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Posts from Wednesday, April 1

John Calipari is the 22nd head coach in men's basketball program history.

John Calipari is the 22nd head coach in men's basketball program history.

Final notes

 

Posted at 10:36 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

When I woke up today at 6 a.m., I had no clue what to expect. Excitement and anticipation were the themes of the morning as the Lexington area buzzed with the news of the hire, but nobody was exactly sure what to expect when John Calipari took the podium at 9:30 a.m. for his introductory news conference.

 

Barely five minutes into it, Calipari had already won most people over. As I wrote earlier, although it may be too early to judge, my initial reaction is that he'll make a perfect fit at UK.

 

He said everything fans wanted to hear. I'm not trying to compare him to Billy Gillispie, but following a rocky two-year regime, fans are yearning for a guy who will not only win games, but will embrace the expectations of the program, accept the ambassador role of being the men's basketball coach, and remember and build on the tradition of the past players and coaches.

 

I tried to touch on all those topics earlier, but there are a couple of other smaller, lighter things that I took away from today.

 

  • Calipari was open, personable and charismatic. Again, I'm not trying to insult Gillispie, but there wasn't always a strong connection there, whether it was with fans or the media. Calipari has a track record for being extremely open, so don't think he was just putting on a show for everybody. He was willing to talk about everything that he was asked, including a contract that some feel is way too much. He could have dodged the questions about the contract, but Calipari said it wasn't about the money, and even said he would have made more money had he stayed in Memphis. That won't quiet all the critics, but the openness and honesty was a breath of fresh air.
  • He's a family man. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it's a glimpse of the guy off the court. The fact that Gillispie didn't have much of a support system behind him certainly didn't help. It's a lot to ask of someone to shoulder the pressure of the most passionate fan base in the country without anybody to fall back on. Calipari appears to have that with his wife and three kids.  
  • He said he wants to be a part of the community and talked about his involvement in charities in Memphis. Calipari admitted he can't be involved in everything, but he said he'll do his best to be involved in the community. "Wherever we can make a difference in this community, we'll do everything in our power to do that, including our time, our money, and whatever else we have to do," Calipari said.
  • Calipari has a sense of humor. You might say, "So what?" Well, it's better than having an uptight, distant coach. People at UK want to love their coach, but he has to give them a chance to do that. A sense of humor isn't a bad start. Calipari joked with reporters on multiple occasions, even taking a few playful jabs at local TV personality Alan Cutler for last week's incident with Gillispie. He also said he had a 12-year-old recruit lined up who could shoot it like Richie Farmer. He then asked him to step up, and sure enough it was his son. He said UK would have to play a zone with him in the lineup. Again, they're just jokes and jabs, but people love that stuff. There is a time and place for Calipari to get down to business on the basketball court, but they want to see the lighter side of him too. On Wednesday, we saw that and much, much more. As I've been told by everybody I've talked to, "he just gets it."

That's going to wrap it up for me today everybody. I realize there is a lot more that I could talk about, but I've been up since 6:30 a.m. and have exhausted just about all the energy I have left.

 

I'll be back tomorrow to discuss more from today. It might be late news by then, but I would still like to address a few things, including the hiring process, some comments from President Lee Todd and feedback from former players.

 

I hope you'll join us tomorrow and thanks for following along on this historic day.

 

 

Interviews with Meeks, Patterson and Miller

 

Posted at 6:35 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

I just got done interviewing Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller. We're sending these out to the press here in just a little bit, but I thought I would let you all get a first look before they hit the newsstands tomorrow.

 

Also, I'll be taking a little break from blogging for a little bit this evening, but I should have a post or two before the day ends.

 

Patrick Patterson

 

Obviously you weren't able to be at the news conference today. How tough was it for you having to sit through class knowing what was going on?

"I really haven't' got to see it all. I got to see bits and pieces of it online, but I was in class so I wasn't able to be there with a couple of my teammates that were able to see it. It was real tough on me not being there. He told us that he had a press conference and they told us they were setting up chairs and teammates were talking about going. They told us the time and I was like I have class, I have to get ready for a presentation so unfortunately I wasn't able to make it.

 

Can you just talk a little a bit about the meeting the team had with Coach Calipari this morning?

"It was pretty cool. It was really straightforward. He just told us what was going to happen in the next couple of weeks. He said he had to go back to Memphis and give a press conference with the people there. He still feels special about the people back there because that's where he started to really get rolling after UMass. He said he felt like he owed those people there and it's just a real tough time for him. I understand that. He's handling his situation back there and said he would be back and we'll start to get this thing rolling. We'll start having some meetings, getting to know each other - he'll start to get to know us, we'll start to get to know him. He said his wife will be here and that will probably be the next person we'll meet. We introduced ourselves to him one by one, shook his hand, listened to him talk about how we'll get prepared for the season and what he has to do as far as going back to Memphis. He said he wants to live as close as possible to campus. He's just excited to be here and we're excited to have him."

 

How does the hire affect your decision to come back next year?

"(Jodie and I) haven't made up our minds just yet. We know the possibilities that could be next year. Me and Jodie always talk about the future. We always talk about what could be, what could possibly be in the future with Kentucky and with this great coach we have in Calipari right now. We're just looking forward to it and I'm sure we'll come to a decision soon."

 

Can you talk a little bit about his style of play and coaching?

"It's pretty much four people spacing around the perimeter, just tremendous spacing. That's one of the things I notice when I watch the Memphis game is the spacing that they have. Every now and then they have a post player down low on the block and people penetrating to the basket. He always talks about taking advantage of your man. If you have a one-on-one matchup situation, the offense is just all for you to take it to the basket and just utilize your talent and skill to get around them. If you have a matchup or you're hot, you're able to keep scoring. From what I've seen, it's just a tremendous offense."

 

If you come back, where do you see yourself fitting into that offense?

"I know I need to improve my game with him. I know he can help me out tremendously, not only just as a post player inside, but he can help me on the perimeter as well, driving to the basket, working on my ball handling and my jump shot. I know that if I stay another year, I will most likely improve tremendously. I know that those are areas of my game that I need to improve on whether it's here or at the next level. It's just something I need to think about."

 

With Calipari arriving today, people's expectations for next season are already soaring. Do you let yourself look ahead to next year and think about what could be if you return?

"I have thought about it. I've thought about the possibilities of an NCAA championship, the possibility of a Final Four or being one of the elite teams in the country if everything works out how everyone wants it to."

 

 

Jodie Meeks

 

Jodie, you were in class when UK introduced your new coach. Were you able to speak with him at all today?

"Yeah, we actually had a brief meeting beforehand. We got a chance to meet him, got a chance to know what he had planned for us. Everybody is really excited on the team and ready to get to work."

 

What was your first impression of your new coach?

"It's just exciting. I've seen his style of play for years at Memphis. Bringing that to the University of Kentucky is very exciting for me and also for the whole team. We're just ready to get started and can't wait to see what his philosophy is coaching."

 

How will his hiring affect your decision to go to the NBA or come back to Kentucky for your senior season?

"I really haven't given it that much thought yet. That's something me and my family have to discuss. We discussed it a little bit but haven't made a final decision or even close to that. I'm going to give him a fair chance. He seems like a really good guys and I'm really looking forward to being under his coaching.

 

If you do come back, he'll be your third head coach at Kentucky. What do you think he'll be able to differently to help Kentucky contend for a national title again?

"I just think he's a great coach overall. Everybody has their own way of coaching. He has the reputation of a great coach and a great recruiter. Coming in, everybody is excited on the team and we're just looking forward to getting to work as soon as possible and looking forward to the way he plays."

 

At the press conference, he referenced the banners in the rafters and the winning tradition. How much of a pressure cooker is it for coaches and players in Lexington?

"I think you always have pressure anywhere you play, but especially at the University of Kentucky. You know going in you're going to have that so it's not that big of a deal. We're just looking forward to getting after it in the practice gym and looking forward to what he has to offer. We know he's a great coach and everybody is excited about playing. The pressure thing, we normally don't worry about that. We just worry about our team as a whole and the coaching staff that comes in."

 

 

Darius Miller

 

Obviously you weren't able to be at the news conference today. How tough was it for you having to sit through class knowing what was going on?

"It was pretty tough. All my friends were talking about it and some of the things he said.  I didn't even get a chance to see it, but I'm really excited about it."

 

You had a meeting this morning with Coach Calipari. How did that go?

"It was real nice, especially talking to a coach of his prestige. I've never talked to him before really, so it was a good chance to meet him. He seemed like a real cool, down-to-earth guy. He seems like he'll be a nice fit for us here."

 

What did he say to you all in the meeting?

"He just talked about how we were going to work hard this season and talked about the expectations he had for the team. He just talked about how we were going to grow as a family.

 

Can you talk about his style of play and where you fit in his system?

"Hopefully I fit in pretty well. I really don't know because I really don't know a lot about the offense or the defense yet, so hopefully I'm a good fit for it."

 

What were your first impressions of the hire and Coach Calipari?

"I'm pretty excited about it. A coach of that prestige, he seems like he knows what he's doing. He's been to a lot of Final Fours so I'm pretty excited about playing for him."

 

 

Don't forget - spring football started today

 

Posted at 4:44 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

Today was all about men's basketball and the hiring of John Calipari, but let's not forget that spring football practice started today.

 

Because of the basketball news conference, I obviously wasn't able to make it out there today, but we do have a football notebook from today's practice on the link above.

 

UK Rich Brooks did announce a bit of bad news today. Brooks said cornerback Paul Warford has sustained a broken bone in his foot and will miss spring practice. The injury is expected to heal in time for summer workouts.

 

 

Meeks on SportsCenter; info on news conference

 

Posted at 4:25 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

A couple of things to pass along:

 

Junior guard Jodie Meeks will be on ESPN's SportsCenter this evening to talk about new Coach John Calipari and how it will affect his decision to return to UK.

 

Meeks just got off the phone with SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris a few minutes ago, but the program won't air until 6 p.m.

 

Also, I'm frantically trying to blog as much material as I can today, but if you want to read a full transcript of the news conference or watch a replay of it, just click here.

 

 

 

Taking expectations head on: Calipari says it begins with players

 

Posted at 4:02 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

Let's not kid ourselves: the expectations by some in and around the program at Kentucky are almost unattainable. Maybe impossible.

 

I truly believe that some people think UK should win and compete for a national championship every single year.

 

Folks, that will never happen. Not at Kentucky. Not anywhere.

 

But that hasn't stopped John Calipari from believing that. While he didn't say he expects to win a national title every year, he said that's the reason why you come to Kentucky.

 

"As a coach, what's better than every year competing for national titles," Calipari said. "And you win it when you least expect it. You know what, we're going to chase (titles). I'm not going to make promises. I'm not going to do that. But I'll tell you what, we're going to run a program that we're proud of. You'll be proud of the players."

 

The players are where the rebuilding of the program will begin, Calipari said.

 

There's three things to winning championships," Calipari said. "The first thing is have really good players. The second thing is have really good players. And I hate to tell you that's the third thing."

 

And Calipari said that's why he was brought to UK.

 

"I'm here because I can recruit the best of the best here," Calipari said. "That's why I'm here. I would love to get the best players in Kentucky that can come here and perform and play. No question about it. We want those guys. But we can get who we need. Then it's changing the culture."

 

No matter who Calipari brings in though, all that will matter to some is how many numbers he will compile in the win column. Calipari could bring the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to UK every year, but if it doesn't translate into national championship banners, he could be out just as quickly as he got here.

 

Calipari said he understands that, but said it's going to take more than just one or two years. He emphasized that it takes multiple people and a team- and community-like effort to become a consistent winner.

 

"I do not walk on water. I do not have a magic wand," Calipari said. "I'm day to day. I told (President Lee) Todd and (Athletics Director) Mitch (Barnhart), if you want something to happen in a year, do not hire me. That's not how I do things. But when we get it right, you notice we're No. 1 in the country, we're No. 1 seeds and we're playing in Final Fours - when you get it right."

 

To get it right, Calipari said the emphasis will always be on the players. He said he'll always hold his players accountable for everything they do, both on and off the court. But ultimately, he said, it comes down to the student-athletes and the experience they have at UK.

 

The message was pretty simple: the players come first. But national championships don't have to take a backseat. Calipari wants them both.

 

 

Accepting the tradition

 

Posted at 2:23 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

The first thing John Calipari has done right is accept the storied past and tradition that comes with UK basketball. In fact, he's embraced it.

 

Calipari said to bear with him because he doesn't know everybody yet, but on day one, he appeared to be a UK historian.

 

He talked about the magnitude that former players had, the advice he got from former UK coaching legends, and best of all, he remembered the tradition and footsteps of people that walked on UK's hallowed ground before him.

 

None of that was more telling than Calipari's opening few statements.

 

Before he could barely even begin to address the excitement he had in taking the UK job, he stopped himself and asked where Hazel Keightley was.

 

As most of you all know, Bill Keightley, affectionately known at UK as Mr. Wildcat, passed away exactly a year ago yesterday. If you know anything about the UK program, you know that no single person has ever had quite the effect and impact that Bill Keightley had on UK and its fans. He was loved and adored by every person that he came into contact with, including Calipari.

 

"(He) was one of those true gentleman, passionate, prideful fans that treated me unbelievably over the years," Calipari said. "(He always) had a hug for me, a smile for me. He talked that drawl, laughed and always was the greatest. I don't know why, but he treated me like I was a part of this program."

 

Now that Calipari is officially a part of the UK family, he made sure not to forget one of its most important members.

 

To honor Keightley, Calipari asked his wife, Hazel, and his daughter, Karen, to come to the news conference.

 

But that was just the start. Before Calipari even took the job, he was in constant contact with former coaches and players.

 

Calipari said he called former coaches Joe B. Hall, Tubby Smith, Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino about the job and the University of Kentucky.

 

"All I can tell you is none of those coaches would trade their times here for anything in the world," Calipari said.

 

Calipari said former players Rex Chapman, Tayshaun Prince and Nazr Mohammed all called him.

Calipari even made references to legends like Kyle Macy, Richie Farmer and Jeff Sheppard, many of who attended the news conference (I hope to have more on that later).

 

"In this state, in this Commonwealth, they embrace these players," Calipari said. "I saw Jeff Sheppard doing commercials on TV. They told me Richie Farmer, who scored against us (in the Final Four game in 1996) is the Secretary of Agriculture. They take care of these kids. The guy scored baskets, (now) he's going to be governor. It's crazy."

 

But it's the nature of the program. And Calipari gets that and has embraced it already.

 

So what if he's not a "Kentucky boy?" Who cares if he's from Pennsylvania? He gets it and that's all that matters.

 

"When we played down here and I was looking, I just said, `This is it,' " Calipari said. "I also knew Kyle Macy when I played. Coach Hall was coaching. Jack Givens. Come on, it was unbelievable players here (and) a great program. When we played, Rick Pitino was here. I saw what was going on and I was like, `Man, that would be a dream for me.' "

 

Calipari is no longer dreaming, and neither are the fans. They got the guy they want.

 

More to come. ... Bear with me. I can only type so fast. I'm also going to watch Calipari's news conference in Memphis once it starts (it's running way behind). I'll pass along any information if something newsworthy comes from it. I'll have more in just a little bit on why Calipari was the right man for the job.

 

 

Preaching to the choir

 

Posted at 1:36 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

If there was one glaring downfall Billy Gillispie had while he was at Kentucky, it was his inability (some say stubbornness) to accept the responsibilities that come with the job. As Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said upon Gillispie's dismissal, the job is about more than wins and losses.

 

It might be too early to judge, but so far Calipari has gotten the message.

 

The success of the UK coaching job will almost always fall ultimately on the wins and losses. That's just a part of the job. If hanging national championship banners wasn't plainly written in the 20-page contract, believe me, it was between the lines.

 

But the one thing everybody - fans, boosters, Barnhart, President Lee Todd, etc. - wants from their coach is somebody who understands, accepts and meets the pressure and expectations of the job off the court as well.

 

There are so many demands that go on off the court, and it's impossible to meet all those. But people never got a sense with Gillispie that he even came close to those demands. They pictured somebody who was all basketball and nothing else.

 

I'm not bashing Gillispie, but with Calipari, UK has nabbed somebody who is just as hardcore about the game of basketball but is equally as passionate about the responsibilities that go on beyond the job as well.

 

What are some of those and what specifically did Calipari to say to address those job description and responsibilities? Stay tuned for that on the next post.

 

 

No pep rally scheduled

 

Posted at 1:20 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

Alright, after a much-needed lunch break, I'm back and ready to start blogging about today's news conference again.

 

But first thing first. There has been no official pep rally scheduled for new Coach John Calipari at this time. Calipari left Lexington immediately following Wednesday's morning's news conference and he is not scheduled to return to Lexington for at least a few days.

 

If there is a pep rally scheduled here in the next few days or weeks, Cat Scratches will be the first to announce it.

 

Also, if you haven't already seen the new T-shirts for the basketball program, check them out at the UK Team Shop . The blue T-shirts say "Envy our Past Fear our Future, The John Calipari Era is HERE!" The shirts are on sale at the UK Team Shop for $14.99. I was told UK has already sold about 800 T-shirts, which went on sale at about 9:30 this morning.

 

 

Initial (and quick) reaction

 

Posted at 11:36 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

 

Perfect.

 

Everything about it was perfect. The hire, the process, the news conference, the way John Calipari handled himself - the way he embraced the expectations, pressure, fans, history, tradition and players of the program. It was all perfect.

 

Analyze what you will after the hour-long news conference, but I don't know how any UK fan comes away from today feeling anything less than excited.

 

He answered questions, joked with reporters, talked about the past and tradition at UK and even addressed touchy subjects like his gigantic contract and the recruitment of players.

 

He did it all without hesitation and almost at ease. He called it his "dream job," and said he has waited for this day to come.

 

It's been waiting for him.

 

Who knows what is to come after today. I certainly don't. But I do know this: it appears to be a perfect fit.

 

I'm honestly not being giddy or trying to overhype today's events. I'm calling it like I saw it, and what I saw was a man and a program who seemed destined to meet.

 

That's just my initial reaction. I came away a little awestruck, but I certainly need a little while to digest everything.

 

In short, I'll be back in a little bit. We've been here since before 7 a.m., so bear with me while I take a short break and grab some lunch. I'll be back later this afternoon for more on what happened today. I'll do my best to get as much as I can on here today, but keep in mind, I might have to help with some other things around the office as well.

 

Until then, I thought I'd leave with you some initial thoughts. So far, the only way I can describe it was perfect.

  

Live blog at 9 a.m.

Posted at 8:15 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Just got confirmation that the live blog is good to go. Join us at 9 a.m. to hear what's going on at the much anticipated news conference.

I'll be live blogging from the men's basketball practice court where the news conference will be taking place to talk about what's going on and to answer as many questions as I can while everything is going down.

Hope to see you all at 9 a.m.

 

Crazy morning ahead

Posted at 7:51 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

I'll have to make this short because there is a lot to do this morning.

It's barely past 7:30 a.m. here at the Joe Craft Center, but the feeling around here is already electric. The preparation to announce John Calipari as the next head coach of the UK men's basketball program began long before this morning, but now everybody is in a final frantic push to make sure everything is ready.

I was just down at the men's basketball court where the news conference will take place (let me remind you that it's not open to the public) and everything appears just about ready to go. There are hundreds of chairs set up for the media (obviously we anticipate a big showing) and the media with television cameras are scrambling to get set up in time for the huge introduction at 9:30 a.m.

Outside the Craft Center has already turned into a circus. The media is not officially allowed to check in until 7:30 a.m., but I counted 14 news trucks set up around Memorial Coliseum and the Craft Center when I rolled in just before 7 a.m. Suffice to say, the amount of media members is considerably more than that.

Even though half of us here at UK are running on about four hours asleep, we're all buzzing right now with the anticipation of seeing and hearing Calipari talk about his new gig at UK. Forget that we already know it's been made official - it won't actually sink in (for me at least) until Calipari sits at that podium and talks about taking on the men's basketball head coaching role, the 22nd in program history. For the understatement of the year: it should be exciting.

I'm still trying to find out what other duties I have to do today other than the blog, but I'll try to do my best to keep you all updated throughout the day. I'm hoping and planning on doing a live blog during the news conference, but I haven't gotten official confirmation yet that I can do that. When I find out, I'll let you all know.

Either way, we will be running a free live stream of the news conference.

 

UK signee named Mr. Basketball

Posted at 7:30 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Some quick basketball news (un-John Calipari related) to pass along before we get the big day underway.

UK basketball signee John Hood has been named Kentucky's Mr. Basketball for the 2008-09 season.

Hood, who has already signed a letter of intent with the Wildcats, is the second straight Kentucky Mr. Basketball to come to UK, joining freshman Darius Miller, who won the award in 2008.

Hood, the Gatorade State Player of the Year, averaged 29.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.1 blocked shots as a senior and scored 1,880 career points. He will receive the award and the No. 1 jersey, signifying the top player in the state, at a news conference in Madisonville, Ky., at 2:30 p.m.

He becomes the 16th Mr. Basketball from the state of Kentucky to sign with UK.

 


 

 

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