Kentucky coach Calipari humbled by Hall of Fame induction
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Words usually come easily for John Calipari when he gets to talking about basketball.
And he has been known to ramble on once he gets going.
Lately though, he’s been struggling. The Kentucky coach is trying to choose the right words to thank everyone during his 10-minute speech at this weekend’s induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The list is long, and time is short.
It’s actually been pretty nerve-racking for the boisterous Calipari.
“We’ve taken down a few trees trying to get this thing, believe me,” he said of trying to keep his acceptance speech within the time limit. “I’ve changed it 6,000 times to shorten it, shorten it. Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to be that guy.”
Calipari, 56, is part of an 11-member class entering the Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among the other inductees are former Wildcat and ABA star Louie Dampier; Boston Celtics greats Tom Heinsohn and Jo Jo White; and Spencer Haywood, whose lawsuit opened the door for college underclassmen to enter the NBA draft.
Calipari has taken full advantage of that landmark decision, prepping a pipeline of “one-and-done” players for the pros at Kentucky and Memphis while taking those schools and UMass to Final Fours.
Former Wildcats coach Joe B. Hall believes Calipari’s successful resume’ despite the succession of short-timers at Memphis and Kentucky proves his Hall worthiness.
“He’s done it in spite of that handicap,” said Hall, a Calipari confidant and College Hall of Famer himself. “I think this honor makes you reflect on the road you’ve taken and the opportunities you’ve had. John has certainly arrived.”
Calipari didn’t have the same level of success at the NBA level, where he was 72-112 over parts of three seasons with the New Jersey Nets. He was a Philadelphia 76ers assistant under Larry Brown, who will be among a trio of Hall of Fame presenters including former Kentucky star Pat Riley and Julius “Dr. J” Erving.
For Calipari, taking his place among the greats hasn’t really sunk in.
“I don’t see myself as one of those guys,” said the Pittsburgh-area native, saying his success has been rooted in getting opportunities at good programs. “I mean, first ballot? It’s the ultimate pat on the back, a thank you for players, coaches and contributors and officials.”
While Calipari’s success is being validated, the road to the Hall of Fame hasn’t been totally smooth. There have been a few pot holes along the way.
The NCAA vacated UMass’ 1996 Final Four appearance and Memphis’ 2007-08 season and runner-up finish for violations involving stars Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose, respectively. Calipari was not implicated in either instance.
Those vacated berths have left Calipari with an adjusted college record of 593-176 in 23 seasons as well as fuel for critics.
While UMass plans to honor Calipari this season, Memphis canceled a dinner planned for December hours after announcing the benefit on Thursday. Calipari left Memphis to take the Kentucky job, and took several recruits with him.
Memphis President M. David Rudd received resistance to the idea from fans and issued a statement on Twitter citing “genuine distress” at the idea of honoring Calipari.
The coach views getting called by the Hall as perhaps the biggest vindication of his career.
“I’m not worried about those people,” Calipari said of his detractors, before Memphis announced its change of plans. “Those aren’t the people that helped us get to where we are. They’re going to have a tough weekend.”
Calipari, on the other hand, plans to live it up.
He will have a throng of well-wishers including this year’s Kentucky squad, which has the tall order of following a top-ranked team that finished 38-1 and featured six players taken in the NBA draft.
There’ll probably be too many supporters to count, though the only number that’s on Calipari’s mind these days is 10; he’s got to get the timing of that speech down.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Tennessee contributed to this report.