The following is John Calipari’s state of the program speech from Friday night’s Big Blue Madness.
How about this?
This is an incredible night to celebrate the things that make our program great … that make the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s basketball program the best in the country.
You are part of that program, the Big Blue Nation … The sixth man of Kentucky basketball.
You lined up early… before there WAS a line … for a limited number of tickets to a practice … A PRACTICE …
Have I told you that you people are crazy?
24,000 strong tonight behind our players, but the Big Blue Nation extends far beyond the hallowed halls of college basketball’s greatest arena.
It’s a nation that stretches across 120 counties in Kentucky, all 50 states and to every country in the world.
We are borderless. We are everywhere. No corner is left untouched by the blue mist.
Four years ago when we started on this journey together, I shared with you a vision for this program: The gold standard of college athletics.
Two years ago, we talked about the Kentucky Effect, as we re-defined college basketball and more importantly the lives of the players in this program.
Tonight, we build on that legacy … that tradition.
As I’ve told our players many times, our program isn’t for everybody.
Take a look around. This is it. Every night we play, 24,000 pack the house that Rupp built. You can feel the sound in your soul.
To play here, they have to want this.
This is the preeminent stage for college basketball. This is the place where nothing is given to you and everything is earned.
You have to be tough, not just physically, but mentally. You have to wake up ready to beat your best time, to practice your hardest each and every day.
Our biggest opponent? Ourselves. At Kentucky, we are competing against ourselves every day. We can’t let the strain and spotlight of this program affect you.
We are the place to help you achieve your dreams. We don’t just play college basketball, we ARE college basketball. As you know, we are everyone’s Super Bowl.
They need to be prepared not just to play against great players, but to play alongside great players. Look at this group we have here today.
You are your brother’s keeper. If you want to succeed at Kentucky, you will succeed as a team. You play more for your teammates than yourself. If you want 30 shots a game, this isn’t the place for you.
The first two draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft – Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – were the fourth and fifth-leading shot takers on their team. They played for their team, their family, and not for themselves. That sacrifice became success …(PAUSE) our eighth national championship.
Our players learn as a family, practice as a family and play as a family so they can win as a family. We are a players-first program. If you want to be developed as an NBA player, if you want to be developed as a person of character, you come here.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished on the court, two Final Fours, a national championship, 17 NBA Draft picks over the last four years, including 13 first-round picks, but I’m just as proud of the guys who have earned degrees.
I’m proud that we have graduated 10 of our last 10 players who have been here at least three years. I’m proud that some of our players have gone to the NBA AND earned a degree, like Darius Miller, who is in the crowd with us tonight. I’m proud that we’ve had a 3.0 grade-point average the last three years, including a 3.4 GPA last spring. I’m proud that John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins each donated 1 million dollars to charity the second they signed their max deals. Think about that.
We teach more than just basketball here. We teach character on the court and off. This is a place where our players prepare not just for a career, but for the rest of their lives.
This program teaches players about life … about the next step. We are teaching them to be men of integrity and honor. Men of character on and off the court.
We call it the Success Rate … and I’m proud of that. Let me make this very clear: A player’s success here is not optional.
But you have to want it. You have to want your education. You must have a love of learning. You must put service before self to truly succeed here.
Last year, we learned some very important lessons.
We were humbled. I was humbled.
Tonight, we put into action what we learned as we strengthen our program and take the first step on a new journey.
The competition will be fierce, the road will be difficult. Every team we play will be more experienced than us. But if we become one unit, play with one heartbeat and a love for each another, we will be unbreakable …
My role, and that of my staff, is to serve the players. Inspire them to reach higher than they thought possible … To mentor them … To build exceptional men and respected sons of the Commonwealth …
… And, most of all, to help them reach their dreams as they help us reach ours.
With these players, these fans, and this coaching staff, we will build on the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.
Thank you, Big Blue Nation, for the privilege of representing you to the world and for helping us be the standard bearer in college basketball.
We Are UK.
A lesson from my friend Paul: It’s about touching lives