UK Men's Basketball

Fans welcome UK's latest coach

In his first news conference, the University of Kentucky's new men's basketball coach, John Calipari, won over skeptical Wildcats fan Tom Rougeux.

When Calipari said he would be here to serve the community and the players, "that was the watershed moment for me," Rougeux said as he waited outside the Joe Craft Center, the basketball practice facility behind Memorial Coliseum, on Wednesday morning.

"That sounded to me like the leader we're looking for," said Rougeux, who listened to the news conference on his BlackBerry. Several people crowded around, also listening. "That's the thing about a winning program: It's how you think about others, no matter if you're a coach or a boss."

Dozens of students, families with children, and people from the community — some had traveled from as far as Ashland — waited in glorious sunshine to catch a glimpse of the newly appointed men's basketball coach.

The coach received a positive reception from assembled fans. Several viewed Calipari's hiring as the shot in the arm the program needed.

"He had an immediate impact on UK's basketball program before he even stepped foot on campus," said Randy Van Hoose, who left Ashland at 4 a.m. with his business partner, Rick Brizendine. The two run the Web site www.wildcatnation.net.

Calipari not only knows how to win basketball games, "He has the perfect personality to project the program," Van Hoose said. "He loves the public. He loves the camera. He loves the history of this program."

Van Hoose said he couldn't see any negatives, which Brizendine said is a good thing.

"If he didn't work out, it would have been a long drop to the next candidate," he said.

A pep rally was not scheduled Wednesday, university officials said, because Calipari was on a tight schedule. He was due back in Memphis about noon.

During the news conference, fans nodded as Calipari described his coaching style and spoke of his commitment to community involvement and how he wanted his players to have fun as they played. Van Hoose said the remarks were in sharp contrast to those of his immediate predecessor, Billy Gillispie, who was fired Friday.

"Before hearing him, I thought, 'Am I the only one who appreciated Tubby's clean program?'" said Rougeux, who delayed getting to his job at Krauth Electric Co. on Wednesday morning in order to swing by the Craft Center.

After the news conference, Rougeux admitted that he was a Calipari convert. Reports that the coach had gone to early Mass also impressed Rougeux.

Calipari reminded UK student Todd Weatherholt of Rick Pitino, the former UK basketball coach who now leads the University of Louisville.

"He has that charisma about him like Pitino," said Weatherholt, who hoped to see Calipari before going to Spanish class. "I'm excited."

"We have a coach committed to making his players great, and that makes a great program," said Jeremy Sheffel, a senior engineering major from Jackson.

When asked his reaction to Calipari's $31.65 million deal, UK senior Bryan Hicks said, "Pricey."

"But worth it," chimed in his roommate Bruce Arlinghaus, a sophomore from Northern Kentucky.

Hicks agreed: "You win one national championship, and you get all that money back in national exposure."

Faculty member Don Lowe liked what he heard when Calipari said the college graduation rates for his former players at UMass and the University of Memphis jumped while he was coach.

"I really like what he said about holding students accountable, because I have most of the basketball players" in a communications class, Lower said.

Fans took delight in Calipari's humor and quick wit, both during the news conference and afterward. As he left the Craft Center, he signed autographs all the way to the black SUV awaiting him. Gina Lysell, a UK staff member, yelled, "We love you, coach!"

Calipari quipped, "Oh, darlin', what are you gonna say when I lose my first game?"

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments