Top 10 moments of the Coach Cal era
In honor of John Calipari’s enshrinement as a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, we take a look at the top-10 moments from his Kentucky tenure.
10. Welcome to Kentucky
After a search that had Kentucky fans checking flight logs and watching a live stream of a door, speculation turned to jubilation when Coach Cal was introduced as head coach at a press conference alongside Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd. From the moment he noticed the wall of the Joe Craft Center practice gym features banners only for national championships, it was clear the Commonwealth had its coach.
9. 2015 NBA Draft
It was only a fitting that a team that had made history all season would do it again on draft night. Karl-Anthony Towns started the night right by becoming Coach Cal’s third Kentucky pupil drafted with the No. 1 pick. By the time it was over, a record six Cats had been chosen, four in the lottery.
8. Big Blue Madness 2009
The excitement that had been building as Calipari assembled a No. 1 recruiting class within months of his arrival reached a fever pitch at Big Blue Madness. When John Wall appeared under a spotlight and did his now-famous dance and Coach Cal delivered his state of the Commonwealth speech, it served notice to everyone that Kentucky was once again the center of the college basketball universe.
7. UK scores Sweet 16 upset of Ohio State
Kentucky isn’t often the underdog, but the Cats found themselves in that exact position against No. 1 overall seed Ohio State in the 2011 Sweet 16. It was a back-and-forth battle throughout, highlighted by gutsy shots and a fastball thrown by Josh Harrellson off Jared Sullinger. Brandon Knight delivered the final blow and hit the game winner to seal a 62-60 win.
6. 2010 SEC Tournament Championship
It was a game the Cats had no business winning, but they did anyway. Down two with only a few seconds remaining, Eric Bledsoe had no choice but to miss a free throw intentionally against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament title game. The ball caromed to John Wall, but his 3 came up well short. DeMarcus Cousins, however, laid in the miss and tied the game. Once the celebratory dogpile was sorted out, UK took care of business in overtime.
5. 2010 NBA Draft
This was the moment when Coach Cal realized he had something different on his hands. Five players, including No. 1 overall pick John Wall, were selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, an all-time record that helped precipitate an unprecedented parade of talent coming to Lexington over the next five years.
4. UK’s Final Four return
At Kentucky, 13 years without a Final Four qualifies as a desert-level drought. On the strength of a game-ending 6-0 run and a clutch DeAndre Liggins 3, the Cats ended that drought and made their return to college basketball’s biggest stage.
It might never happen again. Managing an impossibly deep and talented roster and implementing the platoon system, Coach Cal led his 2014-15 Kentucky team to the first unbeaten regular season for a power-five conference team in nearly four decades. The Cats would run their record all the way to 38-0 in making their fourth Final Four appearance in five years, but their quest for an unbeaten season ended with a loss to Wisconsin.
2. Aaron Harrison delivers…again and again
OK, so this is three moments, but how can you separate the three game-winning left-wing 3-pointers Aaron Harrison hit during Kentucky’s incredible run to the 2014 national championship game? First came the dagger against archrival Louisville in the Sweet 16. Next, Harrison punched UK’s Final Four ticket by hitting a tie-breaking trey against Michigan. Last, he sent the Cats to within one win of a title by hitting a 3 to erase a two-point deficit against Wisconsin.
1. 2012 NCAA Championship
Coach Cal turned college basketball logic on its head, putting players first rather than the program. He drew fire for it at times, with many saying he would never win a national championship as long as he did. But in 2012, national player of the year Anthony Davis and a team of supremely talented and unselfish players delivered Calipari, Kentucky and the Big Blue Nation that title.