Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who will lead a USA Basketball team in a tournament in Cairo, Egypt, next month, acknowledged he had initial concerns about safety.
“Whether NBA, Olympics, traveling around the world changed a whole lot … ,” Calipari said on a teleconference Tuesday. “I was very curious about how we’re going to do this. And at this point, I’m very comfortable that this team will be in a good position when we travel over there to play.”
Calipari cited two factors for bringing him comfort. One was the naming of a retired general, Martin E. Dempsey, as chair of USA Basketball. Dempsey is a West Point graduate who earlier served as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey’s involvement was “kind of helpful” in allaying fears about safety, said Calipari, who also said he had several conversations about safety with Dempsey. “I just want to be sure on where we are on this.”
Calipari also said that the president of Egypt and officials from Cairo have been involved in safety for the FIBA U19 World Cup, which will be played July 1-9. The U.S. team will travel with what Calipari called “two levels” of security.
No doubt, concerns were raised when ISIS claimed responsibility for bomb blasts on Palm Sunday that struck Coptic churches in Tanta (about 56 miles north of Cairo) and the port city of Alexandria. The blasts reportedly killed 47 and injured more than 100 others.
“If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t go,” Calipari said. “I’m very comfortable (after) walking through the way we’ve done this — being thorough, very thorough — that we’re going to be fine.”
Three UK players will be among the 28 players trying out for the U19 team coached by Calipari. Those are Hamidou Diallo and incoming freshmen Kevin Knox and PJ Washington.
The tryouts will be held June 18-25 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Col. The 12-man team is expected to be named June 22, the date of the NBA Draft. The 2017 FIBA World Cup is scheduled for July 1-9 in Cairo.
Calipari has made it a practice of attending the NBA Draft in order to, as he puts it, watch UK players “graduate.” Although the U19 team is scheduled to have two practices that day, Calipari said he plans to attend this year’s draft, which will be in Brooklyn, N.Y.
20 SEC games?
Calipari voiced opposition to the idea of the Southeastern Conference expanding its league schedule from 18 to 20 games.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is scheduled to expand to 20 games in the 2019-20 season. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo was quoted as saying he expected the Big Ten to go to 20-game league schedules.
Calipari said that going from 18 to 20 SEC games would, by definition, reduce by two the number of opportunities to schedule non-conference games.
The UK coach said other conferences are expanding schedules in response to the need for more games — more “inventory,” he said — for league television networks.
“Hopefully, in our case, we stay where we are,” Calipari said. “If we don’t, we’ll make it work.”