LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — John Calipari’s first tour of duty at Kentucky is over. The Kentucky coach is set for his second decade as coach of the Wildcats and the Hall of Fame coach reflected on his first 10 years.
“It's been a pretty good run,” he said. “Tthis is the second tour, let's see what happens now. That, what happened for those 10 years are done.”
That first run was a memorable one for Calipari, especially in 2012 when he led the Wildcats to their seventh national championship. As he did when he first stepped on campus on April Fool’s Day in 2009, Calipari has the same mindset and is eager to win a second national title.
“How do we grow as a program? How do we keep getting better as a staff? As a coach, how do I keep leading better, communicating better, what do I do and forget with that,” Calipari said. “Let's move to this next tour. This next 10 (years) — that's been my mentality. And whether it be in recruiting, where we go back and say, okay, what are some things that we can do different because what's happened is people kind of attack how we recruit and basically because I'm transparent in what we do and what we say.”
After falling short of reaching the Final Four last season with a loss to Auburn in the regional finals, Calipari has a mix of newcomers and returnees that has him anxious to coach this season.
“I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited, I feel refreshed,” he said. “I like this team, great group of kids, a little bit thin. Nine guys on scholarship playing. Dante (Allen) would be 10. I mean, I know we have 13, but I usually don't give 13, but we usually have enough to practice with, we're a little light. But some of the best teams I've coached weren't full rosters and guys. You have to be in the game and it helps them, their own mentality, especially young kids.”
When it comes to recruiting, Calipari hasn’t changed his approach and is consistently seeking top-notch talent willing to play within a team contempt.
“This stuff here is real and in the recruiting process you tell them this is not for everybody,” he said. “I’m not being arrogant, it's not for everybody. And if you're delusional, it's hard to finish. If you don't want to compete, don't come here.”
After 10 seasons on the grind, Calipari continually produces teams capable of competing for a national title on a yearly basis and does so mostly using the one-and-done concept, making the task that much more difficult each season.
“We're staying this course, somebody says the same thing every year, how in the world do you get all these new guys to come together and be a good team by the end of the year when they never passed it, they never, they were about — how do you do it,” he said. “Well it starts with, did you lie to them in recruiting or did you tell them the truth. Are they good kids. We can't — look, there's a path that these kids walk before they leave here and the path is this program and this stage. Don't muddy up the stage for the next family. That means in the recruiting process how I do this, if a kid's not made for this or he's not going to do — you can't be here. It affects too much other things. And I'm not changing that.”
Calipari also has learned to deal with the expectations of Big Blue Nation and admitted that he doesn't rely on opinions when it comes to running the program.
“Our fans are crazy and I love them, but please don't take this wrong, I don't listen to them. I don't read it. Can I go Twitter, Facebook, I give you stuff and never look at anything that comes -- not one thing, never in, since I've been here. Do I?,” he said. “If you write me a letter and it's not addressed, it doesn't even make my desk. It's thrown away. If you have a letter, I'll respond, and usually I handwrite it. But here's what I do know about this position when you're coaching here. If you're worried about all that stuff, the clutter that's out there, you can't do this job, and you can't be about the kids. You can't. … this is not one for the faint of heart, whether you're playing here or coaching here. And that's the first I heard anybody was mad that we haven't done enough.”
One of the things that will change for Calipari this season is the absence of his son Brad Calipari, who transferred to Detroit during the off-season. Calipari admitted it will be a change for his staff and family, especially his wife Ellen.
“I'm talking to him every day, and the first practice kind of hit me, I'm not getting to coach him for the first time in three years,” he said. “His mother (Ellen Calipari) went up there and stayed five days with him and told her she could stay up there. That's fine. And the princess came back.”
Even without Brad lurking over his shoulder, Calipari has the same expectations for his current squad as he did the first one he coached at Kentucky.
“It's all the same,” he said. “For me though it's a process and you got to stay in the moment and you got to continue, it's hard because we're trying to help them develop individual habits yet put a team together. That's why this team doesn't become what they become until January, February.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.