John Clay: ESPN's 'All-Access' is the ultimate Big Blue commercial

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 17, 2012 

After watching the first 30-minute installment of ESPN's All-Access Kentucky on Wednesday night, my wife had just one question.

"I want to know what's in that salad."

That would be the salad in the 75-cent Tupperware container UK Coach John Calipari takes with him on recruiting trips. It's the salad Calipari said his wife, Ellen, makes especially for such trips and then packs in the same plastic container that the coach joked he will hear about when he returns home if he forgets and leaves the container on that private plane.

For the most part, the first "episode" of this behind-the-scenes look inside the Kentucky basketball program was exactly what I thought it might be, a promotional video for the Kentucky basketball program.

Calipari himself makes it exactly that. That's how he is and what he does and how he got to where he is right now: fresh off a national championship and well on his way to his fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class.

At various points, it appeared that All-Access was really All-NBA, such was the focus on the NBA and the NBA Draft, including a scene in which Cal pointed to his 2010 NBA Draft class as being the group that got it started and how people got mad when he said it was the greatest day in the school's history and how ultimately he was proven right.

(Cal lives for those moments, by the way.)

The coach also reiterated that if the team wins a championship and no one got drafted, it would be great for the school and the fans, but he would think that he failed somehow.

At one point, Calipari repeated the line he used at Media Day that at this stage in his career, he's not really in the business of basketball as much as he's "in the business of helping families."

That sound you heard across America immediately after that was opposing coaches using their qwerty keyboards to text message their coaching friends three letters: "OMG."

There was an interview with one of the Harrison twins after the Houston duo had committed to UK in which Aaron Harrison said, "Coach Cal can make our dream come true faster than the normal coach."

Whatever six-figure check the school wrote for that laser light show at Big Blue Madness last week pales in comparison to the priceless promotional punch of that quote.

For those of us more familiar with the program, however — someone like myself — the best parts had little to do with the big sales pitches, but with the small details.

The opening of Calipari eating breakfast with the old coots (a loving term) at Wheeler's Pharmacy, complete with a grinning former Cats Pause publisher Oscar Combs, was fun, of course, but it's required video for any behind-the-scenes look at a UK basketball coach's life.

What I liked more was the scene in which assistant coach Orlando Antigua was sitting in his office monitoring Twitter, reading both the positive tweets and the negative ones taking shots at UK and Calipari.

"When you're on top," said a grinning Antigua, "what are they gonna say?"

And I especially liked the Media Day scene when the players came out of a meeting room into a hallway and got a first look, through the glass, at the mob waiting to interview them.

"Oh my God," said Alex Poythress, and you could sense the nervousness and almost see a bit of fear in the players' eyes, a nice touch that showed that, hey, these are just kids.

Of course, once the episode progressed to the actual Big Blue Madness, with the light show and dances and the fan adulation, you see that these are really kids as rock stars.

The series continues the next two Wednesdays, and hopefully we will see less of the sales pitch and more of what we don't normally see — what it's like being a player in a program that, as Calipari himself said, is not for everybody.

And maybe we can find out what exactly Ellen Calipari puts in that salad.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226Email: jclay@herald-leader.comTwitter: @johnclayivBlog:

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