UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Will Hall of Fame remove Calipari's chip? Don't count on it

John Calipari delivered his induction speech at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as presenters Larry Brown, left, and Pat Riley watched in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 11. Calipari now coaches at regal Kentucky but he still referred to hardscrabble days at UMass and Memphis.
John Calipari delivered his induction speech at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as presenters Larry Brown, left, and Pat Riley watched in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 11. Calipari now coaches at regal Kentucky but he still referred to hardscrabble days at UMass and Memphis. AP

John Calipari has worn out several no-respect cards throughout his life in basketball. Yet he keeps pulling more out of his sleeve.

As if by involuntary reflex, he noted at the recent Hall of Fame induction festivities how the basketball world underappreciated his teams at Massachusetts and Memphis.

"Matter of fact, (we) had the best team, I believe, in '96," he said of the, ahem, No. 1-rated Minutemen. "We lost to — I can't remember who we lost to (grinning). But we never got that kind of respect."

Of course, UMass lost to Kentucky in the Final Four.

Kentucky's 38 straight victories to start last season — which made UK the first team since Duke in 1991-92 to be voted No. 1 every week of The Associated Press poll — wasn't enough to garner sufficient respect.

"Obviously, we still have people who don't believe in us," Aaron Harrison said before the Final Four. That seemed anything but obvious.

The question is this: As a first-ballot Hall of Famer and coach of mighty Kentucky, can Calipari keep decrying how basketball people do not respect him nor his team, players, staff, program, methodology (reliance on one-and-done players), penmanship, lawn service?

Gary Parrish, a reporter for CBSSports.com and a longtime Calipari observer, believes the no-respect ploy has grown obsolete.

"That spiel kind of fell flat when he began coaching at Kentucky," Parrish said.

Parrish saw the Hall of Fame induction as "another step of the story of John Calipari finally breaking through and becoming part of the establishment."

Part of the establishment? Ouch. That's got to hurt.

Ironically, no one has claimed a more commanding perch for Calipari than Calipari. In the past, he's talked about Kentucky basketball's "rightful place atop the mountain." And how UK didn't merely move the needle, he said, "We are the needle." UK was also "borderless." And, in case you missed the overarching point, he said, "We are college basketball."

Then again, no-respect ploys come straight from the Coaching 101 textbook. Righting some perceived wrong motivates players and coaches.

"It's especially strong with John," Parrish said.

Calipari was a nondescript college player for UNC-Wilmington and then Division II Clarion. In his playing career, he averaged 3.3 points and 3.0 assists. He made 41.1 percent of his shots.

"John always played with a chip on his shoulder," said Joe DeGregorio, who coached Calipari at Clarion. "He was a little bit undersized and overlooked. He felt he was a D-I player, as all of them do."

Calipari was not part of a celebrated coaching tree. No fast-track to a head coaching job because he played for or assisted someone like Dean Smith or Bob Knight.

"Everything he got he had to go get," Parrish said.

In 1988, Calipari became a first-time head coach at UMass, which had been ranked 257th out of the then 267 Division I programs in the 1980s. "The only Division I job I could get," he recalled at the Hall of Fame. Four years later, UMass lost to Kentucky in a taut Sweet 16 game two days before Christian Laettner's famous shot denied UK a Final Four berth. Four years after that, the previously mentioned No. 1 Minutemen lost to Kentucky in the Final Four.

A similar story line, albeit not as dramatic, unfolded at Memphis a decade later: Calipari revived a program and made it a national contender.

All the while, he was keenly aware that college basketball royalty was not interested in his services.

"I really think there was a time in his life he thought 'I'm the best guy doing this, but I'll never get a chance to coach at a blue blood school and be in the Hall of Fame,'" Parrish said.

This fate seemed sealed in 2007 when Kentucky, in need of a revival, hired Billy Gillispie as coach.

Parrish imagined Calipari's reaction as "Oh, wow. Is this ever going to happen? Will I always be an outsider?"

Still in need of a revival in 2009, Kentucky fired Gillispie and hired Calipari. What followed was the 2012 national championship and, even by UK's lofty standard, unprecedented success (four Final Four appearances in the last five years). Induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame validated Calipari as the ultimate insider.

When asked if a no-respect ploy could be plausible anymore, Calipari smiled and said he'd think of some variation on the theme. That did not surprise Parrish, who suggested that Calipari would say something like "Nobody believes in my young kids."

DeGregorio playfully suggested that the source of Calipari's reliance on no-respect runs deeper than a motivational ploy.

"Do you know any short guy who didn't have some kind of complex?" he said.

A reporter countered that being a Hall of Famer marked the highest grade of respect.

"But," DeGregorio said, "he's still short."

Anthony Davis 2.0

You hear the name and it immediately commands your attention: Anthony Davis.

Anthony Davis played in John Calipari's recent Fantasy Camp. He was in games in Rupp Arena prior to the Alumni Game last Sunday.

Of course, it was not the Anthony Davis.

"I love it," the other Anthony Davis said of his name. "People are asking me where my unibrow is all the time. I tell them, for some reason, I leave it at home."

Davis, 35, lives in Georgetown and works as an engineer at Toyota. He grew up in Colorado and attended UK from 1999 through 2004.

In all of his Fantasy Camp games, Davis scored a total of 35 points, made 40.5 percent of his shots, 55.6 percent of his free throws and grabbed 34 rebounds.

Of shooting at the same Rupp Arena baskets as the Anthony Davis and other UK players, he said, "Best experience of my entire life."

UK vs. UNC

After Kentucky beat North Carolina in the Alumni Game last weekend, former Tar Heel Harrison Barnes was asked what players — in their prime — he'd put on an all-time UNC team. He said Michael Jordan was a must.

After pausing for several seconds, Barnes said that Phil Ford would be his point guard. He then completed the starting five with James Worthy, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter.

When asked how this team would do in a serious game against Kentucky's all-time best in their prime, Barnes said, "In a serious game?"

Yes, in a serious game.

Barnes said North Carolina would win. "You never bet against Jordan in his prime," he said with a smile.

(Big) Blue Ribbon

The most comprehensive of the preview magazines, Blue Ribbon Yearbook, announced last week that Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in its preseason top 25.

Of course, that doesn't automatically mean Kentucky will win the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Here's some perspective on how much of a correlation there is between Blue Ribbon's No. 1 and a national championship:

■ The last time a preseason No. 1 won the title was in 2008-09. North Carolina went from being top ranked to winning it all.

■ In the last 14 years, the No. 1 team going into the season won the NCAA Tournament three times. Besides North Carolina in 2008-09, the teams that did it were Florida (2006-07) and UConn (2003-04).

■ Three times in the last 14 years, the eventual national champion was not rated in Blue Ribbon's preseason top 25. UConn was not rated going into 2010-11, the season the Kemba Walker-led Huskies beat Kentucky and Butler in the Final Four. Florida was not rated in 2005-06, the season the Gators won the first of back-to-back titles. Syracuse was not rated in the 2002-03 preseason. Then a freshman named Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to the championship.

■ Only one of UK's three most recent national championship seasons began with a No. 1 rating from Blue Ribbon. The yearbook picked the eventual champion as its No. 1 team going into the 1995-96 season. (John Calipari's UMass team was No. 8.)

Blue Ribbon had UK No. 9 going into the 1997-98 season. Tubby Smith guided the Cats to the title.

In its championship season of 2011-12, Kentucky was ranked No. 2 in the pre-season top 25 (behind North Carolina).

This year's preview book can be ordered at blueribbonyearbookonline.com. A tablet version is expected to be available for download this week. A printed version will ship around Oct. 12.

Feel the Byrne

In a story about Texas needing to hire a new athletic director, USA Today writer George Schroeder mentioned a name that should be familiar to UK fans.

Schroeder noted that Texas needed someone from a pool of "business-savvy executives with engaging personality."

Then he wrote that Arizona A.D. Greg Byrne fit the bill.

Of course, Byrne worked for UK athletics as an associate A.D. in charge of fund-raising a decade ago.

'Scary team'

After the Alumni Game, former UK big man DeMarcus Cousins suggested the long-struggling Sacramento Kings will be good this coming season. Besides Cousins, the Kings figure to have at least two other former Cats on the team: first-round pick Willie Cauley-Stein and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo.

"I'm extremely excited ... ," Cousins said. "We're going to be a scary team in the West. I kind of like that people are throwing us under the bus. But I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this season."

Hood testimony

Former UK player Jon Hood will be giving his Christian testimony this evening at Lexington's Gardenside Baptist Church.

The church's youth minister, Chris Anglin, said that Hood will speak during an hourlong meeting scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited.

Happy birthday

To Dakari Johnson. He turns 20 on Tuesday. ... To Jared Carter. He turns 29 on Sunday. ... To Adam Williams. He turned 30 on Saturday. ... To Dicky Beal. He turned 53 on Friday. ... To Derrick Hord. He turned 55 on Saturday. ... To Jack Givens. He turns 59 on Monday. ... To U of L Coach Rick Pitino. He turned 63 on Friday. ... To former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. He turns 44 on Wednesday. ... To former LSU coach John Brady. He turned 61 on Thursday. ... To former Arkansas star Sidney Moncrief. He turns 58 on Monday.

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