Folks in the Commonwealth might be sweating a bit this morning. Beloved basketball coach John Calipari has been quoted in two separate interviews as saying he returned to Lexington and bypassed opportunities in the NBA this offseason "solely" out of loyalty to his players, specifically four kids who could've turned pro themselves.
“'Four kids said they need us and me to help them get more prepared for the rest of their lives,' Calipari said Monday. 'If I came back after the date and left … tough move. If it was your son, how would you feel? ‘That rat, we could have left, why didn’t he tell us?’"
Calipari said that was the reason he declined the NBA jobs. 'Solely,' as he put it."
"'We had a five-minute meeting which ended up being a two-minute meeting and then that day they said they were coming back. So I had all 12 guys in my office and I said, 'Did you come back for me or this program?' They all laughed, because their choice to come back had nothing to do with me or the state of Kentucky. It had to do with me getting them more prepared. So now you have four kids who said they need us and me to prepare them for the rest of their lives. If I came back after that and left, it's a tough move. That was solely the reason. Now people are saying that I'll never leave here. You know what, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll be in this position every year. I'll be happy as hell if that happens, because that means my team comes back. And then when you have guys say that I'm going to leave, my thing is, 'If you were offered X amount of dollars, would you leave?' And I stayed.'"
"Maybe" he won't leave Lexington? Oh, that'll have a few UK fans' reaching for the Pepto.
Calipari is a master of the media. Most of what he says is aimed at recruits. By saying he turned down millions out of loyalty to his players, Coach Cal is letting all those 17-year-olds across America know, "I'd be loyal to you, too." He also knows how to keep his value high. By occasionally hinting that there are other opportunities out there, Calipari a) reminds fans not to gripe too much (as they did through much of last season) and b) reminds AD Mitch Barnhart that his contract will always be a work in progress.
The reality is that Calipari would be mad to leave Kentucky and Rupp Arena. The program is rolling with such ease at this point that he can place his name beside the game's all-time great coaches if he sticks around for another decade. In fact, DeCourcy went on to write that Calipari followed up his "solely" remark with "several more reasons why he stayed."
Calipari is a hot commodity who knows how to play the media game as well as the basketball game. Periodically, Wildcat fans will simply have to put up with subtle reminders from their coach that he could jet if he wanted to. Alabama's Nick Saban did the same thing this offseason when he and his agent went deathly silent for a week as Texas rumors swirled.
When you're the top guy in your field, from time to time you can afford to remind fickle fans of that fact.