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John Calipari: Devil, cheater, NBA prospect supervisor, and winner

John Calipari doesn’t like being up late and loves Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. His teams also like playing in Final Fours, too.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice
No team has been to the Sweet 16 more than John Calipari’s Wildcats since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It was approximately 12:31 a.m. on a Friday down inside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse last March in Indianapolis when John Calipari, who looked like he hadn’t slept in about a week, stepped up to the post-game press conference table by himself after his Wildcats dispatched No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky, 79-70.

De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk just combined for 31 points in the nine-point victory, but after holding the Norse to just 24 points in the first half, the ‘Cats were outscored 46-41 in the second half to make a 2-15 game a lot closer than many expected it be.

I leaned over to a colleague and a good friend of mine who was also covering the games in Indianapolis that night as Calipari walked in and said, “He looks grouchy. This might be good.”

In the age where social media is king, one of the best coaches in America is worried about his 17, 18, 19-year-old kids playing basketball really late on a Friday night.

Only Calipari could open a press conference like a beat writer that’s fighting against a tight deadline.

“College kids shouldn’t be playing at 12:30,” Calipari grumbled as he opened his press conference, sounding like that one elderly family member you know that makes you wonder if they’re ever happy with life.

That’s the thing with Calipari: he’s always got something to say, good or bad, angry or jubilant. And people always have something to say about him.


“It’s different when John Calipari says things.”

Danny Chau’s words ring true even (almost) three years later.

It really is.

In the last few weeks alone, Reid Forgrave wrote a long-form feature for GQ on Calipari that’s more than worth your time and likened Calipari to a proverbial “devil.”

Yahoo! columnist (and target of seething Kentucky fans) Pat Forde used Calipari’s complaints about his team and potential opponents’ tournament draw in his latest column, then pointing out how much easier Kentucky after the first weekend had already finished after the madness.

ESPN’s Myron Medcalf actually wondered if Kentucky would be happy if they escape the South Region this weekend being that Kentucky’s left with 7-seed Nevada, 9-seed Kansas State and 11-seed Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.

Many have wondered the same things as Kentucky attempts to reach its fifth Final Four this weekend under Calipari.

Is this the best coaching job Calipari’s ever done at Kentucky after a late-season four-game losing streak?

Should Kentucky not be as happy if they reach the Final Four out of a “weak region”? Did Calipari sell his soul for a chance at his second national title this year?

Is he the best coach in Kentucky history?

When it involves John Calipari, it’s a hot topic. That’s just how it is, and that was even before the most rabid and passionate fan base in college basketball was in his corner.

But when he speaks, people tend to listen.

“There are no easy roads in this tournament. If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday,” Calipari said to reporters on Wednesday before his team faces Kansas State in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta. “If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dogfight Thursday, and we’ll see what happens,” Calipari said.

Only John Calipari can make a basketball game sound like Romeo and Juliet.

As many people and former players support Calipari and the ‘Cats in “Catlanta” this weekend, there are even more people that are hoping that his current bunch won’t make it out with a South Regional title and a Final Four berth.

Speaking of the Final Four, only six coaches have coached in seven Final Fours in their careers. Calipari can be the seventh with two victories on Thursday and Saturday this week.

Vacating titles, banners and accolades is like preseason rankings: utterly pointless. We know they happened. You can’t just erase Kevin Ware’s leg break. We all saw it that year.

(That’s why former Kentucky and Louisville coach Rick Pitino is one of these ‘group of six’ coaches and Calipari has the chance to join them.)

Take away one of the worst 3-point shooting exhibitions in Kentucky’s illustrious history back in 2010 and a Luke Maye buzzer-beater in Memphis last year and only the 2013 and 2016 teams are left without playing in a Final Four since Calipari took over in Lexington.

Megan Calipari, your thoughts?

Jim Boeheim in 42 seasons as Syracuse head coach: 19 Sweet Sixteen appearances (including 2018), seven Elite Eight appearances, five Final Four appearances and three national title appearances (one title).

John Calipari, just at Kentucky alone (and not counting his time at UMass and Memphis): seven Sweet Sixteen appearances, four Final Four appearances and two national title appearances (one title).

I’ll let you be the judge on that one.

He’s had 42 players selected in the NBA draft, per his profile header on Twitter. Kentucky was the first school in history to have five or more players drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, led by John Wall at No. 1 overall. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the first two picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, a draft first for any school or coach.

He entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015 with dozens of past players coming to the stage to help celebrate with him and an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary centered around his life with both seeming like afterthoughts during his coaching career.

During the documentary, Calipari discussed how the kids he recruits usually don’t come from the greatest lives at home. Derrick Rose said other coaches must have been scared of the Englewood district on the south side of Chicago because Calipari was the first to come visit him at his home.

“He could sell water to a well,” former UMass star Marcus Camby said on his time as a recruit during the 30 for 30 documentary.

The same guy that almost fought John Chaney multiple times and caught a supreme amount of flak (and rightfully so) for using a racial slur during his disastrous stint with the New Jersey Nets is also the same guy that came *thiiiis close* to being LeBron James’ first head coach after returning to Cleveland a few years ago.

You wouldn’t think Calipari has mellowed with his demeanor since the days of turning Massachusetts into a national power by watching him on a sideline coaching these days and with some of his comments during time with the media, but he has over time, and it shows with this year’s group that’s two wins away from the Final Four.

This team feels like one of, if not, the most chilled group of kids that Calipari has had. It showed in November during a tight loss in the Champions Classic to Kansas on a bigger stage and it showed after a 20-point victory over a frisky, confident Buffalo bunch on Sunday (sans Hamidou Diallo trying to outdo the entire NBA slam dunk contest with a game-capping slam).

These ‘Cats have the cool, calm, confident vibe that seems to come with Calipari when he talks, at least until he walks into a post-game press conference inside of the Phillips Arena in Atlanta on Friday night around 12:30 eastern time and talks about how late it is.