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Calipari: Final Four not validation for any coach


Now that he’s taken three different schools to a Final Four, it would be almost natural to assume that Kentucky coach John Calipari would feel Final  Four appearances can validate a coach’s resume, especially a young coach like he was when he took Massachusetts in 1996.

“I don’t think you ever feel validated in this profession because this is kind of like golf. You think you’ve got it figured out, you get humbled real quick. I followed up that Final Four, within a year and a half I was fired in New Jersey (as coach of the New Jersey Nets).  So I don’t know if it validated anything. Obviously it made me feel good at the time,” said Calipari.

“But this is a humbling profession. It’s very, very hard. It can be very rewarding, but it also could be one of those things that you get slapped in the mouth when you really think I got this figured out. I do not have this figured out. One of the reasons we lost six close games in our league is I was trying to figure it out with my team. We wanted to put it on individual players. It wasn’t about our team.  We didn’t know how to finish a game yet because I hadn’t figured out my team yet.”

That changed not only as the players started believing they could win, but also as Calipari made changes to help the team play better and get him back to another Final Four.

“What you feel is blessed and lucky and fortunate because there are so many coaches in our profession who are as good as they get that have never been to a Final Four, but they’re unbelievable coaches. Sometimes it’s luck. Other times it’s the situation they’re in,” Calipari said.

“What I take grade pride in is players at each of those programs have done well and gone on to do well.  You think about not only my young kids that everyone talks about, Josh Harrellson’s life has changed, so has DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller. They’ve now put themselves on a different trajectory. I’m as proud of that as anything I’ve done with a team.”

Calipari remembers when he got to UK and that not everyone liked when he noted it would be a “players-first program” because that was his belief.

“Some people were angry about that. I look at this and say if we can do right by these young people, then they’ll do right by us and we’ll accomplish as a program what we’re trying to accomplish. But we’ve got to do right by them. We’ve got to help them reach their dreams, too.  During the season it’s about team, after the season it’s about each individual player,” Calipari said.

“It’s a neat thing. I never thought about it that way, like I don’t do this by numbers, how many wins. I’m just coaching these guys. I try to stay focused on them. If you’re worried about numbers, if you’re worried about all that other stuff, I think it takes us off point of why we do what we do, which is trying to help young people get from Point A to Point B, and in some cases get from Point A to Paint Z. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

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  1. Lori Metcalf

    I like that the players are the focus. They are the ones out on the floor putting themselves on the line. Of course, they are executing (hopefully) a plan the coaches design, but it really is up to the players based on the effort they choose to bring to practice and games.

    I think a lot of good started happening for this team when they had the meeting following one of the bad SEC losses. Cal pooh-poohed it at the time, but I believe it was the beginning of the turnaround. And the meeting at Cal’s house where each player committed something to the team. Those are the kinds of things that build the team aspect of the game when players take them seriously and follow up on those commitments.

    It really is an exciting time to be a Cats fan. I’m glad they’re taking us along for the ride!

  2. Ben

    Cal has the proper fame of mind. You cannot just use people and hope for the best! I did not know that much about Cal the man, before he came to KY other than the wins. The more I see of Cal, the more I like him and I see why his players love him. Great things are happening at KY and for all the right reasons.

    How can you not like what is happening? The Golden Rule is treat others as you would want to be treated. God created it, and Cal is perfecting it in basketball. Help other achieve their goals and they will help you. The extra advantages are the championships along the way.

  3. ColoradoWildCat

    A really good and insightful piece on Coach Cal, Larry.

    Have you noticed that “all of a sudden” the national media types have decided what we all have known for a couple years now? Namely, that Cal is also an excellent x & o’s coach. Most are now saying that he flat out-coached Huggy-Bear, Matta, and Williams.

    ‘Bout time!

  4. Don V

    I always judge a coach by how much progress a team makes during the season. Are they playing their best at the end or are they just trying to get the season over with. You have to be proud when you look at where we were in November and where we are now.

  5. Karen Sprinkle

    Cal has proven over and over again the past two years that he was the perfect man for the UK head coach’s job. And while I’m not all that familiar with his coaching record at his other jobs prior to UK, I have to think that this year was truly his best coaching job to date. He kept believing in his young men, and made them believe in themselves. I also think that his players first attitude is one of the primary reasons why the best players want to come to Kentucky and play for the Blue and White as they know that Cal may be hard on them, but will truly help them to become not only the best basketball player they can be, but the best person they can be. He puts a lot of emphasis on servant leadership, and I think that is crucial to keeping these kids’ feet firmly planted on the ground.

  6. Rod

    I too have really been suprised and impressed with the real Cal since he has been here. I really agree with Ben’s comments above. It took me a long time personally to figure this all out, but yes, Cal seems to want to help everyone up who he comes into contact with. I think kids are lucky to have him for a Coach.
    Very good article Larry, thanks.

  7. larry vaught

    Cal really does have a good heart, something a lot of folks just won’t believe

  8. LindaS

    Final Four not validation for any coach. We understand that, at least he is marching with his own players, mostly, and not someone else’s. Cal’s got it, nothing more needs to be said. Go Cats!

  9. LindaS

    That was suppose to be Cal gets it!

  10. TrueBlueJohn

    I wish that the media types who continuely blast Cal as being unethical would take the time to get to know him. I think some opinions would change. He is definitely operating above board, or the strictest compliance department in the country headed by Sandy Bell would call his hand on it. The entity that needs to be investigated is the NCAA for it’s biased rulings.

    I think the validation for any coach is the improvement in his players from beginning to end, and I don’t think anyone would deny this team has greatly improved.

    I had a high school coach that people often said “He could take his players and beat yours, and he could take your players and beat his.” I think Cal is that type of coach.

    What I would like to see is how scary next years team would be if we have 4 or 5 of the top six come back with what we have coming in.

  11. gmoyers

    True Blue you are right. It’s too bad more national media members don’t see the total picture with Cal

  12. Tana

    Great piece, Larry, and good responses (and well-said, Lori, in particular). Too, like Ben and Rod, the more I see of Coach Calipari, the more I like him. It’s that “heart” of his, the way he truely cares for his players, that I’m seeing more and more. When a person has a good heart, he or she tends to win my own.

    As an added bonus, Coach Calipari has done an outstandng job of improving this team, as noted by Don. Taking this group to a Final Four is really impressive (and I appreciate every coach’s taking us to a Final Four, by the way). Again, though, even more, I’m impressed with how Coach Calipari cares about helping these young men — and, seemingly, people in general. I had been especially impressed with Coach Cal’s kindness, gentle heart, and humility when talking with an appreciative fan who had called himself an “Average Joe” on Coach Cal’s radio show Monday night. KUDOS to Coach Cal. GO CATS!!!

  13. LindaS

    I saw a video today of Coach Cal. He was talking on the phone and mentioned something about he must be a magician! Yep, he is a magician! We could even call this team the Magician and his Avengers or Payback Cats! He has worked a lot of magic in the two short years he has been here. THANKS COACH! Go Cats!

  14. bigbluefans4uk.com


    John Clay’s column today is a service to the entire BBN.

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