A picture of John Calipari adorns the wall of East Tennessee State University Coach Steve Forbes’ office.
The photo is from the Memphis Commercial Appeal. It was taken during the historic game in February 2008 in which No. 2 Tennessee beat No. 1 Memphis. Of course, Calipari was the Memphis coach. Forbes was an assistant coach for Tennessee.
“He was mad,” Forbes said of the picture of Calipari on his office wall. “I don’t know who he was yelling at. Might have been the refs. He was so mad and I’m, like, yeah, we made him mad. Good. That’s kind of how it felt at the time.”
Animosity did not move Forbes to put the picture of Calipari on the wall.
“It’s just a reminder of a great game,” he said. “Probably like a lot of coaches, my office is kind of a history of my life in basketball. All the jobs I’ve had. It’s part of my memorabilia on my wall.”
To put it mildly, Forbes has had an eventful basketball life.
He was an assistant for future UK Coach Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M.
“I know Kentucky fans would probably have a hard time believing it,” he said. “I feel that’s where I really learned how to coach. I really respect Billy as a coach and as a person. I talk to Billy all the time still.
“We turned around a culture that had no culture at Texas A&M.”
As an assistant at Tennessee, Forbes became embroiled in a controversy involving breaking NCAA rules and misleading NCAA investigators. Head coach Bruce Pearl and his staff were dismissed.
“As a coach, you tell kids, when you get knocked down, you get back up,” Forbes said. “When we got knocked down, we had two choices. I could cry about it and complain. Or I could get back up and keep working.”
Forbes returned to the junior college ranks, where he began his coaching career. Later, Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall hired him as an assistant. He was on the bench for UK’s riveting victory over the Shockers in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
In his first two seasons at ETSU, Forbes compiled a 52-21 record using players he affectionately refers to as “misfit toys.” From his junior-college days, he said he’s used to his version of the one-and-one player. Instead of heading to the NBA in a year, many of his players are transfers.
To help work with his own one-and-done players from the junior-college days to now, Forbes again turned to Calipari.
“I’ve watched Coach Calipari’s press conferences religiously,” he said, “because I was dealing with the same mentality. The players aren’t from the same level. But mentality-wise, you’re trying to win with your team. Yet, your ultimate goal (as a player) was to move on.”
Hamidou Diallo acknowledged the need to remove a hitch from his jump shot.
“In high school, I had a really bad hitch,” he said. “It’s tough for me to get rid of it.”
As part of the effort, Diallo goes through a pregame shooting exercise that begins some two and one-half hours before tip-off.
When asked how Diallo can remove the hitch, Calipari said, “The biggest thing is it’s got to be volume shooting. You’ve got to get in (the gym) and shoot it the right way over and over and over.”
In UK’s first three games, Diallo made 18 of 40 shots. “He’s like 100 percent better,” Calipari said.
Sacha to start?
When asked about Sacha Killeya-Jones earning a starting position with his play against Kansas (18 points, nine rebounds, three blocks), Calipari said he would be considering that.
“What I liked was his energy,” Calipari said. “He tried.”
The UK coach said he saw Killeya-Jones in the practice gym alone the day after the Kansas game shooting free throws. Wednesday was an off day.
“So he’s more committed than he’s ever been in his life,” Calipari said.
Cal on board
Calipari was named to an ad hoc committee formed by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The committee will be charged with offering suggestions on college basketball reforms. These suggestions will be submitted to the committee formed by the NCAA and chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Of his role, Calipari said, “I hope I can be a voice for the players.”
▪ Turnovers are Concern One for ETSU against Kentucky. The Buccaneers had 20 turnovers in each of their first two games: an 18-point loss at Northern Kentucky and a 15-point victory at Savannah State.
▪ Matt Stewart, former UK player Antoine Walker and sideline reporter Tara Petrolino will call the game for the SEC Network.