LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When you’re John Calipari, and you’ve won an NCAA championship and been to six final fours and had 38 draft picks in 10 years at UK, including 29 first-rounders, you’ve pretty much had a career decade.
Calipari is a Hall-of-Famer. He could walk away tomorrow with a place in college basketball history.
Instead, in the offseason, he signed a lifetime contract. Whatever that means. Don’t mention it. He doesn’t know how to explain it.
“There's no such thing as a lifetime contract,” he said at Kentucky media day Tuesday. “Will you guys? Please, they could fire me in a year, and that was my lifetime, right there. I mean, there's no, there's no such thing. They want me to finish coaching here, and that's what we had talked about, for more, it was probably five months, but anyway.”
Calipari rarely comes into a new season without a new theme, some kind of new way of looking at his players, his team or even his job. This year, it seems that the offseason creativity very much has been turned on how he does his job.
The fact is, Calipari is an innovator. He’s out front. He’s had great success finding NBA-caliber players and training them for the next level. But he also hadn’t landed a five-star recruit for four years before Terrence Clark committed last month – though he still routinely is in the top two or three classes in the country.
“We're so spoiled here,” he said. “Seventy percent of the players that come here get drafted. Do you hear what I just said? It's the stupidest thing ever in the history of this game. Are you ready for this stupid statement? Of the 70% — you ready? Seventy-five percent of those get to second contracts. We have $2 billion in current contracts without shoe ... Do you understand that is not normal, like, this is kind of stupid.”
That kind of recruiting makes you a target. It’s why Calipari spent some time this summer looking at how he does things, how he might have to adapt moving forward, what changes might be necessary.
“I've been here 10 years,” he said. “Kind of thinking back, it's been a pretty good run. So now, going forward has been I'm, this is the second tour, let's see what happens now. That, what happened for those 10 years are done. Final Fours, national champion, all the stuff, it's done ... Now what happens in the next 10? 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? Let's move to this next tour. This next 10. So that's been my mentality. And whether it be in recruiting, where we go back and say, OK, what are some things that we can do different? Because what's happened is people kind of attack how we recruit ... what do we do that's a little bit different in our approach?”
So, the theme of this season is the beginning of the Second Tour. At least at the start, it looks like lot like the first tour: A team ranked in the top five nationally. A young group that Calipari will tinker with until it gels into a unit that is ready to go in March. And a coach looking to get back to the top. The Wildcats last made a Final Four in 2015, though they were on the doorstep each of the past two seasons.
“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. Dontaie (Allen, out with a torn ACL) 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.”
He said he met with players individually, and several said they wanted a closer relationship with him. It surprised him a bit, because he tries to be accessible. But they see him as something of a legend by now. His reputation gives him an over-sized presence, even to players who are around every day.
“I only look at myself as I'm good at what I do. We're different in how I do it,” he said. “I don't think I'm the greatest of all time. I'm good at what I do. You guys as players look at me as something that I'm not. You need to get me down, and we got to do this together ... We were running an offense, and then I started watching tape, and it wasn't how we were supposed to be running it. So I went in, and I said, 'Listen, we're changing it. Watch the tape. Here it is. I saw it last night.' And I looked at Ashton (Hagans), and I said, 'Ashton, you would have known this. Why didn't you say something?' They're still seeing me in something that I don't see myself.”
If Calipari ever needs to feel humbled, he can hit social media and find fans grousing that recruiting has slowed down (by his standards) or that there hasn’t been a Final Four in the past four seasons. Fans can always find something to complain about.
But as he begins his second tour, Calipari said he’s confident good things will keep happening.
“Look, our fans are crazy, and I love them, but please don't take this wrong: I don't listen to them,” Calipari said. “I don't read it ... I give you stuff and never look at anything that comes — not one thing, never in, since I've been here. 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 hand-write 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. You'll be under the desk in a fetal position. Your secretary will come in, 'Where did he go? Coach, what are you doing under there? Come out of there.'”
Calipari stops and smiles, then adds: “So, this is not one for the faint of heart, whether you're playing here or coaching here.”
And the second tour is well under way.
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