UK Men's Basketball

Calipari's remarks lend family reunion-type atmosphere to his Hall of Fame induction

Kentucky coach and inductee John Calipari stood with players he coached during the enshrinement ceremony for the Class of 2015 of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.
Kentucky coach and inductee John Calipari stood with players he coached during the enshrinement ceremony for the Class of 2015 of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — For John Calipari, formal enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night was more family reunion than I-did-it-my-way coronation.

His speech contained repeated salutes to the many former players who attended the ceremony. More than 60 of his players from the universities of Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky were here, according to a Hall of Fame count.

[See Coach Cal's induction speech]

But also in the crowd at Symphony Hall were the players on his upcoming UK team, past and present university presidents, athletics directors and staffers. His high school and college coaches. His wife, daughters and son. The in-laws.

"There's only two times this kind of stuff happens: marriages and funerals," he said on Thursday. Then he added, "I'm going to live a little longer."

In case anyone missed the familial tone, Calipari asked his former and present players to join him on stage near the end of his remarks. He then lauded the UMass players for taking a little-known program to No. 1 in the 1990s and the Memphis players for proving they deserved more respect in the first decade of this century.

Of the Kentucky players, Calipari said, "I have so much respect for these Kentucky kids for the way they have performed under the greatest of expectations and the brightest of lights.

"A lot of players run from this. You guys are inspired by it."

Former UK president Lee Todd, who hired Calipari in 2009, acknowledged initial reservations about the move that's resulted in the greatest stretch of Final Four appearances (four in five years) in a proud program's history. Only John Wooden at UCLA and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke have done that.

"I was probably influenced by some of the things I read," Todd said before entering Symphony Hall. "Once I met him, I realized he was different from the public persona."

Calipari cared about academics and community outreach. "I'm very proud of him," Todd said, "and very proud he went on the first ballot."

Calipari, 56, repeatedly spoke of the gratitude he felt for those players, staffers, bosses, family and friends. Though ambition, moxie and brazen determination drove him to high achievement, he credited the help of others in getting to basketball's pinnacle.

"The greatest thing for me (is) many of those people will be here ...," he said Thursday, "and I'll get a chance to thank them personally."

Those thank-yous on a more personal level came during a breakfast at UMass earlier in the day.

Of course, not everyone cheered the Calipalooza here this week. The UK coach indirectly acknowledged the naysayers who might note the vacated Final Fours (1996 at UMass, 2008 at Memphis) and question his Kentucky program's reliance on so-called one-and-done players.

Earlier this week, Memphis president Dr. M. David Rudd canceled the school's planned tribute to Calipari in December. Rudd said he had been surprised by the "depth and intensity of conviction, passion and distress" stirred in Memphis fans and supporters in reaction to the tribute.

"No one's stealing my joy," Calipari said. "I'm going to enjoy the weekend."

Calipari suggested that the collective effort required to do such things separated Hall of Fame coaches from Hall of Fame players.

"When you're playing, it's about training and getting yourself right," he said. "When you're coaching, someone in your life has to give you an opportunity, and then you gotta get your first head-coaching job ... and then you gotta move up and get that job that puts you in a position to do things. But you gotta have a staff, all your assistant coaches. And then the biggest thing is the players, because if the players can't get it done or they're not good kids, whatever, you don't win to the level that you've gotta win to get these kind of awards."

Calipari was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first time appearing on the ballot. He's guided six teams to the Final Four, won the 2012 national championship for UK, coached 16 All-Americans and produced 36 NBA Draft picks (25 in six seasons at Kentucky).

To show his appreciation, Calipari asked the assistant coaches and staffers who have worked for him to stand and be recognized.

"I've been given more credit than I deserve," he said. "They got it done."

Calipari saluted his wife, Ellen, as a "great partner and great mother."

Ellen has "put up with me 29 years," he added, "She deserves to be in the Hall of Fame herself."

Of course, Calipari was not Kentucky's only representative in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015. Former Rupp Runt Louie Dampier was also enshrined along with Dick Bavetta, Lindsay Gaze, Tom Heinsohn, John Isaacs, Spencer Haywood, Lisa Leslie, Dikembe Mutombo, George Raveling and Jo Jo White.

Dampier took pride in representing the now defunct American Basketball Association. He starred for the Kentucky Colonels.

"The ABA is kind of looked down on a little bit," he said.

True to his self-effacing personality, Dampier downplayed his Hall of Fame status. More than once he noted there were other players who had more skill. "I'm a fairly smart person," he said. "I know there are players a lot better than I am."

As Calipari dismissed the notion that he always aimed to be a Hall of Famer, so Dampier said he had no lofty basketball ambitions.

"My first thought was I wanted to be on my high school varsity basketball team," he said.

Dampier's preference for a low-key approach extended to his induction into the Hall of Fame. The rules allowed each inductee to have as many as three presenters. Dampier considered one of his coaches with the Colonels, Hubie Brown, and a teammate, Artis Gilmore.

But he decided to have another Colonels teammate, former UK All-American Dan Issel, do the honors.

"I wanted to keep it simple," Dampier said, "and keep it with Dan."

Dampier noted that many athletes struggle to adjust to life when their playing days are done. That did not apply to him.

"The last 33 years have been my happiest," he said.

For this, Dampier credited his wife, Judy.

"My rock," he said.