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Coach Cal wants to win championship for players, fans

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John Calipari will coach in the Final Four for the second straight season this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari will coach in the Final Four for the second straight season this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If John Calipari has said it once, he's said it a thousand times. It's a players-first program. It's about helping the players reach their dreams.

So goes the Coach Cal motto and the foundation on which he builds his program at the University of Kentucky.

And yet, just a few days before his fourth Final Four appearance, his players have flipped the script on their coach. They say they want to win the national championship for Calipari. They want to finish the job and help him capture the one thing missing from a hall of fame resume.

"It's nice, but my friends and family probably feel that way more than I do," Calipari said. "It's not for me. When a Gene Keady or a John Chaney have never won a national title, I can name 50 coaches that have not been in this kind of situation, that haven't won it. I'm at Kentucky. One way or another we're going to play the best we can every year."

Calipari has won 545 games in his career, made it to three previous Final Fours and sent 21 former players to the NBA. But if you ask critics of Coach Cal's career, they'll tell you he needs to win a national title to validate his coaching model.

"I'm not looking at it like validation," Calipari said. "I'm just not. My wife will tell you, (I) just don't look at it."  

The talk this week is that a loss will show Calipari can't win it with freshmen and place pressure on him to coach and recruit a different way. Coach Cal isn't listening or concerning himself with the talk.

"I'm concerned about our team playing great and those guys getting all those accolades and that stuff happening," Calipari said. "I'm just coaching my game, coaching my team."

Don't mistake Calipari's drive though. He wants to win a national championship and wants to win one badly. But his desire isn't for selfish reasons.

"For the fans, for theses players, for this program," Calipari said. "The Big Blue Nation shows up in Atlanta. I bet you if we played in Sioux City we would pack an arena. I don't know how they'd get there but they would get there, and so you want to do it for these fans."

And if his team doesn't win this year, Calipari said they'll live with the result, regroup and try again next year. He hopes to compete for national championship every year at Kentucky, and this one trip - or the rest - won't define his career.

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