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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: A Peek Into John Calipari's Soul

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What does Kentucky see when it looks at John Calipari?  Like most professionals in highly visible jobs that get a lot of public attention, we see mostly an image, a facade, a fabrication created to produce a series of perceptions.  From time to time we get a peek backstage, sometimes in the tiniest and most innocuous of ways.  These glimpses inform the reality of the Kentucky coach, and get us a look past the giant, flaming apparition of the Great Oz to reveal the vulnerability and humanity of the operator behind the curtain.

Sometimes, these insights go almost unnoticed, slipping past our collective consciousness, hidden amid the endless stream of news and information that is the constant background chatter of the modern world.  Today, one such revealing tidbit managed to impinge upon my consciousness.  It was in a piece by Alan Cutler of Channel 18 in Lexington, he of the infamous Billy Gillispie pursuit:

"He [Calipari] told me [UK president Dr. Lee Todd] not long ago that, he had a tear in his eye, his mother had passed away. He said I thank you for giving me this opportunity because my mother got to see me coach basketball at Kentucky. And that meant a lot to him.

Perhaps I am the only one that finds this statement remarkable.  The cynics of the basketball world would have you believe that money was the reason Calipari came to Kentucky, or that combined with the Derrick Rose allegations that exploded onto the Memphis scene just as Calipari was beginning talks with Mitch Barnhart as a possible replacement for recently fired coach Gillispie.

The cynics will tell you Calipari left Memphis just as he left UMass -- to flee from the consequences of misbehavior, and into the arms of a "win at all cost" program who gave him 31.65 million reasons to leave.  The cynics will suggest that this is a pattern with Calipari that will be repeated over and over, and that it's only a matter of time before the same thing happens at UK that happened at Memphis and UMass.

However, the Dr. Todd quote above gives lie to almost all of the cynics.  We know that John Calipari has always wanted to coach at Kentucky since he set foot on the Rupp Arena floor in 1991 to play Rick Pitino's second Kentucky team.  The sentiment expressed above just gives us a small hint of how much it really means to have reached what is arguably the pinnacle of the college coaching profession, and how much he deeply wanted an opportunity to coach the Big Blue Legend.

The ennui that permeated the Kentucky faithful for four long years at the end of Tubby Smith's time here, and then in the Gillispie years that followed has now faded comfortably behind us, and it's instructive to remember that neither of those worthies truly loved the UK job -- Smith due to fan displeasure with everything from recruiting to the slow pace of play to the fact he wasn't Rick Pitino, and Gillispie due to the spotlight and the pageantry and his own inability to cope with the vast scope of Kentucky basketball.

Now, Kentucky has a coach that embraces all the things his predecessors despised, and wants no job in college basketball as much as this one.  I find myself marveling yet again at the seamless fit that is John Calipari at Kentucky, and the fact that it is the position of his dreams makes it all the more delightful for him, and for Wildcat fans everywhere.