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Calipari, Turgeon talk friendship ahead of season-opening matchup

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John Calipari and the Wildcats practiced at the Barclays Center on Thursday in preparation for their game against Maryland on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and the Wildcats practiced at the Barclays Center on Thursday in preparation for their game against Maryland on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The relationship between John Calipari and Mark Turgeon dates back to the days the two spent at Kansas.

Calipari was an assistant under Larry Brown when Turgeon arrived as an undersized in-state point guard. Turgeon was listed at 5-foot-10, but says he was closer to 5-8 when he first came on campus. Nonetheless, Calipari recalls a very confident freshman.

"Mark I remember coming up to a table while we were having breakfast and Larry Brown had gotten the job and he just walked up and said, 'I am better than any point guard you have on your team,' " Calipari said.

Turgeon isn't sure he was quite so brass.

"I didn't really say it like that," Turgeon said. "We had a meeting with Coach Brown and Coach (Bob) Hill. They just asked me if I could play at Kansas and I thought I could, but I was really small."

Self-belief is one thing Calipari and Turgeon had in common from the start, which helps explain why they became so close in just one season before Coach Cal left to be an assistant at Pittsburgh.

"He hasn't changed a bit," Turgeon said. "He talked all the time then, very confident then, knew his basketball then, great recruiter then. He was just fun to be around and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for John being a part of my life at a young age. He gave me a lot of confidence."

Nearly three decades after their time together in Lawrence, Kan., the two will face off as coaches as they open the 2012-13 season, Calipari leading Kentucky and Turgeon in his second season at Maryland.

The programs the men are leading both have storied pasts, but while UK is about to begin a national title defense, Turgeon is in the midst of a rebuilding job. Friday's 8:30 p.m. ET game in the Barclays Center Classic was borne out of Calipari trying to help his friend in that process.

"He felt like my program needed this, felt like it would be a good opportunity for us," Turgeon said. "A lot of guys wouldn't do that so I feel grateful to him and we're looking forward to getting to New York and playing against a great Kentucky team that's obviously well-coached every year."

That doesn't mean either is particularly excited about facing off against a friend. They will be happy to see each other, but both will be looking to start the season on the right foot.

"I'm not one of those guys who likes playing friends, and Mark Turgeon is a guy I've known for years," Calipari said. "He was a player at Kansas when I coached there, and a terrific player and great teammate and somebody I've grown to respect over the years."

In the end, the game should be good for both programs and coaches. UK is in need of an early-season test of the team's mettle and the same goes for Maryland.

"He is one of the guys that you don't want to play them - the Tony Barbees, the Derek Kelloggs, the Josh Pastners - and if you lose to those guys you are sick but you are really happy for them," Calipari said. "You end up saying, 'You know what? If I am going to lose, I want to lose to this guy who will really benefit,' " Calipari said.

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