Coach Cal Challenging Cats to Be Their Own Powerball

Do not test John Calipari’s ability to create a teachable moment out of the most unlikely subject matter.

His latest feat stemmed from Powerball, the lottery game that has reached a world-record jackpot of $1.5 billion and gripped the nation in the process.

Calipari was spotted over the weekend in a Lexington at a gas station buying his own ticket, but it wasn’t the last he would buy.

“I did a thing with them at my house (Monday) night,” Calipari said after Kentucky survived a late Mississippi State rally in an 80-74 win. “I got 15 lottery tickets, Powerballs. I had them put $2 each, and they each took out a Powerball ticket.”

From there, he asked the players to write down what they would do with the money if they won.

“Then I said what are the odds of you making it, hitting this ticket?” Calipari said. “They said they didn't know. I said it's 292.2 million to 1. That ticket is not a winner. You're not winning with that ticket. You're not winning with that ticket. Would you like to get your money back?”

None of the three players available to the media after the game on Tuesday night took the offer.

“It wasn’t me,” Tyler Ulis said. “I still have one.”

“Yeah,” Isaiah Briscoe said, confirming he still has his.

“I kept mine,” Jamal Murray said.

Allowing his players to buy a long shot at a fortune, however, wasn’t the point of the exercise. Calipari had a more profound message in mind.

“But I then said you already own a ticket. You.” Calipari said. “It may be 50/50 that you're going to hit the lottery, 70/30. But you've got to fight. You've got to want it.”

Briscoe said that “opened the eyes of a lot of our players.” Murray and Ulis agreed.

“I took in what he said and it made a lot of sense,” Murray said. “Kind of put things into perspective of what I want to do with my career and what direction I want to go. Just trying to go prove that and have myself do it.”

“He’s just telling us that there is a one in 290 million chance that you can hit that, but we have a ticket because we’re such gifted athletes,” Ulis said. “We’re just taking it – Some people are taking it for granted and he doesn’t want us to do that. There’s no reason to. We have a lottery, we have a way out, and we just have to come out and fight.”

UK’s trio of starting guards have been doing that all season, and did again against the Bulldogs. 

Murray reached the 20-point mark for the third straight game, scoring 22 points and nailing five 3-pointers. Ulis had five assists to go with his 20 points, including two key free throws during MSU’s furious comeback bid that hit every part of the rim. Briscoe had 14 points and five assists of his own, building on his second-half offensive emergence Saturday at Alabama.

“I think our guards did a good job of scoring and we kept going to that and that was working for us,” Murray said.

What wasn’t working as well – in a reversal from a big performance on Saturday – was UK’s inside game. The Wildcats got only 13 points from post players, with starters Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress struggling with foul trouble.

The night continued a season-long theme of players talented enough to be their own lottery ticket being unable to produce consistently. The result has been lots of ups and downs for the team.

“It’s frustrating for us as a team because we all want to come out there and win, and some guys are giving it their all and some guys just choose not to come out and play that day,” Ulis said. “It brings our entire team down. It’s hard for us to get a good win. Like, they came back tonight because we didn’t have the same energy and guys didn’t come to play.”

Calipari is encouraging players to hold one another accountable, especially his leaders. Ulis is doing his best on that front, but lottery tickets aren’t transferrable. Each Cat has to cash his own.

“That comes from within,” Calipari said.