Brad Calipari apparently wanted to get something off his chest. And, maybe more precisely, on his chest.
So in the summer of 2016 he got a tattoo. Its message is as clear as its bold, block lettering at the top of his chest. It reads: Earned, Not Given.
As the son of Kentucky Coach John Calipari, Brad Calipari is keenly aware of what his status as a UK walk-on implies.
“You know, so many people think when I came here, it was a free handout I took,” he said. “I could have gone to a couple other places. … But I came here because I felt this was my best opportunity to get better. And I felt last year I did get better.”
As a freshman, he played sparingly. The improvement came in the daily practices, where only program insiders can see and appreciate incremental advances.
“In the beginning, it was tough,” Brad Calipari said of his improvement. “But once you get in the flow of things, you get your confidence up.”
Of course, the competition can be fierce. An aphorism seems to apply: A rising tide lifts all boats. Even one navigated by the son of the coach is no exception.
“Going against lottery picks every day, the top five picks, really helps you,” he said. “It forces you to get better. I think I got better a lot quicker than I imagined.
“My dad sees my strides and tells me how proud he is of me. And that helps me with my confidence, too.”
Of his parents’ reaction to the tattoo, Brad Calipari said, “They really didn’t say too much. They say, why did you get a tattoo?”
Something else expressed the similar “earned” sentiment this season, albeit with less permanence than a tattoo. Brad Calipari played for a team in the Global Sports Academy competition in Croatia.
He averaged 14.3 points, 6.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds for a team that won three of its four games.
The competition was not at Kentucky’s level, he acknowledged.
“Nobody’s driving by you and dunking on you,” he said, “or blocking shots at the top of the square.”
While the games in Croatia were more earth-bound, there were competitive challenges. Just different challenges, he said.
Brad Calipari said he played point guard for his team. He came UK known primarily for his shooting ability.
“I tried to get guys involved,” he said, “and I felt I did that pretty well. Making sure everyone is satisfied. And if I have an open shot, take it. That’s one of my top skills. I can’t pass that up.”
As with teammate Jemarl Baker and uncounted players elsewhere, Brad Calipari resists the label of a shooter. It connotes a player that is one dimensional. At a time when so-called positionless players are coveted, a player known for a specific skill seems to be of limited value.
“I can shoot the ball well,” he said before adding, “but it’s not the only aspect to my game.”