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Coach Calipari Meets the Big Blue Nation

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I hope all of you got to listen to the coach's call-in show last night at 6:00, because if you didn't you really missed a treat.  Unfortunately, UK Athletics does not have the program up on its website yet, so those of you who did not hear it live will have to wait for it to be posted, and as soon as I find one, I'll make it available.

I can't help but be struck by the contrast between Coach Gillispie and Coach Calipari.  Gillispie often seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but the call-in show, even the first few months after he arrived at UK.  Calipari, on the other hand, acts like there is no place on Earth he would rather be than with Tom Leach talking to Wildcat fans.  Even when things were going well for Tubby Smith, he was never even close to as talkative and personable over the radio as Calipari is.  That's just a gift, folks, not a knock on the other two guys -- Coach Cal has what we older folks call, "the gift of gab."  He's never met a stranger and he will talk at great lenght about any subject that interests him.

Of course, Calipari has other built-in advantages, including a degree in business marketing.  A person commented on here about the fact that Coach had talked to the students the other day in a classroom setting, and Calipari referred to that event in his show, claiming that he would love to lecture or teach a class, quickly noting that it would have to be maybe only one hour per week or so.

But what Calipari said he really wanted to get across was to explain to young people how to make it in a tough economy, or through difficult times (I'm paraphrasing here from memory).  He reminded everyone that he was fired from the New Jersey Nets job, and he said that was a revelation for him and suggested that was the impetus behind his new book, Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life, which you can find at the link above.  It is scheduled for publishing later this year.

Calipari also talked about recruiting, and how important it was to have players in his DDMO offense.  But he did assuage the concerns of one Kentucky fan who feared it was all about just throwing talented guys on the court and letting them play by explaining that he runs plays in the DDMO, it's just not one play after another.  He also explained to another caller who was wondering how he would get a shot for a, "go to" scorer in his offense, and Coach said that if you charted his teams at Memphis, you would find that the best player got the most shots, the second best got the second most, and so on.

Coach Cal talked about Kentucky as the "Commonwealth's team" and said that he was going to try to get games in Cincinnati and go back to the Louisville-Indianapolis rotation with with Tom Crean's Hoosiers, splitting the gate at both sites, rather than the home and home we have now.  He said that while at UMass, he played in Boston and in Springfield as well as home, and that's the kind of thing he wants to do here.  He also noted that NCAA seeding is all about who you play out of conference, and says he knows that UK needs to get back to taking on all comers.

Calipari engages Kentucky fans on their level, which is something the previous coaches have often failed to do.  He talks basketball like a basketball geek would, but without too much jargon.  That's exactly what specifics-hungry UK fans crave out of their coach, and something that has not really been present to any great degree for -- well, as long as I can remember.  Rick Pitino was always great on the show, but his explanations of basketball often included cryptic references that made you scratch your head rather than a straightforward and easily understandable explanation.  Apparently, the gift of gab + a marketing degree = communication.  Communication with the fan base is important not only in general, but it's a real bonus when you can talk basketball in great detail in a way that Kentucky fans around the Commonwealth can understand.

It's hard not to be excited about Coach Calipari, and it's easy to understand why recruits are lining up to play for him.  He said that his goal is to get to the point that when UK coaches walk into an AAU game or high school game, all the other coaches will just hang their head and leave.  That kind of talk is like cool, spring water in the desert of our recent discontent, and speaks directly to the soul of Kentucky's tradition of excellence.  It resonates on a visceral, almost emphatic level and leaves you feeling empowered and secure in the knowledge that, once again, all is right with the world.

In a time of economic upheaval, it is welcome comfort for the troubled soul of the Wildcat fan.