John Calipari is 102-14 in his first three seasons as the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. He has led the Cats to two Final Fours and the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. As the 53-year-old gets ready to tip off the 2012-13 season, he took time out to sit down with WAVE 3 Sports Anchor Kent Taylor to talk about a few different subjects.
KENT TAYLOR: How did you celebrate winning the national championship?
JOHN CALIPARI: I was just asked the question about how – when I was on the court – the first thing I was looking for was my wife. It’s funny how wives basically run your house (and) raise your family while you’re off coaching. My wife doesn’t want to be in the limelight, won’t go to dinners, functions. Everybody always says, “Why doesn’t his wife come?” She’s invited to everything, she’s like, “I didn’t buy into that. I’m here and I don’t want to do it.” I just went and grabbed her and said, “Hey, we can get on to the business of coaching kids now.”
TAYLOR: Was there a sense of relief?
CALIPARI: No, because I’ve coached at Massachusetts and Memphis. (If we hadn’t won, people would ask), “Why didn’t he win national titles?” Excuse me? I mean – what? Being here now for me is a different deal because five different guys have won national titles here. No one has won at another school; only here, all five. So, it’s kind of like you come here, you get a chance to win a national title. In that regard, it was like, okay, that thing is done, let’s just get down to the business of coaching kids.
TAYLOR: How do you get away? What is a guilty pleasure for John Calipari? What is on your DVR – did I see somewhere that you watch “Storage Wars?”
CALIPARI: I did, I did. I watch “Pawn Stars,” which is really good. You wonder why you watch it, it’s the characters in there. I’m trying to keep up with the politics right now, what’s happening. The politicians and congressmen are like coaches, they kill each other, which kills the category. I was a marketing major. First thing I learned in marketing: Do not kill the category. You can’t kill the category. We coaches, we kill each other, everybody is the worst human being, everybody is cheating, everybody is doing it, so now everybody thinks we all cheat and we’re bad human beings and we don’t care about kids. Congress, what are they rated? Twelve percent? Just don’t kill each other. So I do watch politics and try to learn from it. It’s hard to say just pick up and leave, because my wife says, “Where are you going? You haven’t been here.” I’m like, yeah, but everything I’ve done is for everybody else, I’d like to just be able to step away. …So it’s not as easy as you think just to step off the gas. TAYLOR: You have said that this is about a 10-year job. Does it feel like it’s been 10 years?
CALIPARI:Here’s what’s really funny: We go in to show a highlight tape to recruits, and in it is my first press conference. Now, if you all want to take that picture of me there – it’s only three years ago – and look at me now, you’re going to say, “Oh my gosh!” In three years it’s like you’re President of the United States in this job. You age, like, by fives. When I tell you it’s a 10-year job, that’s about what it is, but it may be shorter than that, it may be a little longer than that. You don’t come here and say I’m going to be here, how Coach Rupp did it, but it must have been a different time. Now, I’m having fun.
TAYLOR: What energizes you, keeps you going?
CALIPARI: What you find out when you’re coaching here at Kentucky, it’s not so much the business of coaching you’re in, you’re in the business of helping families. We’ve had 15 players drafted. We’ve had 7 players graduate, get their college degrees. We had a 3.2 grade point average last year, the year before we had a 3.0. When they tell you they don’t go to class, they don’t care, there is no relationship there, it’s not true. Keep saying it and maybe you’ll make it true – it isn’t true. I’m going in homes, generational poverty, done. Can you imagine? I’m in a position to help a family end a generation of poverty. Generational lack of education. I’m in a position to say, “That ends here.” Teaching them to be fathers, teaching them to be men. Being here is a totally different deal and I’m enjoying because of what we’re able to do for other people.
TAYLOR: How tough of a decision was it not to play a home game in Louisville for the first time in years?
CALIPARI: It was hard. We’d like to play in the YUM! Center and I understand why Louisville wouldn’t want us in their building – it’s the state’s building, by the way – but that’s okay. So we won’t play in Louisville. I’m not scheduling for America, but I am scheduling for our fans. This is a players-first program. We have to do what is in their best interests first. It is a players-first program, so when we schedule, it’s got to be about them.
TAYLOR: Is Nerlens Noel a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis?
CALIPARI: I don’t think so, but I hope he is. If he is, my goodness. He didn’t get the eight weeks with us because he reclassified, had to finish up some academic stuff before he got here. Willie Cauley, though, and Nerlens together, if they’re ever out there together – 7-feet, 6-feet-11, long, active athletes – that becomes crazy. Those two together would be way longer than our team a year ago, with Terrence (Jones) and Michael (Kidd Gilchrist) and Anthony (Davis) and Kyle Wiltjer. This team is longer. Now, we have no experience.
TAYLOR: Have you ever had a team this inexperienced?
CALIPARI: Of the 72 (Bowl Championship Series) schools, only one has no starter back that played a game, no games started; that’s us. Kyle never started a game. Now, he led us in scoring a couple of times, but he never started a game. We’re starting from way behind everybody else.
TAYLOR: You’re more qualified to answer this question than anybody. You played Louisville and Indiana both twice last season. Which one should be the preseason No. 1?
CALIPARI: I don’t know, but they’re both really good. I’ve been a Peyton Siva fan since I saw him in the Derby Classic playing better than Eric Bledsoe, and I said that kid can really play. The big guy has gotten better, they’re really good. Now you go to Indiana and you talk about their big guy, I mean he is really talented, that’s going to be a great, do they play? I think we should schedule that game. That game for America should be scheduled. Those two going against each other would be a great match-up. They’re both well-coached, they’re both really good teams. We were fortunate to beat both of them last year, obviously lost to one, but we also came back and beat them. They’ve got everybody back. I’m more concerned about my team and just trying to do what we can do to be the best team we can be.
TAYLOR: Could we see all three of you in Atlanta for the Final Four?
CALIPARI: Would that be funny? I just have a feeling our path to Atlanta will be a little tougher, but that’ll be fine.
Photos By Victoria Graff | Contributing Photographer
Kent Taylor is a sports anchor for WAVE 3. See more of his work at www.wave3.com or by tuning in to the NBC affiliate.