UK Men's Basketball

2009 Ky. Sportsman of the Year: Coach Cal

John Calipari had just been introduced as Kentucky's new basketball coach when the university's athletics administration decided to mark the occasion by planning an event.

It invited the program's biggest donors, the cream of its K Fund crop, to a dinner at a Lexington restaurant to hear the new coach speak.

Calipari killed.

A short while later, a reporter ran into an administration member and congratulated him on the success of the dinner, especially considering how uncomfortable Calipari's predecessor was in such a situation.

Replied Rob Mullens, UK's executive senior athletics director, "Now we have someone who's waited his whole life for it."

And isn't afraid to show it.

John Calipari didn't win the Herald-Leader's Kentucky Sportsman of the Year Award because he signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, or because his team entered this weekend undefeated, or because it is ranked No. 2 in the country, though surely none of that hurt.

Nine months into the job, Calipari earned his top spot not so much for embracing the job as embracing the position.

The guy is out there. He speaks. He tweets. To over a million followers on Twitter, he tweets. He meets. He greets. Coach Cal might start any typical day yukking it up with the regulars at Wheeler Pharmacy, throw in a lunch at Ramsey's — where he can't seem to get out of the eatery without talking to everyone.

The house Calipari purchased in Lexington was not in some secluded, gated community, but on the main drag of Richmond Road, little more than an outlet pass from downtown.

Not that he's stuck around here, mind you. He's been from Paducah to Pikeville, from Nicholasville to New York, from Bardstown to Bejing. That's right, China, where he spread the good news of the Big Blue Nation.

Yes, Cal has been every bit an ambassador as his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, was a near recluse.

Some of that might seem opportunistic, and shallow, if Calipari weren't so convincing in carrying it off, whether he's giving props to Kyle Macy, or bringing Tony Delk and Scott Padgett onto his staff, or never missing a chance to remember Bill Keightley.

And then there was a spur-of-the-moment gesture before the season had even started, at the annual Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage, this year held at Rupp Arena to accommodate the interest.

As the game was going on, Calipari spotted Joe B. Hall sitting directly behind the bench. Calipari got up, walked behind the bench, took Joe B. by the arm and made the former coach sit beside him at courtside.

The crowd loved it.

That's why you've heard more than one fan say about Cal, "He gets it."

It's also why John Calipari gets this award.

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