presumably no sure thing, given John Calipari's public ambivalence toward the long trip necessary to play in Hawaii.

The UK coach noted concerns about such a trip draining a team, an issue seemingly blown away by UConn winning the 2010 Maui Invitational and then the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Or blown away by Kentucky advancing to its first Final Four in 13 years in 2011.

Odom said he did not want to lobby Calipari about Kentucky playing in the 2014 event until the UK coach finished his work with the Dominican Republic national team.

To indicate the high regard with which Odom holds Kentucky, he's reserving the one remaining open spot in 2014 for UK.

As for this year, the 2011 field includes Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan, Tennessee, UCLA and Chaminade.

In 2012, the teams will be Butler, Illinois, Marquette, North Carolina, Texas, Southern California, Chaminade and Mississippi State. Butler will join Mississippi State as first-timers in the event. In 2012-13, North Carolina will seek to win both the Maui and NCAA tournaments in the same season for a third time (2004-05 and 2008-09).

Dinner for eight

Dinner for eight on the Rupp Arena floor. A private tour of the UK locker room. A chance to shoot baskets on the Rupp court.

That's the first prize in a raffle sponsored by God's Pantry Food Bank. Dubbed a "March Madness Dream Dinner," the prize caps a raffle that began ticket sales on Aug. 5 at www.godspantry.org. Tickets can also be bought at the food bank office at 1685 Jaggie Fox Way and Kentucky Proud Market in the Lexington Center.

Raffle tickets — which cost $20 — will also be available at the Incredible Food Show in Rupp Arena on Oct. 8. You can also purchase tickets by calling (859) 255-6592.

Lexington chef Jonathan Lundy of Jonathan at Gratz Park Inn will prepare the dinner for eight.

The raffle drawing will be held at 4 p.m. at the Incredible Food Show. Tickets for the Food Show are available at Rupp Arena or by calling (859) 233-4567.

Congratulations

Congratulations to Wally Hall, the assistant managing editor for sports at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Hall got married on Friday.

Happy birthday

To ex-Cat Antoine Walker. He turned 35 on Friday.

To Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He turned 83 on Tuesday.

To ex-Cat DeMarcus Cousins. He turned 21 on Saturday.

To ex-Cat Jim Lemaster. He turned 65 on Friday.

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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