COACH'S CORNER: When the ‘Cats were family, pt. 1
by Mike Wright, Cadiz Record Columnist
Nov 06, 2013 | 258 258 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Let me get this straight right from the start. I think John Calipari has done a tremendous job with the University of Kentucky basketball team. After a couple of disastrous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Coach Cal immediately made UK basketball relevant again. In my humble opinion, Coach Calipari is the perfect fit for the UK job because he has the swagger to handle it. Coach Cal, as he is affectionately known, does not shy away from the bright lights. He seems to relish them.

Let me also address those Coach Cal detractors out there that think UK is destined for NCAA probation due to Cal’s history. Coach Calipari has been in trouble with the NCAA twice that I know of. The first time was when he had a player at the University of Massachusetts who had signed with an agent before his senior season ended. Now, how was Cal supposed to control that? Heck, I could have had a couple of high school players that had agents for all I know. The second violation was when the NCAA declared one of his players at Memphis, Derick Rose, ineligible after the season had ended. This is after the same NCAA clearinghouse had cleared Rose to play before the season. Ridiculous! The NCAA said he was good to go, then after the season said just the opposite, stripping Coach Cal and Memphis of all their wins and their national runner-up finish. Even the most righteous outspoken Dick Vitale consistently defends Coach Cal when the subject of his troubles with the NCAA comes up.

In my last years of coaching, I had the opportunity to attend a coaching clinic at which Coach Cal spoke. I found him to be intelligent, entertaining and engaging. It was also very easy to see the respect he has for the tradition of Kentucky basketball.

In all of Coach Cal’s decades of coaching, I don’t ever recall him being on the police blotter for domestic abuse or a DUI. As a matter of fact, he has been married to the same lady for around 35 years now. People I know in Lexington say that they have seen him take his own pets to the vet. That is unlike former UK Coach Rick Pitino, who would have one of his drivers or personal assistants take them. Cal’s wife even packs him sandwiches when he flies cross-country on a recruiting trip. Coach Cal may be a little more down home than you think, despite his New Jersey city slicker look.

Now, I said all that to say this. Even though it does not diminish my respect for Coach Cal any, it is a fact that he uses a different formula to win. Coach Cal signs the best high school players in the nation, knowing that they probably won’t stay but for one year before going pro. After that one year, the cycle starts all over again.

Someone asked him about that at the clinic I attended. Coach Cal said, “Do you not want me to recruit the best possible players for our program? Do you want me to settle for mid-level talent just so they might stay for four years, or do you want me to try and compete for the national championship every year?” Coach Cal went on to say that he wished the NCAA would make it a rule that each player had to stay in college for at least two years before turning pro.

I agree with his philosophy. He is not making the rules, just playing by them. And playing by them he is. Coach Cal has a system in place where he gets the best high school players and then sends them to the NBA, where they are immediately showered with millions of dollars. The players understand this; they know that Coach Cal and UK are a direct pipeline to the NBA. Who can blame Cal or the players?

The only negatives about Coach Cal’s system might be the following. One is that the players are not there long enough to earn their degree, and the other is that they are gone before we really get to know them. More about that next week.

Enthusiasm Makes the Difference

Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to

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