John Calipari has been on a roll this past week.
Whether it was his motivational speech to the freshman at Big Blue U (video of that later this week), his riveting remarks to the Singletary and Patterson scholars at a Saturday luncheon, or his inspiring contribution to the tornado victims of West Liberty, Ky., these past few days have served as yet another reminder why Coach Cal has been a perfect fit for the University of Kentucky.
Yes, he’s been here for three-plus years now and we’ve all heard the saying before, but it bears repeating: The man gets it.
Speaking in West Liberty on Friday with Kentucky Sports Radio, Calipari made some comments about his ability to change lives as the head coach of the Kentucky basketball team. It was a subject he’s touched on before, but Friday’s words were perhaps some of the strongest he’s made about the opportunity he’s been given.
“If you were me sitting in the seat I’m in and you had a chance to change lives and you have a chance to change the cycle of a family, (wouldn’t you do it)?” Calipari said on Friday’s radio show. “You get a chance as another human being to change that family’s cycle. Maybe it’s a cycle of education; nobody has ever been college educated in their family, and you were the one that changes it.
“Now that young man may not be a lawyer or doctor, but his child becomes the lawyer or the doctor. Now a cycle of fatherless homes that’s been a cycle in a family, all of a sudden you get a young man, he gets an opportunity to understand and be professional, he understands more about being a father because he’s part of our family now, and that cycle is changed.”
The stat has been thrown out there before, but every full-time starter under Calipari at Kentucky has been drafted in the NBA. So has every sixth man.
In all, 15 players over the last three years have earned the right to go the NBA, including 11 first-round draft picks. Six have gone in the top 10, including No. 1 overall picks John Wall and Anthony Davis.
The ability to put players in the NBA has not only been a huge recruiting coup for Kentucky, it’s changed the lives of those 15 players and their families. Sure, the national championship and Final Four appearances have been nice for Calipari – trends he hopes to continue at UK – but he maintains that he’s trying to achieve both goals.
It irks some people to hear him say it, but changing the cycle of lives is one of his biggest rewards as a coach.
“When I’m done doing this, if I tell you I was able to affect 80 families, 90 families, cycles have changed, would you say, ‘Yeah, don’t worry about that, just win national titles?’ ” Calipari said. “Think about what I’m saying. So when I tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s nice winning a national title,’ but if I had never have done it, I was fine because I’m looking at families saying I have been blessed to be in this spot. I’m honored to be the coach.”
Calipari said he’s been overwhelmed with the numbers of calls he’s gotten from players’ families thanking them for altering the course of their loved ones’ lives. He used DeMarcus Cousins’ mother as an example, who recently moved into a new house on a golf course that Cousins bought her.
“Is that more powerful than hugging someone because we’ve won a national title?” Calipari said. “Think about that. The opportunity here to change lives.”
Calipari isn’t just talking about NBA contracts when he talks about changing lives. On Friday, he matched $25,000 in donations to the Morgan County Long Term Recovery Team, and his presence in West Liberty helped the relief effort raise $60,000 in funds.
His team’s on-court success has generated more revenue for the UK Athletics department, which, at the following of Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart’s leadership, has funneled back to the university in the form of scholarship money. Thanks to the university’s athletic success and $3 million in contributions, UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto was able to raise this year’s Singletary scholarship offerings from 34 to 51.
Appropriately, Calipari told the Singletary and Patterson scholars at a luncheon Saturday that his team’s drive to reach dreams isn’t limited to basketball. Coach Cal told those scholarship winners that all seven of his players who were in line to graduate at Kentucky received their diplomas.
At the luncheon, Calipari also credited Brandon Knight with raising the academic standard at Kentucky.
“(Brandon) raised the academic standard for us,” Calipari said. “Brandon helped change the culture and showed that it’s not just about basketball here. We’ve graduated seven players over the last three years, but we’ve also had a team B average since Brandon stepped on campus. That’s what a game-changer does. If Brandon wasn’t a basketball player, he would have been sitting with those scholarship winners.”
UK has continually met and exceeded the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate under Coach Cal.
“How is he recruiting? He must be doing stuff. There’s got to be a (reason),” Calipari said, imitating his critics. “No! If you’re a player that wants to go pro, where do you go? Then we tell them you’re going to do the academic work because if you don’t, you won’t play here. We get B averages here. If you don’t think you’re up for that, don’t come here. It is not for everybody coming to the University of Kentucky.”
On Monday, he continued to change lives by announcing that Kevin Massey, who is recovering from a brain tumor, will be joining the UK basketball team as a student manager.
It was just another day in a week – or three seasons – of changing lives at Kentucky.
“You cheat this position that I’m in if you don’t use it for good,” Calipari said. “There is no job in the country where you can impact as many people as you can with this job.”