UK Men's Basketball

Brad Calipari has something to prove after exit from Kentucky basketball

Cal on Brad Calipari considering transferring: ‘Do you blame him for wanting to play more?’

Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to his son, Brad Calipari, placing his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to his son, Brad Calipari, placing his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Brad Calipari is not the only coach’s son on the Detroit Mercy team. Fellow guard Antoine Davis is the son of the Titans’ coach, Mike Davis.

As the elder Davis recalled, the father-son dynamic showed itself like three-dimensional chess in a recent drill. Father/coach instructed son/player not to shoot a floater, but to instead drive to the basket or pull up for a jump shot.

Before the drill resumed, Mike Davis turned to Calipari. “Watch,” he said. “He’s going to shoot a floater, even longer than the first time.”

As if on cue, the younger Davis then shot another floater.

“I said, you all are just alike, huh?” Mike Davis said he told Calipari. “Brad started laughing.”

Calipari, the son of Kentucky Coach John Calipari, did not need help remembering this example of a son/player interacting with a father/coach.

“That’s just believing in yourself,” he said. “Knowing if somebody tells you you can’t do something, you’re going to go out and try to do it. Even something as small as that.”

That oh-yes-I-can stubbornness contributed to Brad Calipari moving from UK to Detroit Mercy as a graduate transfer. With UK’s roster bursting with talent, he made only occasional cameo appearances in games in his three seasons as a Wildcats walk-on.

“Just because a lot of people haven’t seen me play that much, they just assume, you know, that I can’t play,” he said in a telephone interview early in the week. “Now that I’ve taken a step to come here, I can show I can play. That gives me the feeling it’s time to show what I can do.”

The younger Calipari can help Antoine Davis, who is a sophomore, navigate the father-coaching-son dynamic in basketball.

But the Detroit Mercy coach said there was also a practical on-the-court reason he added Brad Calipari to the team. The Titans depended on Antoine Davis almost exclusively last season. He averaged 26.1 points, the third-highest scoring average in Division I. His 132 three-point baskets broke Steph Curry’s NCAA record for a freshman. His average of 4.4 three-point baskets per game ranked second nationally. Only Wofford’s Fletcher Magee (remember his 0-for-12 three-point shooting against Kentucky?) averaged more three-point baskets: 4.51.

“If you have a chance this year, you need to watch him,” the younger Calipari said of the younger Davis. “He’s special.”

When asked if Antoine Davis, a three-star prospect who originally committed to Houston, was Kentucky-good, Brad Calipari said, “Yeah, I would say so. He can play.”

The problem last season was opponents double- and triple-teamed Antoine Davis. Detroit Mercy won only 11 of 31 games. Detroit Mercy sees Brad Calipari’s perimeter shooting as helping spread opposing defenses, making it harder for them to concentrate solely on Antoine Davis.

“That’s why it was so important to get him,” Mike Davis said of Brad Calipari. “Antoine was really aggressive offensively. This year he won’t have to be that aggressive because of the guys we put around him. So he won’t have to average 30 points a game for us to have a chance to win.”

The Detroit Mercy coach said he’d like to see his son average six or seven assists this season. Last season Antoine Davis averaged 3.6 assists, which ranked No. 226 among Division I players.

Although it’s way too early to make judgments, the Detroit Mercy coach is convinced about the younger Calipari’s shooting ability.

“The one thing that really jumps up at you is he can really shoot the ball,” Mike Davis said. “And when you can really shoot the ball, teams need that. He’s not just an average shooter. He’s a really good shooter. … Antoine’s really fond of him because he can make shots.”

Once Brad Calipari decided to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer, he narrowed his choices to Detroit Mercy and Hampton. A comfort level with Mike Davis, a family friend whose previous head coaching jobs included Indiana, UAB and Texas Southern, weighed on the decision.

“My dad trusts him with me,” Brad Calipari said. “And I trust him, too.”

Although Detroit Mercy has had losing records in five of the last six seasons, the program has a basketball history. Dave DeBusschere, a key player on the New York Knicks’ two championship teams of the 1970s, played for the Titans. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale was the coach in the 1970s.

Non-basketball alumni include Keegan-Michael Key of the Key & Peele sketch comedy team, novelist Elmore Leonard and former NFL coach Ted Marchibroda.

Looking ahead to this coming season, Brad Calipari said it was “really accurate” to think he has and will play with a metaphorical chip on his shoulder. Social media helped put it there.

“You’ve got a lot of people who don’t even play the sport that will just talk and talk and say you’re not this, you’re not that,” he said. “Blah, blah, blah.

“But at the end of the day, what kind of helped me was seeing myself going against these (UK) guys three years in practice, and getting better each year. And it kind of showed me I can play at a high level.”

And if you dare, go ahead and tell him not to shoot a floater.

UK vs. Detroit Mercy?

Of course, a Kentucky-Detroit Mercy game would stretch the father-son dynamic in more than one direction. Father and son as collaborators for Detroit Mercy. Father and son as competitors in the presence of the UK coach and Detroit Mercy player.

“Well, that’s the plan,” Detroit Mercy Coach Mike Davis said. Such a game would be played in 2020-21 when Brad Calipari will be in his final season of eligibility, he said.

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“That’d be special,” Brad Calipari said. “That’d be good to get a chance to play against my dad. I don’t know where it’d be at. Probably at Kentucky.”

Almost assuredly. Although …

“You know, I’ll play them home and home,” Mike Davis said. “He can come here, and we’ll go there. It’s just two games.”

Cal touts players

The media guide for this year’s NBA Draft included assessments from college coaches about potential picks. No surprise that a college coach would tout his former players.

Here’s how UK Coach John Calipari described two of his players in the draft:

On Tyler Herro: “Tyler is wired and driven like few other players I’ve coached. A complete basketball player who can score on the bounce, who can shoot it, who can defend and who can rebound. It’s his total package that will make Tyler successful at the next level.”

On Keldon Johnson: “Of all the players in this draft, he could have one of the best transitions physically and athletically. He has all the tools you look for in a player in that league.”

Reluctant hero

Setting aside the bottom line of winning or losing, any basketball game contains momentary successes and failures for both teams. Kentucky’s overtime loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight last spring can serve as an example.

Auburn’s Horace Spencer missed an open three-point shot from the left wing at the end of regulation. Had he made the shot, the Tigers would have advanced to the Final Four five game minutes earlier. As he explained the sequence, UK’s planning and execution contributed to him being open. And UK’s calculated gamble on him taking the shot paid off.

“I really didn’t want to shoot that ball,” he said in Auburn’s happy postgame locker room. “I really didn’t want to shoot it at all.”

At that point, Spencer had made three of 18 three-point shots on the season. He had made one three-point shot since January.

“It wasn’t meant for me to shoot it,” he said of Auburn’s plan for a potential game-winning shot. “But I couldn’t do anything else with it. If I passed it, time would have run out.”

Auburn wanted leading scorer Bryce Brown to shoot, Spencer said. But the UK player defending Spencer left him open in order to go help double-team Brown.

“So I was wide-open …,” Spencer said. “It’s not my role on the team. And I felt kind of bad I took the shot.”

Happy birthday

To Nazr Mohammed. He turned 42 on Thursday. … To John Wall. He turned 29 on Friday. … To Alex Poythress. He turned 26 on Friday. … To Dale Brown (the former UK guard). He turned 51 on Friday. … To former Ole Miss coach Rob Evans. He turned 73 on Saturday. … To Oak Hill Academy Coach (and Asbury University grad) Steve Smith. He turned 64 on Saturday. … To Mark Pope. He turns 47 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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