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By LARRY VAUGHT
Some columns always draw bigger responses from readers than others. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s was the case with a recent column on Kentucky coach John Calipari noting that he was not named in NCAA violations and it was unfair to him to believe the rumors and innuendoes since heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not been charged with any wrongdoing.
This e-mail came from Billy Sacco:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Thank you for your common sense approach to the Calipari allegations. I have known John for 40 years, and he is a hard-working, blue-collar coach. He has never been charged by the NCAA in either the (Marcus) Camby or (Derrick) Rose incidents and never will be. I believe we should concentrate on all of the good that he has done for the universities, players and communities where he has lived. I realize that might not be as interesting as conjecture and innuendoes, but that is where the focus should be.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Obviously, Sacco is a Calipari fan. But what stood out to me is that he indicated he had known Calipari for 40 years. I figured that meant he knew far more about the UK coach than me, so I asked if I might contact him for some background information. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ when I found out why Sacco is a Calipari fan Ã¢â‚¬â€ he was CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s high school coach in Moon Township, Pa.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I even knew him before that. He was our ballboy for the basketball team,Ã¢â‚¬Â Sacco said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He used to wear his shirt and tie and get on the bus with us. He lived on the road right across the street from the school. He was always around athletes and basketball. That was basically his life.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How good was he?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He was an excellent player,Ã¢â‚¬Â Sacco said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He was offered a scholarship at UNC-Wilmington and spent two years there. Then he called me out of the blue one day and said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœCoach, get me out of here.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I called a friend, Joe DeGregorio at Clarion, and asked if was looking for a guard. He said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœAs long as it is John, send him.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ It worked out well. I graduated from there as well and we are all coming down in November when Kentucky plays Clarion. The school is trying to get some buses because a lot of people want to come see John.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari stays in touch with Sacco and his wife. And Sacco will call Calipari to check on him, especially when recent events like the NCAA penalties at Memphis come down and national media members blast Calipari.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I hate to see him drug through the mud. I think he is a winner no matter where he goes. Jealousy will always be there because this guy was so young when he started having success,Ã¢â‚¬Â Sacco said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“A lot of coaches work for years and never have the success John did so fast.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When he went to UMass, they struggled for a year or two and played in that small gym. He left the place with a new facility and was responsible for that. He went to Memphis and did a great job. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how John is.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sacco, who recently visited Calipari at Kentucky, says the coach will never slow down and that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s determined to justify the confidence UK showed in him by hiring him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When Kentucky gave John this job, he was honored. He wants to do what it takes to show those folks they have the right guy. And they have the right guy,Ã¢â‚¬Â Sacco said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need to prove anything to them, but he wants to make them proud of the fact they brought him in. He will do it, too. He has some of the greatest players in the country there now, and he is recruiting more great players. People can try to tear him down, but they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be just fine at Kentucky.Ã¢â‚¬Â