By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari continues to do and say all the right things to excite University of Kentucky basketball fans.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am more excited to be your coach than you are to have me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said at the Big Brothers Big Sisters luncheon Tuesday in Lexington. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have the opportunity to coach at a great institution. This is a place where the state breathes basketball. I am so humbled. I wish I could coach today. I enjoy this (the luncheon), but I want to get started coaching this team.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari spent about 45 minutes talking to the crowd of about 400 UK fans. He took time to answer questions and patiently posed for pictures and signed autographs after his speech until he had to leave for another engagement. He also gave a strong pitch to support Big Brothers Big Sisters that came across as sincere and passionate.
Calipari said his job is to keep his team of six returning players and six newcomers happy and playing for the same agenda all season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They have got to bury all individual agendas and get one agenda,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Kentucky coach said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The returning players have been here and might feel this is their time. The young players feel like they are the best. Getting all to accept one agenda will be a challenge, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my job.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then I have to teach them a totally new way to play. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s different than anything they have done. But as the season goes on, they will understand. They will have a smile on their face and have fun. It is a game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He did not directly taking any shots at previous UK coach Billy Gillispie Ã¢â‚¬â€ who seldom was accused of making basketball fun for his players Ã¢â‚¬â€ but Calipari made it clear again his job is to have an atmosphere where players can enjoy what they are doing. He says that atmosphere leads to winning.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If I do my job, players will not worry about what went on (in the past). LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s look ahead. We will stay in the moment. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as much about the path you take as the prize,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If it is fun, they will extend the season. If it is not fun, they will let go of the rope. Why win if you are not having fun.Ã¢â‚¬Â
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s likely a chorus of amens you are hearing from last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s UK team because there certainly was no overwhelming heartbreak when the Cats were eliminated from NCAA Tournament consideration or lost to Notre Dame in the NIT. Last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team was ready to be done because it had lost confidence in its leader.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not likely to happen with Calipari, who almost won the 2008 national championship at Memphis.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I want to enjoy this time. We have a great opportunity to do special things,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.