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Calipari speaks at SEC meetings

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John Calipari guided UK to its first Final Four since 1998 this past season. (Photo by UK Athletics) John Calipari guided UK to its first Final Four since 1998 this past season. (Photo by UK Athletics)
The Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings are taking place this week in Destin, Fla. A UK contingent is in attendance, of course, including men's basketball head coach John Calipari. Around lunchtime this afternoon, Calipari stopped in to chat with Dave Baker and Tony Barnhart of the SEC Digital Network and, as always, had a few interesting things to say. Here are some of the highlights:

- Calipari will serve as the chair of the basketball committee this week, a distinction that was earned by his team's success this season, though Calipari may call it something other than a distinction. "If you go to the Final Four, you (have to) be the chair, so we will never be at the Final Four again because it's not worth having to chair this," Calipari joked. He said he would handle his duties by doing his best to move the agenda along and involve everyone.

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- A prime topic at these meetings will be divisional play in SEC basketball. With the strength of the East division compared with the West division over the past few seasons, the split has been called into question and will be discussed at length, a conversation that Calipari said should take place."You always have to look at it and say, 'How do we make our league better?'" Calipari said. "'How do we get more teams in the tournament? How do we make sure our best teams have high seeds?'" Calipari was clear in saying that such decisions should be made with the goal of helping SEC teams win national titles, not to generate parity, though he said he did not have the answer. All in all, Calipari seemed to come down in favor of scrapping the divisional setup.

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- Yet another topic that will come up this week will be bumping the SEC's 16-game conference slate to 18 games. Calipari was quick to state that a change should be made only if it helps the best teams get high seeds and to get as many teams in the NCAA Tournament as possible. In this case, Calipari was clearer about his opinion. "My belief is what moves the needle more than anything else is non-conference strength of schedule and high (non-conference) RPI," Calipari said. Adding two more conference games takes away two non-conference games, which is not ideal. Calipari said that the focus should be on how each team can play the best non-conference schedule possible and win games.

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-C alipari talked about what it has been like playing in the SEC for two years and what his perception is of the conference now. "It's a solid, strong league top to bottom," Calipari said. "You have great coaches. You have unbelievable facilities. You have great support. It's one of those leagues that you want to coach in." Calipari also talked about how welcome a change it is to be in a league where the schools have "like missions" rather than a disparate set of priorities and circumstances that make it difficult to get anything done.

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-Barnhart asked Calipari about how the so-called "charge circle" that will be added the college game this year. The circle denotes a restricted area in which off-ball defenders are not allowed to draw charges. Any contact in that area will automatically be called a block. Calipari anticipates that the rule change will help his team. "The way we drive the ball, it's a benefit to us," Calipari said. He continued, saying that he will encourage his team to seek out contact in the restricted area and also that he believes the change will open up more lob passes around the basket.

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- Calipari also took the opportunity of talking about rule changes to praise officials in the SEC. "I've been in three leagues where you start talking about officiating, it's an hour and a half and guys are so made steam (comes out of their ears)," Calipari said. "We have a 10-minute meeting about officiating (in the SEC)." Who says that coaches and referees can't get along?

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- Baker jabbed at Calipari, wondering how he can possibly fit in everything he does into his schedule between his charitable involvement, his role with the Dominican Republic and his job at UK. Baker was a little disbelieving when Calipari said he had a chance to spend a few days relaxing at the beach with his family before meetings got underway. Calipari went on to talk about the Dominican Republic, saying he decided to get involved because he wanted to help "build basketball" in the country, from teaching fundamentals to improving education.

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