John Calipari's biggest basketball hall of fame challenge is his speech
With his formal induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame looming, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted what might be the greatest challenge of his career: fitting all the thank-yous into an allotted six-minute speech.
"We've taken down a few trees trying to get this thing (right), believe me," he said Tuesday of the many revisions. "I've worked on a speech more than I've worked on any speech, ever. Not for the sake of the speech. For time. This isn't just my night."
One thank-you will go to the University of Kentucky.
Although the way he put Massachusetts on the basketball map in the 1990s was astounding, Calipari suggested becoming UK's coach made the Hall of Fame possible.
"Kentucky changed everything for me," he said. "All coaches wait for that call from one of those schools."
Calipari has made no secret of his desire to become UK coach in 2007. He has said he waited by the phone for a call that never came. UK hired Billy Gillispie. Of course, the call from Kentucky did come in 2009.
His basic approach changed, Calipari said.
"You were always trying to build programs from scratch," he said. "Then you were trying to take programs and create relevance. ... You were trying to coach at places that never got their due. Never got the respect they deserved even though they were No. 1 in country."
At Kentucky, the goal was to create a gold standard for college basketball "that others emulate," he said. "They try to do what we are doing."
Even for Kentucky, Calipari has brought a proud program to unprecedented heights: four Final Four appearances in the last five years.
"I bumped into fate once or twice," Calipari said of his coaching career. Then he added, "Chased it pretty hard."
Calipari will not be the only UK basketball figure being part of this year's class of inductees. Another is Louie Dampier, a member of UK's famed Rupp's Runts who was voted in by the Hall's American Basketball Association committee.
A former teammate with the Kentucky Colonels, Dan Issel, will serve as Dampier's presenter at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"The issue with Louis (is) ... he won't say much," Calipari said. "And he really needs to because he's such a fan favorite. In the history of this program, (there) may never have been a better shooter."
There will be three presenters for Calipari: Julius Erving, who played for UMass prior to Calipari's arrival; Larry Brown, who hired Calipari as a graduate assistant at Kansas, and former UK star Pat Riley.
Players on Kentucky's 2015-16 team are expected to attend the induction ceremony Friday night, he said. Calipari also noted how players from his earlier coaching days at UMass ("a big contingent"), Memphis and UK also are expected to attend.
So are Calipari's wife and children, plus his sisters, in-laws and his high school and college coaches.
"For me, it's going to be more about us all getting together and saying, 'Can you believe this? We all did this,'" Calipari said.
Calipari called induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame "the ultimate pat on the back (and) thank you" from the sport of basketball. More than once, he noted the surprise that came with being voted into the Hall of Fame.
"I don't see myself as one of those guys ... ," he said. "I feel phony. Like, 'I'm in the Hall of Fame? C'mon.'"
Calipari has been a polarizing figure in basketball. His teams at UMass and Memphis had to vacate Final Four appearances in 1996 and 2008, respectively.
When asked what he'd say to those who might question his Hall of Fame credentials, Calipari said, "I'm not worried about those people. ... Those people aren't the people who helped us get to where we are. ...
"Those people are going to have a tough weekend."
Calipari suggested the Hall of Fame induction serves as validation for a selfless approach to coaching he's dubbed as "players first." He gave his most recent book that title.
"The biggest part of this (is) you can be really focused on your players' success, and still be fine (and) not hurt your career," he said. "You can be totally focused on how do I help them reach their dreams."
This article was written by Jerry Tipton from The Lexington Herald-Leader and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.