My summer letter to the players

Every summer, after I have some time to sit down by myself to reflect on the previous year and plan ahead for the next season, I write a letter and give it to my players (returning and new). The idea is to deliver a message of my expectations, goals and dreams for them. Some of the letter remains the same from year to year, but the bulk of the message is new. I like to send it to the guys over the summer to give them time to get mentally prepared for what lies ahead. This year I wanted to share that letter with the Big Blue Nation. Each player receives the same letter. 

Dear Kyle,

I hope this letter finds you and your family beginning a wonderful summer. We all need to recharge and refocus, but let’s also be thankful for last season as we charge ahead.

This coming season will be on us quickly, so I thought this would be a good time to share my vision for our program with you and some lessons learned from last year’s team.

Last season was a wonderful ride for all of us: winning the national title, 38 overall wins (the most in NCAA history), an undefeated SEC season, an undefeated home record (longest home win streak in the country at 52) and a No. 1 ranking for most of the season. In the classroom, Darius and Eloy graduated on time, and our team GPA was a 3.2, with 10 players over a 3.0! Did I mention six players will be drafted?!

Just like last year’s team, we will be very talented and very young. We will have to commit to a “shared sacrifice” attitude like they did. Working together is the start, but working for each other is the goal.

Let me make this clear: Last season will have no effect on this season! We are not judging our on-court performance to last season or any other season. We will compete against ourselves to be the best team we can be. Does that mean, at our best we could do more than last year’s team? Maybe, but our goal is to be the best team we can be by March.

Two seasons ago we finished 10-6 in SEC league play, but we continued to improve and by March we were the best team in the country.  In April we were in the Final Four, a whisker away from a national title!

When last season ended, we were at the White House and I made this statement, “I may never coach a team like this again. They shared and sacrificed for each other like no other team I’ve coached or seen.” Notice, I talked nothing about talent, only about team!

Kyle, that is our challenge this season. Can we become the best team in the country? Will we share? Last year seven players averaged 25 points in high school, but no one averaged more than 11 shots and all seven lead us in scoring at least once! Will we share? “It’s amazing what gets done when no one cares who gets the credit.”

Will we be our brother’s keeper? Will you play more for your brother than yourself? The game becomes easy when you think less of you and more about helping a teammate. If we all do that, you will always be on the court with four people playing for you. The game becomes easier and more fun to play and watch!

Are you willing to become the sixth man? Darius was!! He started for two years and his senior year came off the bench because it was the best thing for our team. It didn’t hurt him personally, but it certainly helped us win the title. At the end of the day, Darius won a high school state title, a national title and will be drafted in the NBA.

Will you step back so someone can step up? Michael did! He approached me 30 minutes before the SEC tournament championship game on CBS and asked to come off the bench so Darius could start! I asked why. “Because he’s playing bad and we need him in the NCAAs. It may get him going,” Michael said. It may have been the single-most important thing that moved us toward the national title!

Will you be ready to lead? We need servant leaders – and not just one. We want all of you to learn to lead – as a servant. When you lead our team you serve everyone. They do not serve you. It’s impossible to accomplish the lofty goals we have for each other unless the team is empowered and there are leaders that serve the group.

This summer we will work together to get stronger, get in great condition and learn the basics of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. We will work twice a week for one hour on our offense. We want to teach you how to attack, how to play through bumps and how to do it together. Later in the summer we will add our 4 offense, our 5 offense, along with our grind-it-out offense. We will work on defense when our season starts. For now I want you to have a ball learning and competing in the DDMO.

The rest of the six hours a week will be spent with our weight and conditioning staff. They will push you to break barriers daily. Nothing builds self esteem more than doing things you never felt possible! To accomplish what we have in front of us this season, you must be in the best shape of your life! And you will be!!!

Every one of you adds a certain strength to our team. Whatever that skill is, work to improve it! We need players who will be the best in the county at a skill, not all skills. We want you to work on weak areas also. You must master those skills to perform them at game time, but remember what you do best and make it better! We want as many weapons as possible on our team as we take on the challenges that stand between us and perfection!  Our goal is perfection!!  We tolerate excellence.

Kyle, your mental development will also start this summer. As you personally accomplish more than you thought possible, you will be building mental toughness. You will spend more time than you ever have and your work will be more focused. This is the beginning of developing new habits – habits that will carry you to being the best you’ve ever been … and the toughest!

That’s a picture of the summer. Now, let me give you some of the key elements needed for our season to be like no other:

  1. We must understand that no game is more important than another when you chase greatness. Samford is just as important as Duke! We are also the biggest game on everyone’s schedule, so we must be prepared for every game.
  2. Unselfishness must permeate throughout our program. Personal glory must be sacrificed for team success. All boats will rise with the tide. (As we win and dominate, every player benefits – 15 players drafted in the last 3 years.)
  3. Our leaders must serve the team and lead by example on and off the court! If we are to win every game, it will be because of our team leaders will drive our team that way.

If we have prepared ourselves all summer for greatness and created new habits that will carry us, a special season awaits us!

Kyle, please remember it is a privilege to be in our program, the most storied in NCAA history! A careless decision can take that privilege away; you are a role model and a very visible student who is held to a higher standard! I trust you, but I also worry about you!!

Lastly, I cannot wait to huddle our team, touch hands and for the first time say, “together!” Together we can chase greatness, together we can reach dreams and together we can accomplish things that have never been done before us! We can do this! We will do this!!!



John Calipari
Head Coach