Despite a trail of prior disagreements and exchanges of needling remarks, Kentucky Coach John Calipari and Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl now form a mutual toleration, if not admiration, society.
"I like Bruce," Calipari told reporters on Friday, the day before UK plays UT in Rupp Arena. "I respect him. He can coach."
Calipari recalled Pearl leading Tennessee to a victory over his then-No. 1 Memphis in 2008.
"We don't exchange birthday wishes and Christmas cards because we're rivals," the UK coach said.
Never miss a local story.
At the Southeastern Conference Media Day in October, Pearl threw a bouquet Calipari's way. "Kentucky has got Final Four talent," the UT coach said, "and one of the best coaches in the country at putting it together."
Pearl, the first coach in SEC history to finish ahead of Kentucky four straight seasons, said that extending the record to five would be difficult because of Calipari. "It will make championships worth even more, and of course, harder to get," the UT coach said.
Calipari said in the summer that their status as SEC coaching colleagues mandated a certain civility. "This is about the SEC," he told columnist Joe Biddle of The Tennessean, the newspaper in Nashville, "and we don't need to damage each other. Let's try to promote each other."
But when Calipari coached at Memphis, he and Pearl kept headline writers busy. The examples include:
■ Disagreeing about where the Memphis-Tennessee series should be played. Calipari wanted a neutral site of Nashville to limit Pearl's recruiting reach into Memphis. Pearl wanted home and home.
"You could tell Coach Cal wanted it," Memphis guard Tyreke Evans told columnist David Climer of The Tennessean last season. "He doesn't like their coach."
■ Pearl noted UT's status as the state's flagship school. Calipari called the Vols a "regional power."
■ Needing a ticket to a Tennessee game at Memphis, Peyton Manning called Pearl, who called Calipari.
"He was begging for tickets," Calipari crowed. "Our athletics director took care of him."
Pearl didn't seem pleased the request became public knowledge, but he tried to laugh it off. "I'm good with you guys (the media)," he said, "but John is the best."
■ Calipari dismissed Tennessee's attempts to recruit Memphis by saying, "They're closer to Washington, D.C. They're so far from us and what we do it's incredible.''
Columnist Mike Strange of the Knoxville News Sentinel charged Calipari with a turnover. "According to Mapquest.com, the White House is 492 miles from my driveway," Strange wrote. "Beale Street is only 397 miles."
■ When Memphis and Tennessee played in the same 2008 NCAA Tournament regional, Calipari said, "I would hope for the first time in their lives I see orange jerseys cheering for us, and the first time they see the University of Memphis fans cheering for Tennessee, maybe even singing that song.
"What's the name of that song?"
■ Calipari didn't like hearing that Pearl continued to recruit Willie Kemp after the player committed to Memphis.
"It's not personal, it's business," said Pearl, sounding like Michael Corleone. "It's competition. It's going to happen in recruiting."
■ Calipari made no secret of not wanting to play at Tennessee while Memphis coach. "What good would it do for me to go to Knoxville other than to play in front of 22,000 people in orange?" he said. "And I can't stand the color."
■ At SEC Media Day, Calipari summed up his thoughts on Pearl near the end of his presentation.
"We're competitors," he said before adding, "I'm never going to paint my body."
Reporters told Pearl of Calipari's body paint comment and asked the UT coach if there was anything Calipari did that he would not do.
Pearl paused for effect, smirked at the media and then drew raucous laughter by saying, "I don't know all the things that he's doing."
Cal dismisses Nets talk
Calipari distanced himself from a story in Thursday's New York Daily News linking him to the opening with the New Jersey Nets.
Quoting sources, the newspaper said Calipari and Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski had "emerged as possible candidates" to coach the Nets.
"For all our fans, my name will be bandied about for every job that opens, including AAU jobs, high school jobs . . . ," he said. "It's happened. I just say whatever because I'm not (a reporter interrupted him from completing the sentence)."
Calipari said fans should interpret such speculation to the fact that Kentucky is having a good season.
"I'm happy," Calipari said. "This school is committed. As long as they're committed to me and this basketball program, where would I want to go?"
■ Tennessee big man Wayne Chism hasn't practiced since spraining an ankle against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. His status is questionable
■ UK will unveil new uniforms and yet another new style of Nike shoe.
■ The Kentucky Theatre will offer a free viewing of the UK-UT game on its big screen.
■ Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Erin Andrews will call the game for ESPN.