CRAWFORD | Emotional Calipari reflects on Hall of Fame election - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Emotional Calipari reflects on Hall of Fame election

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford
INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) — John Calipari got the phone call while he was driving, and said he had to stop the car.

Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame board, was on the other end to tell the University of Kentucky coach that he had received enough votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I had to pull the car over,” Calipari said. “Jerry Colangelo is a guy that I respect so much, but I just said, ‘Look, I've got to call you back.' . . . I almost hit the car in front of me. I pulled over, and my emotions got the better of me.”

Calipari was one of 11 members of the Class of 2015 introduced Monday in a ceremony in Indianapolis hosted by Jim Nantz of CBS Sports.

Afterward, Calipari said that standing on that stage, among his fellow inductees, which included legendary coach George Raveling, former Wildcat and ABA star Louie Dampier and others, “I feel phoney. I don't see myself this way. I went around the room. I see coach (Denny) Crum, and anytime we went head-to-head he beat our brains in. And coach Lute Olsen, and anytime we went head-to-head he beat our brains in. And I saw coach (Jim) Calhoun, now I did beat his brains in. Nah, I didn't, I had to do that. I know that will drive him crazy. Then you see Bill Walton and all these players, and you're like, wait a minute. Coaches live day to day, moment to moment, I'm not looking back on a career in numbers and Final Fours.”

But the numbers are what they are. Calipari is the first coach to win the Naismith Coach of the Year award with a third different team.

It's a bit of a bittersweet time for Calipari. His unbeaten Wildcats were bounced from the tournament Saturday night by Wisconsin. When Nantz asked him about his weekend, he shot back, “Did you see the game? … Thank God the hotel didn't have windows that open.”

Calipari will be honored with the other inductees at halftime of Monday night's championship game between Duke and Wisconsin, but Calipari said he will not watch the game. He said he plans to go out at halftime, “get booed,” and then leave the arena and board a plane back home to Lexington.

Nor has Calipari watched Saturday's loss to Wisconsin on video, and said he never will.

His election to the Hall of Fame not only comes amid a remarkable run at Kentucky, but at a time when many of the issues he's been crusading about for years have been adopted by the mainstream of college basketball.

Calipari said Monday he's not sure he would be here had he not become coach at Kentucky, despite successes at Massachusetts and Memphis.

“I always wanted to have a job like the other guys,” he said. “It's not that I had any disrespect for Memphis or Massachusetts. But we were the little guys. You were at the little table. Not at the big table. You never got to carve the turkey, you had plastic forks and plates. I always wondered what would happen if I got one of those jobs. Guys that have had those jobs 20 and 30 years. I was 50 and had been coaching for 20-some years when I got the Kentucky job.

“I don't know,” he went on. “If Dr. (Lee) Todd and (UK athletic director) Mitch (Barnhart) didn't come to me and say, ‘Let's talk about this Kentucky job,' if this happens. If I'm not at Kentucky, I'm not sure it happens, maybe it does, I don't know.”

Calipari guided UK to its eighth national championship in his third season. This year's team, in addition to becoming the first team in NCAA history to go 38-0, tied the 2012 team for most victories in a season with 38. Since getting the Kentucky job, Calipari has been to four Final Fours in his past five years. Only two other coaches have been to as many as four in five years — John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski. He's also had his controversy. Final Four runs at Massachusetts and Memphis were vacated from the NCAA records, or else he'd be just one shy of Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo with six Final Fours.

His record lately, however, has been unmatched by his contemporaries. UK has spent 19 straight weeks as the AP's No. 1-ranked team, the fourth-longest streak in history (tied with San Francisco).

Calipari said he doesn't view the accomplishment in terms of a culmination of work, however.

“This, that has happened for me, gives me another platform to help kids and families, even more of a platform,” he said. “I'm not changing. I'm the same guy. But can I leverage this to help others? Can I leverage this to be a better coach to help these kids?”

With another season over, there has been speculation about NBA jobs. Calipari said he actually talked to one NBA team last season, but that he sees his future in college basketball. Asked if he felt the desire to prove himself at the pro level after a two-year stint with the New Jersey Nets ended in his firing, Calipari answered quickly.

“I don't,” he said. “I have one question, so you understand — and I went through some things last year and I had a simple question for an owner — the impact that I have for these young people, the impact I have on these families lives, the impact I have in the seat I'm in at Kentucky to move people in a positive way, can I have that in the NBA? Where do I get the satisfaction from? What do we do that has an impact on the community, and on people, or am I just coaching to try and help you make more money and win a championship? Tell me how, because I'm at a stage in my life where that's not what moves me.”

One thing that did move the coach, however, was Monday's announcement.

“I don't see myself this way,” Calipari said. “I'm just thinking I came from Moon Township (Pennsylvania). I did not play at a private school. I did not play for one of the great coaches in the history of the game. I was a Division II basketball player, was lucky to get the Massachusetts job. No one wanted it, which was the only reason I got it. And now I'm sitting at this table. What? What just happened? How did this happen?

The Hall of Fame class, which also consists of Class Dick Bevetta, Louie Dampier, Lindsay Gaze, Tom Heinsohn, John Isaacs, Spencer Haywood, Lisa Leslie, Dikembe Mutombo, George Raveling and JoJo White, will be enshrined during Hall of Fame festivities in Springfield, Mass., Sept. 10-11.

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