UK Men's Basketball

Those Calipari to the Knicks rumors? ‘Here we go again’

John Calipari denies that anyone connected with him has contacted the New York Knicks to convey his interest in replacing Phil Jackson as team president.
John Calipari denies that anyone connected with him has contacted the New York Knicks to convey his interest in replacing Phil Jackson as team president. cbertram@herald-leader.com

When it comes to speculation about a coach leaving for another job, John Calipari is the boy who cried Wolves! And Nets! And Kings! And Cavs!

Last week saw the New York Knicks join the long, long line of career options supposedly threatening to lure Calipari away. And as in the past, he denied any interest. In this latest case, the job was succeeding Phil Jackson as the Knicks’ president.

In the last 17 years, Calipari has been mentioned as a candidate for at least 16 jobs elsewhere. As Memphis coach from 2000-01 through 2008-09, he was linked to three NBA and six college positions. Of course, he did leave for Kentucky in 2009. Since his arrival in Lexington, the suitors are seven NBA teams (the Pelicans got mentions in 2015 and in February of this year).

Long-time Calipari watchers have grown jaded. It was noticed that his denial of interest in the Knicks followed the Knicks denying interest in him.

And Ron Higgins, who worked at the Memphis Commercial Appeal when Calipari was Memphis coach, saw the Knicks job as maybe a tease to leverage a better contract from UK. Or maybe by now Calipari as candidate is simply an involuntary reflex.

“Oh yeah,” Higgins said. “First thing I thought of. Here we go again. At Memphis, he said he held a press conference to say he had no interest in the 76ers’ job. Then again, the 76ers never had him on a list.”

That was 2003 when Calipari denied interest in coaching the Clippers as well as the 76ers.

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish, who covered Memphis for the Commercial Appeal at the time, recalled a skeptical booster suspicious of Calipari being linked to the South Carolina job in 2001 (mere days after his first Memphis team finished third in the National Invitation Tournament).

As if to prove this was no ploy, Calipari flew to South Carolina to discuss the job with Athletics Director Mike McGee. Subsequently, he signed a new contract with Memphis that almost doubled his salary: from $550,000 to $1 million.

Coincidentally or not, in the last 17 years, Calipari has received four pay raises, contract extensions on two other occasions and five times a pay raise and an extension.

Since signing the original eight-year deal with Kentucky in 2009, Calipari received a two-year extension and pay raise in 2011, a pay raise in 2012, extensions and pay raises in 2014 and 2015 and another two-year extension in March of this year.

Of course, the contract enhancements reflect a job well done. Calipari has been wildly successful as Kentucky coach. Beginning in 2011, he led the Cats to four Final Four appearances in a five-year period, an unprecedented achievement even for a program as storied as UK’s. These are the good old days, which no doubt put Calipari on lists of possible candidates for many jobs.

As for the latest episode of Calipari-might-leave, Parrish found it difficult to believe that either coach or NBA team would be interested in the other.

“I don’t think John has any interest in going back to the NBA to lose,” Parrish said. “And there’s no evidence whatsoever that (the Knicks) are going to be winning as an organization any time soon.”

And why, Parrish asked, would the Knicks be interested in Calipari?

“He’s never successfully done what they would be asking him to do, which is to run a professional basketball franchise,” Parrish said. “He has amazing gifts, and he could possibly be great at this as well. But the Knicks are just coming off a situation where they paid a guy (Jackson) who had never successfully ran a professional franchise a whole lot of money to do it. And it was an undeniable failure. And I just don’t know, if I’m running the New York Knicks, that I would want to again pay crazy money because given what John is making at Kentucky, you’re not getting him cheap.”

Meanwhile, there’s no reason to think the annual he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not will end. Higgins wondered if Calipari might thirst for new challenges. Or maybe this time his hip surgeries made leaving the sideline for the Knicks’ front office seem attractive.

Or maybe being perceived as a hot commodity makes good business sense.

“It also doesn’t hurt John Calipari’s brand,” Parrish said of being mentioned as a possible candidate for jobs. “And John Calipari’s brand is a very real thing. … Having his name all over everything in late June once again maybe isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

Babe Ruth?

Allen Iverson proved to be the star attraction when the new Big3 league made its debut last Sunday in Brooklyn. The three-on-three basketball league comes to Rupp Arena on Aug. 6.

Rapper Ice Cube, one of the co-founders of the league, explained why fans continue to find Iverson so captivating.

“He transcends sports, to me,” said Ice Cube, whose given name is O’Shea Jackson Sr. “He’s an iconic American figure. People just want to see him on the court like if you had a chance to see Babe Ruth one more time or Larry Bird.”

Ice Cube said Iverson was “one of the most sincere dudes you ever want to meet. (There are not) too many people who will look you in the eye and tell you what they really mean and really feel whether you like it or not. You really have to appreciate that kind of man.”

As the Big3 season continues and the former NBA players get used to playing again, Iverson is expected to play a more prominent on-court role.

“By the time we reach Kentucky, you better have your popcorn ready,” Ice Cube said. “Because they’re going to be ready.”

Big3 tickets

Rupp Arena officials expect a crowd of between 5,000 and 7,500 when the Big3 league plays in Lexington on Aug. 6. Ticket prices range from $27 to $377 and are available at the Rupp Arena box office and on Ticketmaster.

One of the players, Rashard Lewis, has said he will play for the ticket of any child 13 years old or younger who is accompanied by a paying adult to any of the Big3 sites this summer.

“If we can help in any way, I think that’s good for the community,” he said in a Huffington Post story. “If we can try to help them just a little bit, maybe that provides the spark that sets them on a better path.”

College vs. Europe

The New York Times coverage of the NBA Draft included a sweeping critique of modern college basketball. It was part of then New York Knicks president Phil Jackson’s explanation of why his team drafted a teenager from France, Frank Ntilikina, with the eighth pick of the first round.

“Our college game becomes more a style of what you can do offensively, just giving a lot of room to players just to play whatever, one-on-one or whatever ability they have,” Jackson said. “Whereas, the European players are schooled into a system and how to fit into it.”

Coincidentally, ex-Cat Malik Monk was widely viewed as a possible pick for the Knicks at No. 8. Of course, he was taken by Charlotte with the 11th pick.

Shorter offseason?

Potential good news from the NCAA for UK fans who can’t wait for the next basketball season (are there any other kind of UK fans?): the offseason may be three days shorter in the near future.

Basketball seasons could start three days earlier on the calendar if a proposal by the NCAA’s Division I Council is adopted.

The proposal, which could go into effect as soon as the 2018-19 season, allows games to be played as early as the Tuesday before the second Friday in November. That would be three days earlier than the current allowable scheduling of a game.

To offset the earlier start, the Council also proposed that the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12 and Southeastern conferences adopt a mandatory three-day break from athletic activities for basketball players during a school’s winter break.

The council could vote on these changes as early as January.

Why three days earlier? To give college basketball a better chance to market itself with an attention-getting opening night. With a mid-week start to the season, basketball would not compete for attention with a college football weekend.

“We hope to strike a balance between creating optimal attention for the start of basketball … ,” UCLA Athletics Director Dan Guerrero, chair of the Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee, said in a news release.

Happy birthday

To former Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith. He turned 66 on Friday. … To Tom Parker. He turned 67 on Saturday. … To former Ole Miss Coach Ed Murphy. He turned 76 on Saturday. … To college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg. He turns 56 on Sunday (today). … To former UK radio play-by-play announcer Ralph Hacker. He turns 73 on Sunday (today). … To former Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps. He turns 76 on Tuesday. … To Todd May. He turns 53 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Calipari coaching rumors

As Memphis coach

2001—Calipari goes to the University of South Carolina to speak with athletic director Mike McGee about becoming the Gamecocks’ coach. Upon return, Calipari says, “My intention is to stay right where I am.”

2003—Calipari denies interest in replacing Ben Howland at the University of Pittsburgh.

2003—Calipari’s name is also mentioned in connection with coaching jobs with the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers.

2003—Calipari says he is not interested in replacing Mike Jarvis at St. John’s University.

2005—After speaking with Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, Calipari says he’s not interested in coaching the Cavaliers.

2006—Calipari denies a source-based report that he is negotiating to become coach at the University of Indiana.

2006—North Carolina State University officials fly to Memphis to speak with Calipari and offer nearly $2 million per year salary, which he does not accept.

2007—Calipari denies interest in the University of Kentucky coaching job, which becomes open when Tubby Smith leaves to become coach at the University of Minnesota.

2009—Calipari denies rumors that he’ll leave to become coach at the University of Kentucky. Later, he accepts UK job.

As Kentucky coach

2014—Mere hours before the national championship game against UConn, ex-Cat Rex Chapman tweets that Calipari will coach the Los Angeles Lakers the following season.

2014—Friendship with LeBron James leads to speculation that Calipari will leave Kentucky to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.

2015—Calipari denies speculation that his friendship with the Sacramento owner has led to an offer to coach the Kings

2015—NBA.com reports that Calipari is not interested in coaching the New Orleans Pelicans.

2016—The New York Daily News reports that the Brooklyn Nets are eying Calipari after firing their coach and general manager. Calipari denies interest. Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Calipari sets a standard that must be met for him to consider a move to NBA: a 10-year contract paying $12 millionannually, which is Phil Jackson’s salary with the Knicks.

2017—CBSSports.com reports that Calipari is not interested in coaching the New Orleans Pelicans.

2017—Calipari denies that anyone connected with him has contacted the New York Knicks to convey his interest in replacing Phil Jackson as team president.

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