UK Men's Basketball

‘A complicated guy.’ What to believe when Calipari’s actions don’t match his words.

After Kentucky beat Kansas 72-40 in November of 2014, John Calipari used the postgame news conference to seemingly try to tamp down the likelihood of the rout generating runaway enthusiasm in the Big Blue Nation.

“No, we’re not that good,” Calipari said in his opening statement.

When asked about Calipari’s assessment of a team that would win its first 38 games, Kansas Coach Bill Self jokingly asked reporters at his postgame news conference, “How much stuff do you actually believe that he says?”

That good-natured call-and-response came to mind when ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla reacted to Kentucky’s recent announcement of a new 10-year, $86 million contract for Calipari. Would Calipari be UK coach that long?

“He’s going to coach till he gets 1,000 wins,” said Fraschilla, a longtime friend of Calipari.

But hasn’t the UK coach said more than once that he would not want something crass like a victory total on his tombstone?

“John’s a complicated guy,” Fraschilla said.

As his philanthropic work suggests, Calipari can be generous of spirit and mindful of larger concerns than basketball, Fraschilla said. But the UK coach is also a competitor who draws satisfaction from winning, and winning big.

“He wants to be the best,” Fraschilla said. “He wants to go toe to toe with Coach K (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski) in recruiting or Bill Self in a game or anybody in the SEC. He knows what’s at stake being coach at Kentucky, and he’s celebrated for it and he’s compensated for it.”

UK noted in its announcement of the new contract that Calipari has 750 on-court victories. So he might need close to 10 more seasons to reach 1,000. The new so-called lifetime contract runs through the 2028-29 season, or when he will be 70.

But hasn’t the UK coach said more than once that he probably would not continue to coach at, uh, an advanced age?

This time Gary Parrish, who covered Calipari’s Memphis teams for the city’s daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, brought to mind Self’s comment about not taking everything the UK coach says as unshakable truth.

“I can’t tell you how many coaches when I talk to them when they’re in their 40s say, ‘If I’m still doing this when I’m 60, just shoot me,’” Parrish said. “And you look up, and they’re still coaching.”

Parrish offered two reasons this pattern exists, especially at the pinnacle of Division I: 1. The coaches enjoy coaching. 2. “They make a lot of money doing it.”

So, yes or no, does Parrish think Calipari will be Kentucky’s coach in the 2028-29 season?

“I’d say, yeah, probably so,” he said. “It’s not unimaginable and not that crazy to think he’ll be the head coach at Kentucky at age 70.”

Calipari’s self-imposed challenge of largely rebuilding a roster every year “must be exhausting,” Parrish said. Plus, he added that NBA coaches can disappear in the offseason, and no one cares.

For college basketball, an off-season has become a quaint notion.

“Take a three-day weekend, you’re probably slacking a little bit,” Parrish said. “It’s a non-stop grind.”

To Parrish’s eye, Calipari is holding up well.

“I’ve always known him to be somebody who really enjoys working,” he said. “I think he’s still chasing things. I think he’s motivated to be the best.”

Second picks

Attention Ja Morant. In The New York Times on Tuesday, sportswriter Sopan Deb explored how being the second player picked in an NBA Draft is no guarantee of pro success. For instance, the Los Angeles Lakers picked second in the three straight recent drafts and subsequently traded all three players: Lonzo Ball (2017) and Brandon Ingram (2016) were part of the recent trade for former UK star Anthony Davis.

The Lakers also traded the second overall pick of 2015 — Louisville native D’Angelo Russell — to the Nets two years later.

In this decade, only two second overall picks are still with the teams that drafted them: Marvin Bagley (2018), who just finished his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings, and former UK player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was picked second by the Charlotte Hornets in 2012.

Another second overall pick is a player familiar to UK fans: Sam Bowie, who was picked by Portland in 1984. As Deb wrote, Bowie struggled with injuries and “is more famous for who was not picked in the No. 2 slot: Michael Jordan, drafted at No. 3 by the Bulls.”

Lottery picks

With PJ Washington and Tyler Herro picked 12th and 13th in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Kentucky’s total of lottery picks in John Calipari’s 10 seasons as coach grew to 21.

To put that in perspective, you have to go back almost 25 years — to 1996 — to come up with 21 lottery picks from the other 13 current SEC programs.

The 2007 NBA Draft was especially bountiful with four lottery picks from current SEC programs other than Kentucky. The four were a trio from Florida — Al Horford at No. 3, Corey Brewer at No. 7 and Joakim Noah at No. 9 — plus Acie Law of Texas A&M at No. 11.

And as ESPN pointed out on its telecast of the NBA Draft, the six lottery picks from ACC schools were a record for any conference: 1. Zion Williamson (Duke), 3. RJ Barrett (Duke), 4. De’Andre Hunter (Virginia), 7. Coby White (North Carolina), 10. Cam Reddish (Duke) and 11. Cameron Johnson (North Carolina).


Of course, Joe B. Hall told John Calipari that being Kentucky basketball coach is, at most, a 10-year test of endurance. Then Calipari, who likes to joke that tenure as UK coach is measured in dog years, has been on the job 10 years and recently signed a new 10-year deal.

Noted sports businessman Jim Host squared this circle.

“He’s the most comfortable guy in his own skin in this business that I’ve been around,” Host said of Calipari. “A lot of negativity that comes with the job rolls off his back. It doesn’t affect him.”

Follow the money?

John Calipari’s coach at Clarion State, Joe DeGregorio, said that money was not a factor in the new 10-year contract to be UK coach.

“I mean, John has enough money,” DeGregorio said. “It’s not like he needs more money. But he likes Kentucky, and Kentucky likes him.”

DeGregorio began the telephone conversation with a quip: “Do you think John could loan me $5?”

‘Best bargain’

Gary Parrish, who covered John Calipari-coached Memphis for the Commercial Appeal, applauded the new 10-year, $86 million contract UK announced recently for its basketball coach. Parrish likened this to the mega deals Alabama gives football coach Nick Saban.

“He’s the highest paid employee,” Parrish said of Saban and/or Calipari. “And probably the best bargain and best bang for your buck.”

Tastes like chicken

Zion Williamson saw a mistake in a social media posting about his pre-draft visit to New Orleans, which took him with the first overall pick.

“We went to this food place,” he said Wednesday. “I think it was called Commanders. I’ve been seeing some people saying that I got chicken tenders. No, that was my 5-year-old brother that did that. I got fried shrimp and mashed potatoes.”

‘The next one’

RJ Barrett said he felt a responsibility to represent his native Canada, which has a growing basketball presence. Canadians who recently played for Kentucky came immediately to mind: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles and Mychal Mulder.

“I feel like I’m the next one, so I’m watching my step,” Barrett said. “Just trying to do the best I can for my country.”

Notable concert

Former UK player Isaac Humphries will perform at the Lexington Opera House at 6 p.m. Sunday. He will sing and play piano in a concert benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster and at the Lexington Opera House. Ticket prices range from $35 to a $100 VIP experience.

Happy birthday

To Derek Willis. He turned 24 on Friday. … To Ravi Moss. He turned 35 on Friday. … To former Georgia and Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton. He turned 56 on Friday. … To Brandon Stockton. He turns 35 on Tuesday. … To former Director of Athletics Larry Ivy. He turns 76 on Wednesday.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader