When he was introduced as the just the seventh UK coach since 1930, John Calipari promised the Big Blue Nation and his bosses that he knew of the challenges he faced. As if to prove his point, Coach Cal seemingly has embarked on a one-man crusade, a nationwide campaign to re-energize the Wildcat program.
Since his hiring, Calipari has appeared on national television (ESPN, CBS) and has signed on with one of the world's leading video game makers (EA Sports). Calipari has shown a willingness to embrace his role as face and voice of one of college basketball's biggest programs.
Calipari understands the information age we live in and the means by which fans and potential recruits get theirs. Already, the coach is an Internet sensation with his Twitter page, where he posts daily messages for nearly 21,000 fans.
Soon, Calipari will launch his own website, which he says will be fan friendly and interactive.
Calipari also said soon he will conduct a basketball clinic via the Internet, where coaches across the globe can join in and learn about his system and the Wildcats.
Speaking with Dick Gabriel, on WLAP's Sports Nightly, Calipari talked about his upcoming book, entitled "Bounce Back," that is due in stores in September. Coach Cal also has several instructional videos that he's promoting, including 3-4 on the dribble drive offense and one for potential student/athletes. It seems Calipari is quickly becoming "king of all media."
"My mentality is 'why not go for it?' Why not go for the New York Times Best Seller List? Why not try to win every game and go undefeated?'"
Calipari has a degree in marketing from Clarion State, so it's no surprise the guy is so good with fans and recruits. He's slick, polished and someone former UK coach Joe B. Hall said "is the ultimate salesman."
It all bodes well as Calipari attempts to return the Wildcats to their place college basketball's hierarchy.
Coach Cal Tidbits
Calipari announced on Monday night, during his one-hour visit on Sports Nightly, that he wants to be the first U.S. coach to land a talented Chinese recruit. Calipari said he has visited China before and will return to conduct clinics. "I want to be the first guy to coach a really good Chinese player in college. I'm going back over there to tie up some loose ends, " he told the Sports Nightly radio audience.
The coach fielded a suggestion from a caller to relocate Big Blue Madness to Commonwealth Stadium (an idea I actually endorse). "Wow. I think we should do that. Think we could get 60,000?" Calipari even suggested bringing in Memphis-born singer Justin Timberlake and UK alum Ashley Judd to help.
Calipari said he will continue with the women's basketball clinic and suggested he would consider a fantasy camp for 50-100 men. Calipari said he would bring back former UK greats to help with the camp. The coach said he's already been in touch with Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Nazr Mohammed, Kenny Walker, Wayne Turner and Rajon Rondo about coming back.
The golf scramble to honor Bill Keightley will continue, Calipari said.
Calipari said he likes the idea of playing a game in Cincinnati. The coach argues not enough Wildcat fans out in the state get to see Big Blue play in person.
Cal Talks "X's and O's"
While Calipari spent much of his radio hour addressing "the big picture," the coach did work in a few comments about his system.
Calipari said he's not always employed the dribble drive offense. He admitted he steered away from the more conventional offenses to allow players a better opportunity to showcase their skills.
Calipari said he's never had great field goal shooting teams. He did say that he expects the Cats to average 65 shots, 17 steals and only 12 turnovers a game. He said he'd like to see the Cats average 4-7 blocked shots per game. "Field goal defense is the number thing I look at. The dribble drive unleashes a player to be more aggressive."
The coach was asked about free throw shooting, a thinly veiled reference to his Memphis teams' poor performance from the charity stripe. "I don't judge a recruit on his free throw shooting. I want a guy who's got heart. I want a giver, not a taker. I want guys that can 'ball.'"
Calipari said he also wants players that play big -- both literally and figuratively. He said he likes guys who can put their chins on the rim, as he explains it.
The new UK coach didn't mince words when he stated his goals for the UK basketball program. "My goals have not changed. I want us to be the standard by which everyone else tries to match."
Calipari said there would be no reason to not think UK would return to national prominence. He noted the facilities, style of play, recruiting and the college experience as sources of pride. "When people look at what we do, we want them to say, 'That's the standard by which all others will be judged.'"
"We're not there right now. The brand has been tarnished a little bit. But we can get there," Calipari told Dick Gabriel.
Calipari has said he likely will make Kentucky his last stop, before calling it a career. But he added this nugget:
"My goal before I retire from this game is to coach an undefeated team. Part of it is, people say you can't do it. A lot of people said 'You can't be the coach at Kentucky,' and they knew it was my dream. I'm going to dream big dreams and have fun."
It says here UK fans are about to enjoy the ride.
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.