UK Football

John Clay's notes: Calipari's spot in Hall of Fame is well deserved; here's why

UK head basketball coach John Calipari during a press conference at Calipari's Pro Camp at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, August 1, 2015. Photo by Matt Goins
UK head basketball coach John Calipari during a press conference at Calipari's Pro Camp at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, August 1, 2015. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

Random notes:

■ Three reasons John Calipari is taking his well-deserved place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend.

1.) Connections. Throughout his career, Calipari has shown an undeniable ability to connect with the people he needs to connect with, be it the players he recruits and coaches, the donors needed to provide the financial means to build a program or the administrators who sign off on the Calipari vision.

He knows his customer base. And he finds a way to get on their emotional level. He makes their dreams his dreams. That's where it starts.

2.) Defense. Calipari is one of the more underrated defensive coaches in college basketball history. The average fan doesn't always see that. They think of Marcus Camby, Derrick Rose, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. They think of firepower. They think of the dribble-drive offense.

Calipari was a great defensive coach long before he signed Anthony Davis, however. His great UMass teams, especially that 1996 team, were as pugnacious and as stubborn on the defensive end as their coach.

His Kentucky teams have reached four Final Fours and have won a national title not so much with offensive highlights but with defensive domination.

3.) Refuse to lose. Calipari wasn't born with a silver spoon. He played college basketball at Clarion State and UNC-Wilmington. He slept on a spare mattress as a grad assistant at Kansas.

His first head coaching job was at UMass when UMass was nothing. What he did there, building much more than something out of absolutely nothing, is one of the best coaching jobs in the history of the sport.

Does Calipari come on too strong sometimes? Sure. Is he polarizing? Sure. But remember, he's had to fight for everything he has attained. No way the kid from Moon Township, Pa., ever thought he would make the Hall of Fame one day. He was just trying to survive.

That's why he seemed genuinely humbled at the Final Four when his induction was announced. You could hear that same feeling in his comments at a news conference this week at the University of Kentucky.

Enjoy the weekend, Cal. You've earned it.

■ It took just one game for Charlie Strong to demote play-caller Shawn Watson at Texas. Well, it took two.

After finishing 2014 with a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl and starting 2015 with a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame, Strong decided to see whether history repeats.

He changed play-callers during the 2011 season at Louisville, demoting Mike Sanford and promoting — yes — Shawn Watson.

■ Speaking of Louisville, I loved what true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson did in the second half of U of L's 31-24 loss to Auburn last Saturday. He's a dynamic kid with a bright future.

■ A record 10 SEC teams are in the AP Top 25. When Kentucky plays at South Carolina on Saturday, it'll be a matchup of half of the league's unranked teams.

■ People went nuts over Braxton Miller's spin move Monday night when the Ohio State star eluded two Virginia Tech defenders on the way to a touchdown.

I was more impressed by the way Miller laid out to make a diving catch of a Cardale Jones pass for a 24-yard gain in the first quarter. Remember, Miller has been a receiver only since this summer. Before that, he was a Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback. Imagine if he had been playing wide receiver the whole time.

■ Given Ohio State's schedule, the only thing that can beat the Buckeyes is complacency.

■ While most of the coaches on the Air Raid tree are learning to adapt, Mike Leach is winging it at Washington State without much success.

Saturday's 24-17 loss to Portland State dropped Leach's record there to 12-26. And Portland State, an FCS team, cashed a guarantee check of $550,000 for playing in Pullman.


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