John Clay

Ten Years of Coach Cal: The 10 biggest disappointments

More from the series

Ten Years of Coach Cal

John Calipari’s first 10 years as head coach at the University of Kentucky were jam packed with memories. As Coach Cal embarks on his second decade under a newly signed “lifetime contract,” the Herald-Leader Sports staff voted on and ranked the biggest moments, best players, toughest losses, top recruits and more from the past 10 years and created this 12-part series.

Expand All

Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a series of 12 stories ranking the most memorable moments, teams and players of John Calipari’s 10 years as University of Kentucky head coach. Rankings were compiled through voting conducted by members of the Herald-Leader Sports staff. Watch for a new story every day between today and July 27.

From a national championship, to four Final Four trips, to a multitude of NBA Draft picks, John Calipari’s 10 years as Kentucky basketball coach have been filled with high notes. That, however, doesn’t mean the decade has been devoid of disappointments.

Into every life a little rain must fall. So here’s a list of the top 10 disappointments during the John Calipari era:

1. John Higgins harassment. The well-respected basketball official allegedly received death threats from Kentucky fans for what they perceived as his role in UK’s loss to North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA Tournament’s South Region finals. Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio, saying its on-air and online comments led to his family and business receiving harassing phone calls and online comments. The suit was dismissed. Higgins is appealing.

2. Enes Kanter ruled ineligible. Calipari signed the center from Turkey to be a part of his 2010-11 team, but the NCAA ultimately ruled that Kanter had received more than $33,000 in impermissible benefits while playing for a Turkish club team two years before. Kanter remained with the Cats as a practice player. He just finished his eighth year in the NBA.

3. End of the Kentucky-Indiana series. The annual border war between the two legendary basketball powers came to an end with UK’s 73-72 loss in Bloomington on Dec. 10, 2011. Unhappy with the way his team was treated at Assembly Hall, Calipari has refused to renew the series as long as IU insists on a home-and-home arrangement. The two teams have played twice since, both in the NCAA Tournament. UK won the Sweet 16 matchup in 2012. Indiana won a round-of-32 game in 2016. Talk of a possible restart has been unproductive.

4. Calipari’s NBA Draft declaration. After five Cats went in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, the Kentucky coach proclaimed the feat to be the “biggest day in the history of Kentucky’s program.” Backlash was swift from the fans of a program that at that point had won seven national titles. “The dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Dan Issel, UK’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball .

5. Rex Chapman’s 2014 final game tweet. Barely an hour before Kentucky played Connecticut in the 2014 NCAA Tournament championship game, the former UK star tweeted that it was a done deal that Calipari would become the coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. The tweet dominated the pre- and postgame coverage. Not only was the tweet wrong, but Kentucky lost to the Huskies 60-54.

6. Annual roster turnover. Being a Kentucky basketball fan during the John Calipari decade has meant having to learn a different team every year. Such has been the price of No. 1 recruiting classes filled with players set on heading to the NBA as a one-and-done. While loving the wins, old-school UK fans have always had an uneasy feeling about the constant roster turnover that has come with the one-and-done era.

7. Ellen Calipari tells her husband to wash his mouth out with soap. During Kentucky’s 68-66 loss at Alabama on Jan. 18, 2011, the TV cameras caught John Calipari telling freshman forward Terrence Jones he is a “selfish m—————.” That didn’t sit well with Ellen Calipari, who told her husband after the game he should apologize. He did via Twitter.

8. Trouble in Memphis. Not two months after Kentucky hired Calipari as its head coach, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported that the NCAA was investigating Memphis’ basketball program for “knowing fraudulence or misconduct” on Derrick Rose’s SAT score and providing extra benefits to Rose’s brother in the form of free travel to road games. Rose was later ruled ineligible, thus vacating Memphis’ 2008 appearance in the national championship game, and the program was placed on probation. Calipari was not cited in the allegations of rule violations.

9. Eric Bledsoe’s transcript. A May 28, 2010, New York Times story raised questions about the UK guard’s high school transcript. Bledsoe’s grades improved dramatically when he switched schools in Birmingham, Ala. An investigation by the Birmingham City Schools revealed irregularities but stopped short of making accusations of academic fraud. The NCAA took no action in the case.

10. Those 40-0 T-shirts. After Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, signed with Kentucky for the 2013-14 season, expectations spiraled out of control, leading to predictions of a 40-0 season. Calipari helped stoke the fires by saying he would love to go 40-0. Thus, T-shirts were sold. Many T-shirts. Alas, the Cats finished 29-11. UK’s 2014-15 team came much closer, finishing 38-1.

Other disappointments receiving votes:

In June 2016, Kentucky forward Derek Willis was arrested for public intoxication in Union, Ky., after a Boone County deputy sheriff allegedly found Willis passed out and lying in a street around 4:30 a.m.

Calipari reportedly criticizing Mike Krzyzewski for using the Team USA coaching position as a recruiting advantage. When that became public, Calipari saluted Krzyzewski for sacrificing recruiting time to be Team USA Coach.

A UK streak of consecutive games making at least one three-pointer dating back to 1988 ends against Davidson (0-for-6) in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Shrinking student attendance in Rupp Arena.

In July 2013, ex-UK forward Terrence Jones was arrested in his native Portland after allegedly stomping on the leg of a homeless man after leaving a bar in the wee hours.

Robert Morris students storming the court after Robert Morris defeated Kentucky in the first round of the 2013 NIT.

A controversial Chicago Sun-Times story in August 2010 claimed that “sources from three different schools” told the newspaper that the cost of the recruiting commitment of Anthony Davis ranged from “$125,000 to $150,000.” The story was vehemently disputed by the family of Davis and by an attorney representing the University of Kentucky.

In 2018, a Yahoo Sports report said the names of former Kentucky players Nerlens Noel and Bam Adebayo were listed in documents seized from sports agent Andy Miller’s ASM agency as part of the then-ongoing federal investigation into a pay-for-play scandal in men’s college basketball. Both Adebayo and Noel were said to be listed in ASM ledgers as having allegedly received “loans” in the thousands of dollars from the sports agency.

Ending UK’s once-every-four-years participation in the Maui Invitational.

Calipari’s stunned expression leaving the court after UK’s 118-84 loss to Duke in the 2018-19 Champions Classic.

John Wall was suspended for two games (one exhibition and one regular season) and essentially fined $787.58 by the NCAA due to “amateurism issues” related to his relationship with AAU coach Brian Clifton.

Calipari’s marketing touch failing miserably when he answered criticism of one-and-done players by lobbying for a new label. That label — “Succeed and Proceed’ — landed with a thud.

Daniel Orton doesn’t finish out classes at UK before entering NBA Draft.

Calipari twice being ejected from games at South Carolina, the second time including a faux hold-me-back piece of body language theater directed at referee Doug Sirmons.

Fans regularly having to endure Calipari to other schools/NBA rumors.

Armed student reportedly serves as body guard for Tai Wynyard at a campus party.

Calipari telling Archie Goodwin “I can’t coach you” during UK’s 88-58 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 16, 2013, the first game after Nerlens Noel tore his ACL at Florida.

Kentucky loses top recruit Andrew Wiggins to Kansas.

Rick Pitino largely erased from UK history. Not in pregame video. Not mentioned at reunion for 1996 champs. Calipari later encouraged Pitino to return to Kentucky to be honored.

Calipari has awkward moment where he grabs arm of sideline reporter Maria Taylor and causes a stir.

Cats fans make national news by flipping cars and setting fires after national championship win in 2012.


The Herald-Leader is now offering a digital sports-only one-year subscription for $30. You'll get unlimited access to all Herald-Leader sports stories.

About this series

A vote by the Herald-Leader Sports staff has generated lists of the biggest shots, the top individual performances and the best players of the Calipari era, along with the toughest losses and the biggest disappointments. We also ranked each of Calipari’s 10 teams, re-visited some of his biggest recruiting hits and misses and recalled the most indelible Cal memories of the past decade.

We hope you’ll have as much fun tapping into your Big Blue memories as we did compiling these lists as you read them in the coming days on and in the Herald-Leader.

John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
Support my work with a digital subscription