CRAWFORD | Kentucky's John Calipari does it all, but keeps it simple for Wildcats
Kentucky coach John Calipari writes books, has a popular website, more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, and more than a million listeners to his new podcast. But don't forget, he's a coach.
INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) -- John Calipari, noted documentary subject, pitchman, podcaster, author, Tweeter and coach of the storied basketball team at the University of Kentucky, wishes to put your mind at ease.
He can, in fact, do it all.
On the eve of his No. 2-seeded Wildcats’ meeting with No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky, Calipari was asked how he has time for it all? How did he add a podcast to his already busy schedule?
He was, you might suspect, glad you asked.
“It takes me about 30 minutes a week,” Calipari said. “Does anybody know what a podcast is because I didn't know what it was? Never heard of a podcast. I only did it because no other coaches are doing it. That's my question. Any other coaches doing podcasts? No. Then I'm doing it. Now, we had friends of mine on. It's like two guys drinking coffee, and you're a fly on the wall. There's been over a million listens. Did you hear what I just said?
“People are like crazy out there,” he went on. “We don't know that. There were a million listens to these podcasts. Will I do it again next year? I don't know. I'm hoping 20 other coaches do them so I can stop doing it. Then I don't have to do it. But right now, I'm like the only coach that does it.”
See? Easy. If no other coach is doing it, he’s going to try it, and watch the ripples. Listen for a Mike Krzyzewski Podcast on iTunes soon.
(This column will resume in a moment, after I tell you about Blue Apron . . . )
Calipari is more than a coach. He’s an industry. His website, CoachCal.com, updates more in a week than most coaches’ do in a season. He’s written two books in the past three years.
It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that he’s a coach. Don’t forget. And if you are tempted to forget, you’ll hear the reminder. Usually from Calipari himself.
When reporters at Thursday's NCAA news conference asked Mychal Mulder what he knows about Friday’s opponent, NKU, he said, “We haven't watched a whole lot of film. Talented team from what we have seen throughout the year. A team that we respect. They're in our state, and it's great to be able to play them in our first game of the tournament.”
Dominique Hawkins chimed in, “Like Mike said, we didn't watch a lot of film on them, but we're definitely going to respect their guards. They've got great guards, athletic, can get to the rim. We're really excited to be able to play an in-state team.”
So to sum up: Respect. Good guards. Northern Kentucky is in Kentucky. Good to go.
At this point, Calipari jumps in: “Can I just say something? We spend a lot of time on ourselves right now, and the stuff that they've watched has been personnel tape. We do all that stuff, and they'll watch 15-20 minutes of tape on everybody we play. So please don't take it as disrespect. That's just how we do this.”
Let’s be honest. Kentucky’s players need to watch a bunch of NKU tape about as much as they need to watch La La Land before Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game.
The Calipari way is this: I’m going to get the best players humanly possible. I’m going to get them to play as well as I possibly can. I might add a wrinkle or two for really good opponents, but probably not. Everyone is going to adjust to my team. I’m not going to adjust to them.
If it’s good enough, he winds up in the Final Four. If it’s really good enough, he wins a championship. About the only downside, you might note, is that he has to be really good, might even need more talent than others to make that happen. So? He has more talent, quite often. Maybe, you say, he'd have won another championship, maybe two, if he'd been a touch more conventional in preparation.
Oh, what? So now your'e a hater? How close has (fill in coach you respect here) gotten, and how often?
“I have watched the tape, OK?” Calipari goes on. “So the games that I've seen, (NKU’s) tournament games, the UIC game, they run their stuff. They have a five-man that can shoot threes. Their guards are not afraid. They'll shoot threes. They'll fly up and down the court. They run good stuff in the half court. They space the court. Their pick-and-roll stuff is good. Their man-to-man is more of a let's make sure you're going to take a tough shot, and we're going to rebound and run. They do play a 2-3 zone. I've seen a little bit of 1-3-1. Run good out-of-bounds plays on the baseline. John's done a good job. They've won 25 games. This is a legitimately good team.”
In the tournament’s first eight game, only one was a breather. Scores are close. Mid-majors are getting closer to majors, and tiny powers are threatening everyone with improved coaching, analytics, precision execution, great shooting, game management. Butler helped change the game.
“I'm not really watching games, but I'm hearing scores, two-point game, one-point game,” Calipari said. “If you expect in this tournament, to try to bury somebody, it's hard. It's hard. You're just trying to say let's play as well as we can play. Teams this year, many teams had house money against us, not supposed to win. They're not expected to win. We were expected to win. They're throwing balls, shooting bank shots, hook shots, runners, ball's going in. Who is that guy? He just made three threes. Those are his first three threes of the season. That's his first, that kind of stuff. So you've got to come in this, let's worry about us. Let's play with energy, knowing this team is good enough, Northern, to beat us. Let's be at our best and see what happens.”
Calipari’s occasional themes can be grating. Kentucky fans and the media who cover the Wildcats can recite the litany of phrases he uses over and over. But let’s be honest. Every coach has a variation on those phrases. Calipari’s just happen to dig a bit deeper, sometimes.
“You’re going to hate me,” he says, smiling into the camera for the trailer of the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about him. “Because I’m going to come to your town and beat your team.”
And, just maybe, talk about it on his podcast.
Calipari is more mindset than minutiae. He will get involved in X and O basketball. Often, he’ll do basic things that other coaches resist doing. He is wedded to very little stylistically. But more than that, his exhortations to his team appeal to their emotions. He has talented players. He essentially is prodding them to embrace their own talent, to find more of it, use more of it.
“Get serious!” he yelled at Isaiah Briscoe and DeAaron Fox during Thursday’s shootaround. “Make ten threes in a row. Let’s go!”
Sometimes, he’ll stare down a player and just scream, “Play!” or “Go!” or “Run!”
“You've just got to be prepared for what if this happens, what if that happens,” Calipari said, but then cautioned, “You can't give that all to the players. I will not -- I refuse to overwhelm them with tape of the other team or more than what we do. We'll be prepared as coaches if we need to do stuff, but I want them to have fresh legs, fresh minds. They're not overwhelmed with video. Let's go play basketball. Thanks, everybody.”
And he was out the door. On to the next thing you haven’t thought of yet.
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