By ASHLEY SCOBY
MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Jeff House has only been on Matthew Mitchell’s coaching staff for a little over a month, but he is quickly gaining an understanding of what it actually means to be a part of Kentucky basketball.
Before House’s family moved here permanently, he made a reservation at a local Extended Stay. He went to check in and was instantly recognized by a girl in the lobby, who shouted out his name.
“I hadn’t even checked in yet,” he said. “I hadn’t had time to break anything yet so I knew it wasn’t that.”
But that was only the beginning. A man then asked to take a picture with House, which he happily obliged. The man ran down the street to a Kinko’s, printed out the photo and promptly asked for House’s autograph.
“I’m just the assistant women’s basketball coach,” House said Saturday at the annual Ohio UK convention. “It’s not like I’m Coach Cal.”
John Calipari the Marketing Machine or not, House was invited to the Ohio UK Convention in Franklin, Ohio after it was determined Mitchell would be on the road recruiting. There, House told of his road to Kentucky, his coaching experiences and how the 2013-14 UK Hoops team has been looking in their seven weeks of summer practice so far.
Any biography fans have read up to this point about House has listed his extensive experiences both at the collegiate and professional level in women’s basketball. He also spent 14 years in the men’s game.
“Unless I’m forced to, I don’t want to ever go back to the men’s game,” he said. “With the women’s game, you deal with a lot less garbage in recruiting and stuff.”
Although he now hopes he is a permanent fixture in the women’s game, House was heavily influenced by a family held in high regard for men’s basketball expertise. He has worked with both Stan and Jeff Van Gundy, household names in the NBA.
“It was my greatest professional blessing to get involved with that family,” he said. “It was great to take in some basketball knowledge from Jeff and Stan, but I also learned about being a husband and a father and a man.”
Those lessons learned have made House into a well-respected employee in the coaching world. But they have also helped him become a true family man – one who organizes a “pizza/movie night” each Friday with his wife, who is a former volleyball head coach, and their two children, ages 9 and 13.
That family connection was instantly recognized by Mitchell, who actively recruited House to Lexington as if he were a five-star high school player. After hearing recommendations for House from several other coaches, Mitchell made the call and met with House in New Orleans. For three hours, the two men sat down and talked about everything besides the job.
“We didn’t even talk about basketball,” House said. “We talked about family and faith and just life in general.”
Mitchell then set up a campus visit of sorts for House and his family. He even helped organize a meeting for House’s daughter, an elite swimmer, with a local swim club. She was sold.
Even before Mitchell had rolled out the red carpet, House was also sold on the Kentucky program.
“There aren’t too many places more special for basketball than Kentucky, and it gave me tingles when (Mitchell) called and said, ‘I want to talk to you,’” House said. “I found out he was a quality man and (Lexington) was an even more amazing place.”
Since then, House has been busy getting involved with the program. He has been working out all the returning players, as well as the two freshmen on campus, Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodinrogers. Traveling to the SEC meetings for new coaches, House got to know football coach Mark Stoops and the rest of the gridiron staff. He even got a taste of what lies across the hallway from him in the Joe Craft Center: Calipari was working out freshman big man Julius Randle late one night when House came into the office.
“I came in and there was just this unbelievably strong, athletic guy,” he said. “(Randle) was working on crossovers and pull-up jumpers. It was like he was a 6’9 guard. I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into here?’”
Although not particularly familiar with the men’s team (besides Randle) yet, House does have an unusual record he likes to share: He is undefeated against Calipari. In the early 1990s, when House was at UMass-Lowell with Stan Van Gundy, the little-known Division II team defeated Calipari’s UMass team.
“We won 71-70,” House said. “And they never got to play again. But I can say I’m 1-0 against Cal.”
Even though House enjoys that bragging right, it’s the relationships he has built throughout the years that he cherishes the most. And whether it’s with returning veterans or incoming freshman, with the coaching staff or the autograph-seeking man at the hotel, House has begun to do that very thing in Lexington.
“People in women’s basketball don’t give a darn what you know about basketball until they know you care about them as people,” he said. “If you can establish that bond with them, they’ll run through a wall for you.”