Calipari Wrestling With Hall of Fame Speech

Kentucky head coach John Calipari isn’t often at a loss for words. But it’s not every day that you’re tasked with having to thank all those who have made an impact in your career and also be under a time constraint.

That, however, will be exactly the case for Coach Cal as he gives his speech at Friday’s enshrinement ceremony for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he’s having a tough time with it.

“I’ve worked on the speech more than I’ve ever worked on any speech ever,” Calipari said Tuesday to a group of local media. “Not for the sake of the speech. For time. This isn’t just my night. There are 10 other people other than myself.”

Calipari is joined in the 2015 class by Dick Bavetta, Louis Dampier, Lindsay Gaze, Spencer Haywood, Tom Heinsohn, John Isaacs, Lisa Leslie, Dikembe Mutombo, George Raveling and Jo Jo White. The ceremony will take place at the Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass. In order for everyone to have their moment on stage, Coach Cal said he’s trying to be very mindful of his time.

“I’ve changed it 6,000 times to just keep shortening, shortening,” Calipari said. “Let me put it this way: I don’t want to be that guy.

“So everything I’m doing, every time I come in, it’s how short can we make this yet hit what we need to hit? We’ve taken down a few trees with this thing, believe me.”

In Coach Cal’s 23 years as a college head coach, he’s won 635 games, guided six teams to the Final Four, including four over the last five seasons at Kentucky, led one team to a national title, produced 36 NBA Draft picks, including four No. 1 overall selections, the most of any coach.

In order to accomplish so many incredible feats, Calipari says he’s been incredibly blessed and fortunate to have had things work out the way they did. Had he not gotten the call from Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, would he be in the Hall of Fame right now? He says he’s not sure of the answer to that, but it’s a good question.

“I tell ya, I’ve been blessed my whole career,” Coach Cal said. “I had opportunities to leave Memphis to go to other jobs that maybe if I had taken this would have never been an opportunity for me. I’ve bumped into fate once or twice, chased it pretty hard, but I bumped into it.”

Among those in attendance for Calipari to thank Friday evening will be his mentors, a number of his former players and coaches, as well as his current roster.

“I would say a guy like Terrence Jones has called me five times to make sure what time is everything,” Calipari said. “A lot of those guys are coming back. A lot of the Memphis and UMass – it’s amazing, a big contingent of the UMass kids.

“So, to see all those people. There are widows of some of my mentors who will be there, people from my Pittsburgh days when I was in high school. My high school coach and his wife, my college coach and his wife. For me, it’s going to be more about us getting together and saying, ‘Can you believe this?’ We all did this. This happened because we all did it.”

For a guy who’s taken both struggling and winning programs to the top of college basketball, as well as transform the way recruiting and teams are built in the modern era, who knew putting it all on paper would be what gives this hall of famer the most grief?

“I’m telling you, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is put together this speech,” Calipari said. “It has been torture to try to say, ‘OK, what’s important and what’s not? How do we do this? Who do I thank? If I name this, what do I not?’

“And then when I change (something) I tear stuff up and the next tree goes down. Yes, I’ve done it 50 times to try to get this thing within a time frame.”