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By LARRY VAUGHT
Jim Host has been associated with the University of Kentucky basketball since 1954 and has known all of UKâ€™s basketball coaches during that time. He opened Jim Host and Associates in 1972, put together the Kentucky Radio Network and has had a long standing business relationship with the National Collegiate Athletic Association since 197. He is credited with implementing the first collegiate corporate sports marketing program for the NCAA in 1984. Host handled all radio, publishing, marketing and corporate marketing for the NCAA for over 30 years.
Recently he was selected for induction in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame along with former UK coach Joe Hall. He was a driving force behind the Louisville Arena project that resulted in the KFC YUM Center that hosted NCAA Tournament games last week.
Host is an avid UKâ€ˆsports fan and shared his insights on John Calipariâ€™s team â€” he says this is the best UKâ€ˆteam he has seen â€” and more during last weekendâ€™s NCAA event.
Question: Why do you think this is the best Kentucky team you have seen play?
Host: â€œFirst of all,â€ˆI think it is the most talented one through seven that Iâ€ˆhave seen. Second, I think they play together as a team better than any team I have ever seen for that kind of talent. There may have been better teams like Ruppâ€™s Runts, but they were not as talented as this team. I think Cal has done an amazing job of how he has been able to get them to play together. I think the only person on the team who was any issue was Terrence Jones and he is playing as well as a teammate of any of them. Cal has just done an amazing job with this team and itâ€™s the best team, one to seven, that Iâ€ˆhave seen.â€
Question: Isnâ€™t that pretty rare to say great teammates on a team this talented?
Host: â€œYes it is and Iâ€ˆthink in order to win it all they have to be a great team. I think the people will admit that the 1996 team that Rick (Pitino) had was a terrific bunch of individuals that played great together at the right time of year. But when you talk about Antoine Walker and some individual likes that, I never did see them as the total team like this team is. I have never seen a guy like (Anthony) Davis play the game like he has. When he gets knocked down, he just gets right back up and never frowns. You donâ€™t see any of them with any kind of attitude problem on the court like you see a lot of kids have. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€ˆmean about this team.â€
Question: How much have you enjoyed working with John Calipari?
Host: â€œI love working with him. But I have had a great relationship with all of them (UK coaches) with the exception of (Billy) Gillispie.â€ˆIâ€ˆhad no relationship with him. I loved working with Rick. I had a great relationship with him. Iâ€ˆhave known Cal since he was an assistant coach at Kansas. Iâ€ˆhave known him a long time. He is the best marketing guy I have ever been around. He is best at marketing what he does and what the team does. Have your ever seen anybody work closer with the university than what he tries to? Rick was a great marketer but he does it different. Cal is amazing at what he does.â€
Question: How did you first meet Calipari way back then?
Host: â€œI have been involved with NCAA events, but Monte Johnson was the athletics director at Kansas and when he hired Larry Brown and Larry gave him a graduate assistant job at Kansas. So I met him through Monty Johnson who was a member of my Host Communications board for a number of years. Thatâ€™s how Iâ€ˆmet him. I really like him personally and we usually have met every year at a Final Four and either have coffee together or something.
â€œWhen he was the coach of the New Jersey Nets and got fired, he called me and said, â€˜What should I do?â€™ I said Cal why donâ€™t you and Iâ€ˆmeet and letâ€™s talk about broadcasting because I thought he would be terrific in broadcasting and he talked about that. But then R.C. Johnson, who Iâ€ˆhave known forever as AD at Temple before he went to Memphis, hired him to be the basketball coach at Memphis. R.C. called me about him and I said, â€˜You wonâ€™t find a better person, better marketer than Cal.â€ˆItâ€™s really a long-time personal relationship we have had.â€
Question: Does that mean you thought Calipari would be as good a fit as Kentucky as he seems to have been?
Host: â€œNo question. I already knew it. I thought he would be the best ever. Now I tell you a guy that C.M. (Newton) and Iâ€ˆinterviewed before Rick was P.J. Carlesimo (of Seton Hall). When I took P.J. to the airport I thought he was going to take the job, but he was concerned about whether he would be a fit. I told him with his personality, he would be great fit and really sell in eastern Kentucky. He never really understood that. I felt he would sell even better than Rick, but of course Rick was one of the greats of all time with what he did. Cal is the same way. It takes a unique person to understand this program and what this program really is.â€
Question: What does going into the Hall of Fame mean to you?
Host: â€œItâ€™s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. It is the culmination of a career. Something Iâ€ˆdid not expect. If anybody had told them this would happen,â€ˆI would have told them the chances were 1,000 to one. They called me about it and I said, â€˜You have got to be kidding me. You canâ€™t have the right guy.â€™ They started ticking off all the reasons the award is given and I said I guess I understand it to a degree, but I donâ€™t understand how you can equate me in the same league with Earl the Pearl (Monroe) and Patrick Ewing and people like that. I am going in with that class and I didnâ€™t play the game like that.â€
Question: Is it nice to be in the same Hall of Fame class with Joe Hall?
Host: â€œOf course it is. Joe and I started together at UK. My first team when Iâ€ˆhad the UKâ€ˆradio rights was Joeâ€™s team when we went to the Final Four in 1975 and played UCLA in the championship. That was my first year, 1974-75. I had done play by play with coach (Adolph) Rupp back in the last 1950â€™s and 60â€™s. I knew all the people and had been associated with the program since 1954, so it is a culmination of a storybook career that if you really wanted to write something about someone who loves what they do, you are talking to somebody who has always loved what they do. I have an expression that I love what I do so much that I canâ€™t sleep fast enough.â€
Question: Did you still enjoy getting out to see games as much as ever?
Host: â€œWhat Iâ€ˆam doing? I love people and the relationships and what this event is. This building was built for this event. I think this will be the first of many that will come here. Think what this means to Kentucky. Think what this means to the state in terms of what it means to the economy. This is like a Final Four atmosphere, maybe better, for first and second round games. Thatâ€™s impressive.â€