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2014 John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience

Video is courtesy of Winky Productions

Day one photo gallery | Day two photo gallery | Day three photo gallery

On Saturday afternoon, as John Calipari’s team took too long during a timeout of a fantasy camp game, Barry “Slice” Rohrssen started pleading with officials to charge Coach Cal a timeout.

“It’s my camp,” Calipari shouted at Rohrssen, laughing in the process. “I can do what I want.”

Fantasy experience fund recipients

4 Paws for Ability
ALS Association
Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky
Connecticut Burns Care Foundation
Fayette County Public Schools Financial Literacy
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Golden Door Scholars
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Kentucky Army National Guard Memorial
Kids 2 Camp
Louisville Zoo
Miracle League of Wilmington
One Parent Scholar House
Red Cross of the Bluegrass
Samaritan’s Feet
School to Work Council
Starkey Hearing Foundation
Streets Ministries
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Team Focus
Team for Kids
Urban League of Lexington

What Calipari wants, it appears, Calipari gets. Or at least that’s how it goes when charity is on his mind.

When Coach Cal was forced to cancel the popular UK Alumni Charity Game this year for a number of reasons – chief among them, a lack of commitments because of the Paul George injury and prior USA Basketball commitments – it looked as though the chance to make a significant and lasting impact in the community was gone with it.

But if you know Calipari, you know he won’t take no for an answer. When it appeared there was no shot he could generate $1 million for charity for the second year in a row, he, ProCamps and his foundation, the Calipari Foundation, did it anyway.

On Sunday, near the conclusion of his third annual John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience, Calipari announced approximately $1 million would be going to 23 different charities and organizations this year (full list to the right). The funds were generated solely on the back of the fantasy experience.

“Every one of (the fantasy campers) are here to win, (but) they know the bigger picture of why we’re doing this is it generates money for charity,” Calipari said Sunday. “If you add up the checks, which some of you may do, I think it’s $890,000. With matching funds it’s over a million dollars again. … There were (23) groups that benefited by this experience, by these players and by an auction last night that was outrageous. And everybody got involved. To whatever level people could get involved they did because they knew that’s what this was about: generating money for charity. I’m really proud of this experience for campers.”

John Calipari served as one of the coaches this year in his fantasy experience. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

How Calipari and camp organizers generated the money was nothing short of hard work and some hard selling.

Obviously entrance fees for the fantasy experience – $6,995 for both packages – made up a decent chunk of the funds. Those numbers were boosted this year by 74 campers (64 players and 10 assistant coaches), up from 52 in 2013.

“I think this one’s a staple in our circuit of fantasy camps,” said Matt Chacksfield, who oversaw the operations of the fantasy experience as camp manager. “We have guys that typically try to go to five, six, seven fantasy camps a year and I would say this one is definitely on the bucket list of places to go.”

Organizers had to expand the fantasy experience from six to eight teams this year to accommodate for demand. Also, the camp, which is usually made up largely of “circuit” players – guys who travel around to some of the nation’s best fantasy experiences around the country – featured 35 first-time participants, including a first-time female fantasy camper, Kimberly Parks.

Team owners and sponsors

Fifth Third Bank
Red Ventures

“That’s a testament to how we’re growing,” Chacksfield said. “It’s networking. It’s guys who have come to this camp who may not necessarily be able to make it back again because of work or an injury, but they’re telling their friends about it. I’ve had several people tell me this is the greatest experience of their lives, literally. They’re telling their friends about it and word is getting out and people are coming. That’s the business model.”

What campers got with their entrance fee was certainly a sweet deal.

Businessmen, entrepreneurs and average Joes 35 and older got to play out their wildest basketball dreams for three days and live the life of a Kentucky basketball player. They got daily competitions, film sessions, access to UK’s facilities, official Kentucky gear, exclusive social events and more. They were coached by current or former college coaches, their managers were current Wildcats, and on the final day of competition, every team participated in a tournament with hopes of raising a championship trophy in Rupp Arena.

Charity is at the heart of the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience, but the competition is pretty serious during the three days on UK’s campus. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

To put it another way, campers were showered with unique experiences that most die-hard Big Blue fans would give an arm and a leg for. These ones just paid a charitable fee of a few thousand dollars.

“I thought maybe it would take a step backwards in terms of the experience of the weekend because of the cancellation of the alumni game, but amazingly, with the experience I’ve had now, I’m kind of ashamed of myself for even thinking I would be disappointed because these guys do a great job.” said Drew Mangino, who enjoyed his first John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience so much a year ago that he came back this year. “I should have known better. It’s been another phenomenal experience.”

But when you factor in the costs of the camp – renting Rupp Arena, buying gear, hiring refs and staff, food, etc. – there was still a long way to go for the fantasy organziers to get to $1 million for charity.

So Calipari and ProCamps had to sell, sell, sell.

They sold sponsorships, including the rights to “own” one of the eight teams in the competition this week. Ownership rights included inclusion in the camp, signage at Rupp Arena and the Joe Craft Center,  the power to make all decisions for their respective team, among other things.

The Tony Barbee-coached CBTS team won the third annual John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“It’s just like a team owner would be in basketball,” Chacksfield said. “You can be a Mark Cuban or you can be a hands-off, kind of laissez-faire team owner.”

That power included the ability to overrule all personnel decisions. Owners had the right to overrule player choices during the draft portion of the camp, and they could even trade coaches. One owner did, trading six courtside seats at a game to acquire former college coach Jerry Wainwright (ironically, the coach the owner traded away for — Tony Barbee — led the CBTS team to the fantasy championship).

“I know Scott Whitaker overruled (John) Robic in the draft with a couple of his draft picks,” Chacksfield said. “They have final call on the draft picks. Coach Robic is an experienced coach, but if the team owner wants somebody, it’s their call. It’s their money and their team.”

But entrance fees and sponsorships would only go so far.

On Saturday night, they had a live and silent auction during a selection show at Rupp Arena. The auctions have been a part of the fantasy experience since its inception in 2012, but this year’s silent auction included signed NBA jerseys from guys like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade, a custom-made guitar from RS Guitarworks that featured signatures from a number of UK legends, framed pictures, pieces of the national championship floor, and more.

All of those items were in addition to the live auction packages that included seats, suites and travel to some of UK’s best games during the upcoming season, flying up with Calipari to the 2015 NBA Draft, and more.

“At the end of the day, (charity is) really what this is all about,” said Mangino, who made a bid on and won tickets to one of the games. “It’s an easy thing for me to do this knowing that’s where the money is going. Last year I didn’t really participate in any of the extracurricular stuff, but this year… after sitting in Cal’s office to hear him talk and see his passion for charity … I had no problem stepping up and bidding on something.”

With matching funds, this weekend’s John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience has generated approximately $1 million. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

Calipari and camp organizers finally reached their goal of $1 million for a second straight year by securing matching funds and generous contributions from some of the organizations and local community figures. The major difference this year is they did it without all the ticket revenue from the annual UK Alumni Charity Game.

“The good thing is the cancellation of the alumni game came was just a couple of weeks ago, and we were trending very well when it happened,” Chacksfield said. “Obviously it hurt. It hurt the charitable impact we are trying to make, but we knew we were close to our goals. We actually had about three team owners come on after the cancellation. I think Cal’s pitch and the pitch that we’ve gone after is, ‘Hey, we want to get to this number, and now that we’ve canceled, we need your help,’ and people have stepped up to the plate. It’s been great.”

Video is courtesy of Kentucky Wildcats TV