Having rebuilt a Memphis program down on their luck, John Calipari had to make a decision. Would he stay at the program he had built from the ground up in Memphis? Or would he take on the colossal expectations at Kentucky?
That is a question new Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari must have been asking himself every second during his week-long decision. In the end, Calipari felt he couldn’t pass on his dream job and left Memphis for seven time national champion Kentucky.
How could he pass this once in a lifetime opportunity up? He couldn’t.
In 1992, when John Calipari was just getting started in coaching at the University of Massachusetts, they visited Rupp Arena to take on Rick Pitino and his Kentucky Wildcats. By the end of the game, Calipari knew exactly what his dream was and that was, to one day be the head coach at the University of Kentucky. Hundreds of victories and seventeen years later, John Calipari is living his dream.
Just weeks ago, Calipari was given full control of the University of Kentucky basketball program by being announced as the new head coach in front of hundreds of alumni, boosters, school administrators, family and friends; a new savior of Kentucky basketball had taken over.
John Calipari comes into his new head coaching job much like a friend and bitter rival once did. Rick Pitino took over a program riddled with NCAA violations and infractions and began to build from the bottom up. In no time at all, Kentucky basketball and Rick Pitino were on top of the college basketball world. With countless memorable games (1992 UK vs. Duke) and a championship to boot (1996), Rick Pitino had brought Kentucky basketball back to the glory days of Adolph Rupp.
Calipari will be expected to do much of the same. The question now becomes can he do it.
From most people’s perspectives, Calipari can get it done. To the extent of Rick Pitino in the mid-90’s is another point of contention, but most individuals and so called experts think that this was the ONLY hire that would make a big enough splash for the fan base. Calipari has that swagger, personality and charisma that many UK fans loved in Rick Pitino. Now, they envision it happening all over again.
With Calipari’s offense and excellent recruiting prowess, many fans believe that Calipari will get it done sooner rather than later. But don’t tell that to Calipari. During the press-conference that introduced him as the new head coach, he almost promised that it would take more than one year. In his words, it’s a process that will be built on progression from the coaches, players, and fans that isn’t going to happen in year one. While there may be those fans out there that do expect and want Calipari to bring Kentucky its eighth national title in 2010, Calipari advises to think otherwise.
Kentucky basketball fans have been labeled as crazy, insane, and always wanting to exceed expectations; they have the highest of high expectations anyone could think of. But let’s face it. Kentucky fans are spoiled from the days of Pitino dominating the 90’s to Adolph Rupp and the tradition he started at Kentucky decades ago. Kentucky fans wanted the excitement back that they had felt for so many years. Now they have it.
John Calipari may not be the savior or the new king but he sure has brought about a renewed sense of excitement back to Kentucky basketball. I think all UK fans can agree, that with Calipari at the helm, the fan base is truly united once again. As fans, we must now wait and see and how about a little longer than two years this time around?