Brad Calipari knows what you’re thinking. He wants to prove you’re wrong.
“A lot of people think a lot of things are handed to me because my dad is who he is,” he said Wednesday. “But he doesn’t treat me like that at all. He makes me earn everything. All the things he’s given me, I’ve had to earn from him.”
Of course, Brad Calipari was talking about John Calipari. Surely a lot of people think the younger Calipari will be a freshman walk-on at Kentucky next season only because the older Calipari is UK coach.
The son acknowledged the doubts that must be dispelled. A potential early step in that process comes Friday when he plays in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic.
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And, in case you were wondering, it’s not unprecedented for a walk-on to play in this all-star game. Dillon Avare and David Levitch played in the Derby Classic three years ago before walking on at Louisville.
Brad Calipari is not even the only walk-on in this year’s game. Tyler Sharpe, a guard from Bullitt East, will be what’s known as a “preferred walk-on” at U of L next season.
To say Brad Calipari is a “preferred walk-on” sounds like a punch line. And he flashed his father’s playful sense of humor when asked if the UK coach screams at him like he does at referees. “No,” Brad Calipari said, “thank God.”
But to be accepted as a Kentucky player is no laughing matter.
When asked what he wants to prove, he said, “Just that I have ability. A lot of people just think I’m in the spot I am just because of who my dad is. And that’s not the case.
“So, I show people I deserve every opportunity I’ve gotten.”
How can he make that clear?
“Just playing hard and playing well,” he said. “Playing the game with heart.”
Brad Calipari, a 6-foot guard, began his high school career at Lexington Christian Academy. His junior year ended a few games into the season when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament.
He played the last two seasons for The MacDuffie School in Massachusetts. He averaged 15.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season.
Brad Calipari also made 47 percent of his three-point shots, which might explain how he responded when asked to describe his game. “Knock down a lot of shots,” he said with a smile. “I can tell you that much.”
The younger Calipari mentioned his shooting ability in connection with a possible role on the Kentucky team.
After saying his father had been a constant source of encouragement, he added, “He just told me there’s only so many guys who can shoot the ball.
“Like, I have the ability to (shoot). So there will be a spot for you. Anywhere, really. It’s just a matter of if I can get my body in the best shape possible.”
It was a noticeably thinner, fitter Brad Calipari who deftly handled media questions Wednesday. He said he had lost 20 pounds last summer, changed his eating habits and put himself through “two, three, four” workouts a day at times. It was not unusual for him to be in a gym at 1 a.m. shooting, he said.
“I want to better myself,” he said in explaining why he put in this effort. “Push myself to another level if I can. Just keep working.”
Brad Calipari had scholarship offers. “Nothing I was really interested in,” he said.
With prodding from the media, he said Liberty and East Tennessee State showed serious recruiting interest.
“I feel Kentucky had better opportunities,” he said.
Brad Calipari suggested what might be called basketball’s version of the John F. Kennedy line about a rising tide lifting all boats.
“In practice every day, you’re going against ridiculous athletes,” he said. “The best players in the nation, every day you’re going against them.
“You’re getting better regardless.”
Brad Calipari also cited how he’s already familiar with the UK staff and players, which should ease the transition to college.
What might not be so easy is the unblinking spotlight on every Kentucky player. It figures to shine especially bright on the coach’s son.
“After you’ve been in it so long, you start to not really pay attention to it,” he said of being Brad Calipari. “It just kind of rolls off my back. . . .
“I don’t see it as a lot of pressure, to be honest.”
Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Freedom Hall in Louisville
Tickets: $50 courtside; $18 lower arena (Ticket includes free admission to Thursday’s Night of the Future Stars)
Night of the Future Stars
What: Slam-dunk contest, three-point shootout, 2-on-2 competition featuring players in Friday’s Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic. Autograph session afterward.
When: 7 p.m.
Where: New Albany (Ind.) High School
Admission: Free with a purchased ticket to Friday night’s game.
Players taking part in Friday’s Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic, listed with their position, height and college:
James Banks (C) 6-10 / Texas
Joey Brunk (C) 6-10 / Butler
Brad Calipari (G) 6-0 / Kentucky
Jarron Cumberland (G) 6-4 / Cincinnati
De’Ron Davis (F) 6-10 / Indiana
Terrance Ferguson (G) 6-6 / Undecided
Jaylen Fisher (G) 6-2 / UNLV
Derek Funderburk (C) 6-9 / Ohio St.
Temple Gibbs (G) 6-3 / Notre Dame
Quentin Goodin (G) 6-3 / Xavier
Eron Gordon (G) 6-2 / Undecided
Mustapha Heron (G) 6-5 / Auburn
De’Riante Jenkins (F) 6-5 / VCU
Curtis Jones (G) 6-4 / Indiana
Mario Kegler (F) 6-7 / Mississippi St.
Matthew Moyer (F) 6-7 / Syracuse
Tyler Sharpe (G) 6-1 / Louisville
Micah Thomas (F) 6-7 / Maryland
Mark Vital (F) 6-5 / Baylor
Eli Wright (G) 6-4 / Mississippi St.