UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s Calipari celebrated in return to UMass

Herald-Leader Staff Report

John Calipari with former Minutemen Rigo Nunez, left, and Marcus Camby.
John Calipari with former Minutemen Rigo Nunez, left, and Marcus Camby.

A full week between games for his University of Kentucky men’s basketball team has given Coach John Calipari time to return to his roots — with pleasant, and not so pleasant, results.

The University of Massachusetts, where Calipari gad gus first head coaching job, is honoring the Hall of Fame coach’s accomplishments in breathing life into the UMass program and leading the Minutemen to the 1996 NCAA Final Four.

The coach was celebrated with a packed house during “A Night with John Calipari” at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston on Tuesday. On Wednesday night, a banner-raising ceremony celebrating Calipari was scheduled for halftime of the 7 p.m. men’s basketball game between UMass and New Orleans. A banner bearing Calipari’s name was to be lifted into the Mullins Center rafters to hang alongside those of George “Trigger” Burke, Marcus Camby, Julius Erving, Lou Roe and Al Skinner.

Calipari’s return was greeted by a Dan Shaughnessy column in the Sunday Boston Globe calling the coach’s reign at UMass “an embarrassment for our state university.” UMass was forced to vacate its Final Four after the NCAA discovered that star center Camby was being paid by an agent. Calipari was not found personally culpable, and Camby’s jersey was later retired by the school, but some have not forgotten or forgiven.

Calipari was asked about the column during a radio appearance Tuesday on The Dennis & Callahan Morning Show on Boston’s WEEI.

“This is a time to celebrate an era of basketball,” Calipari told the radio team. “I am not worried about what somebody thinks. None of those guys feel our joy. You look at what we were able to do and the kids and the graduation rates, the wins and exciting the campus. We did it right. We did it right. We had good kids who did what they were supposed to, who graduated.”

Calipari coached UMass from 1988 to 1996 and won five Atlantic 10 regular season championships and five A-10 Tournament titles. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

The University of Kentucky, off to an 9-1 start this season after a 72-58 victory over Arizona State last Saturday, returns to the court Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a CBS Sports Classic matchup against Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. (CBS).