The light bulb in John Calipari’s head rarely goes off. There is always a new idea, a new innovation to take the game to the next level.
On Tuesday, at the annual Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin Fla., Coach Cal had another gem.
A week after informing Kentucky fans of a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader with Baylor at Cowboys Stadium in the 2013-14 season, Calipari proposed a tripleheader with football. Coach Cal described it as a weekend event.
“I want to do a tripleheader,” Calipari told Dave Baker in an interview on the SEC Digital Network. “On a Friday, the women and us will play and our football team plays on Saturday. Play the same teams. Play them all. Play them in Atlanta. Play it in St. Louis. Pick the opponent. Let’s do a tripleheader. Let’s make it a whole weekend. It helps all of us to be together like that and do something unique and special.”
While the idea is far from concrete – for one, six different teams from two different schools would have to align their schedules to make it work, not to mention UK football coach Joker Phillips hasn’t been approached about the idea yet – it’s certainly another one of those “only at Kentucky” moments Calipari alluded to in his post last week about the schedule.
“We’re a different deal,” Calipari said. “We’re going to play the teams that are going to help prepare us. We have some teams locked into the schedule.”
As Calipari outlined in his previous schedule posts, the preparation includes at least one game in a neutral football stadium or dome every year. Since the SEC Tournament is scheduled to take place in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena three of the next four years, Calipari and the UK staff will have to take matters into their own hands to ensure the Cats play in at least one football stadium a year.
“Maybe two football stadiums,” Calipari said. “The reason being, not only are we trying to play well in the SEC, which gets us our seed for the NCAA Tournament, we don’t want what happened two years ago. I had the best team. I didn’t have the best players, but that team was playing well. We go to a football stadium, had never played in one and can’t do anything; as bad as we played all year. I just don’t want to be in that situation again.”
Calipari also expressed his pleasure with the Cats’ academic success in the candid interview with Baker. In a semester in which Calipari’s Cats were on the road for nearly a month to win a national championship, 10 players finished with a 3.0 grade-point average or better, including a team-wide GPA of 3.12.
Coach Cal said his team’s performance blows up several myths: (1) that you can’t let kids leave early to pursue their dreams, (2) that you can’t win with young players, and (3) that kids don’t go to school if they have an opportunity to turn pro early.
“That’s not true,” Calipari said. “That’s people just speaking. These young people, again, a 3.2 in the second term, 10 players over a 3.0 average on a team that was on the road in the NCAA Tournament; having to take tutors, having to take all this stuff with us to make sure the guys did it. I think what it does now is it changes how we’re all thinking here. Now you can win with young kids. And I always say this, if you do right by those players, they’ll take you where you want to go. … It’s all about players first. They’ll take the program where you want to go if they know it’s about them, and that’s what we try to do.”
Calipari told Baker that UK’s national championship achievement makes him smile, but he’s already looking forward to next year’s team and how to help another group of young men accomplish something special.
“What’s next is the next group,” Coach Cal said. “How do we change a cycle in that family’s life? Some of it’s academically – first college graduate in their family. Some it’s financial — they’ve been in poverty for a hundred years. Now all of a sudden that cycle for that family has changed. Now what if that young man goes and changes the cycle for another 10 different families socially being involved? Now all of a sudden it’s more than just winning a championship. Yeah (it’s winning a championship) for the university, the program and for the state, but for me, the next challenge is how do we deal with this next group of young people that we’ll be coaching. “