Calipari Talks Kentucky
Lexington, KY - John Calipari's plan for rebuilding Kentucky is simple: Get better players, have shorter practices, infuse a lot of energy and exercise a little patience.
Two weeks into his new job at the home of college basketball's winningest program, Kentucky's $4 million man has little doubt he can return the Wildcats to the nation's elite.
It just might take awhile.
``People are going crazy about the program,'' Calipari told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. ``But the aura of the program, the power of the program, the brand, the Kentucky brand, is not what it was 10 years ago.''
And if taking three or four years to get back into the national conversation is too long for one of the nation's most ardent fan bases, well, that's their problem.
Calipari is talking about the Kentucky of Rick Pitino and Adolf Rupp, not the solid but hardly spectacular program that hasn't made the Final Four in more than a decade.
While he knows his hiring after a wildly successful run at Memphis has generated the kind of buzz around the Wildcats not seen since Pitino bolted for the NBA 12 years ago, Calipari realizes he can't undo a decade of decline overnight.
He says the rebuilding starts in the living rooms of the nation's most talented high schoolers, where the program's decline is the most evident.
Calipari says there was a time not long ago that whenever he came across a member of the Kentucky staff on the recruiting trail, he would ask the coach if the Wildcats were seriously pursuing a certain player. If the answer came back ``yes,'' then Calipari would wish them well and walk out, figuring he had no shot.
Those days are over.
``Now, if (Kentucky) walks in and I'm recruiting, I'm happy,'' he said. ``They didn't bother me. We've got to get back'' to how it used to be.
It's already started.
Calipari landed his first high-profile recruit on Wednesday when DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Wildcats, the first of what could be a steady stream of prep stars to join him in Lexington.
have at Memphis.''
Kentucky could be targeting coveted prep point guard John Wall, something Calipari hinted at but couldn't comment on due to NCAA rules.
``We can have either a great point guard or we can have a good point guard if we get these other guys we're trying to get,'' he said. ``Because what'll happen is we're so good on the wing position he'll be more of a (conventional) guy versus a triple-threat guy just throwing bombs, but that's OK.''
Finding someone to run Calipari's dribble-drive offense is a top priority. The next may be figuring out who is going to be on the receiving end of the point guard's passes. Calipari concedes his freewheeling system won't be for everybody.
``You've got to play, you've got to be on the court or this might not be the right match for you,'' he said. ``You will know it and I will know it or I will know it and I'll tell you.''
Calipari has little doubt current stars Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks would thrive, but doesn't know if they'll be around in the fall. Both players have declared for the NBA draft, though neither has signed with an agent and could return. Calipari is good either way.
``We're going to be doing this every year,'' he said.
Whoever is around to join Calipari for Big Blue Madness in October will find a very different atmosphere than the sometimes dysfunctional ship run by former coach Billy Gillispie.
ie would work his players through grueling practices on game days in an effort to toughen them up, Calipari takes a decidedly ``less is more'' approach.
Shootarounds on game days will be 40 minutes. Preseason practices will go 2 1/2 hours and get progressively shorter as the year goes along. By the time March rolls around most sessions won't last 90 minutes.
``I want my teams fresh mentally and physically,'' he said.
Even if it means bypassing lengthy scouting reports. That's simply not his style. Besides, it just bores the players.
``We worry about us, I'm not worried about'' the opponent, he said.
Calipari knows that opens him up to criticism. He doesn't care. He has no plans to spend sleepless nights on a couch in his office poring through game plans.
``People will say 'Is that the right way? His teams aren't prepared,''' he said. ``Well, how were we last year? We were pretty good.''
That confidence in his own ability is why he thinks he can handle the pressure that comes with the job. He knows every move he makes - from his substitution patterns to the choice of his ties - will be dissected. So what? He came to Kentucky to win.
``I think if it were in great shape I wouldn't be coaching here,'' Calipari said. ``I wouldn't have been hired. The guy that they had would still be here.''
wins. Calipari is making no promises that his results will be any better in the short term.
``I'm not a quick fix guy,'' he said. ``I'm not a guy that walks in and changes it in a day. That's not who I am.''
He knows some people don't want to wait. He listened to a group of well-heeled Kentucky donors at a dinner on Wednesday night joke that ``one loss was OK, but two losses ...''
They were kidding. Sort of. Calipari is not when he says it could take three or four years to get Kentucky into the national conversation. He didn't get Massachusetts into the NCAA tournament until his fourth season and it took three years to do the same thing at Memphis.
That might be too long for some at Kentucky, which is used to being on the mountaintop. It's easier to be patient at Memphis and UMass, neither of which has UK's history of success or pedigree. None of that bothers Calipari.
``I told (them) 'You will not bother me,''' he said. ``This is not life or death for me. I don't need this contract. I'm fine. I don't have to work any more. I'm here because it's Kentucky. I want to get the brand back. I want to compete with the highest levels of college basketball. I want us to be the one everybody is chasing. I'll put more on myself than anyone in this community could put on me.''
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Posted: 4/19/09 10:39PM ET