A recent story in the Lexington Herald-Leader regarding the cumulative grade-point average of the Kentucky men's basketball team has brought a little bit of ire John Calipari's way.
In the story, written by Herald-Leader reporter Jerry Tipton, it is reported that UK had a cumulative grade-point average of 2.025 for the fall semester, the lowest of the nine Southeastern Conference schools that gave their men's basketball GPAs to the newspaper.
On Monday at an offseason news conference, Calipari defended his commitment to academics, pointing to a history of past success at his previous stops at Massachusetts and Memphis.
"My commitment to academics and my history as a leader of a program academically at UMASS it was 80 percent and when I started it was 15 percent," Calipari said. "When I left Memphis we graduated 19 out of the last 23 and when I started it was zero percent. We have brought kids back to every program that, for some reason or another, had left the program and we brought those kids back. I bet at Memphis we brought seven to nine kids back and we are doing the same here."
Calipari expressed some dissatisfaction with the final average of the fall terms but stood behind his team, one largely made up of first-year players, for its performance both on and off the court during a year that was packed full of pressure and expectations - even for the Kentucky basketball program.
"When you take over a program like I just did, do you understand that everything was different?" Calipari said. "We had a new staff, new players, new system, dribble drive and all the things that went on and you won't believe this, but there are a lot of things that were thrown at these young men especially that first term. There was UK2K, Who-K, all that was thrown at them."
In the face of unrealistic expectations, Calipari's first team at UK went on to post a 35-3 record, win the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, and appear in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.
"I wish that they did do a little better academically, but I am so proud of how they handled the big picture of this," Calipari said. "I cannot begin to tell you the pressure that they were under and all that happened, and I'm talking young to old. I wish they would have done a little bit better academically, but I am proud of what they are."
Calipari said he feels a great deal of responsibility in preparing for guys after basketball and for making sure they take care of business in the classroom. His previous record is a reflection of that belief, he said.
"Obviously, it's important," Calipari said. "I'm walking in a home and I want those young men and their families to know we're going to be there. ... My job is to make sure there's growth academically and they're on line to graduate. It's pretty obvious that I've done that over my career as a coach."
Having said that, Calipari said that will not change how he or his staff recruits. Although they don't target one-and-done players, Calipari - an openly spoken opponent of the NBA's current age-limit rule - said they will continue to target the best players in the nation.
The goal, Calipari said, is not to have them leave after one year, but to help develop them as players and students and put them in the best position to succeed at the next level in whatever they choose to do.
"What I tell them all is, 'You come to this school with the idea that you're going to graduate from here. If you only stay one year because that's your calling, I'm OK with that. What I would suggest is you think about ways of coming back and finishing up,' " Calipari said.
No one could have predicted that freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton - the two remaining undecided players left, both of whom Calipari believes will stay in the NBA Draft - would have the type of years they had and have the chance to leave college for the pros after one season.
But Calipari said that doesn't mean they will shy away from the players atop the recruiting rankings, ones that can traditionally be one-and-done players.
"I'm recruiting the best players, who are the best students - the best of the best," Calipari said. "That's who our fans deserve to see play."