Vaught's Views: John Calipari says Kentucky "moves the needle" like no other in college basketball
Kentucky head coach John Calipari addresses the crowd Friday at Big Blue Madness. Calipari said Kentucky basketball doesn¿t just ¿move the needle. We are the needle¿ in college basketball. (Clay Jackson)
Brother — I mean coach — John Calipari delivered just the message the Big Blue faithful — and highly-touted recruits sitting on the front row of Rupp Arena — wanted to hear Friday night during Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness.
“We do more than move the needle. We are the needle. We are UK,” Calipari said during a passionate 10-minute talk to the 23,000-plus fans.
“Tonight we begin to write the next chapter. Tonight we fell the full Kentucky effect in full force as we once again redefine college basketball. Let’s try to create what was never before imaginable.”
To give fans a taste for what he hopes lies ahead, Kentucky hung a 2011 Final Four banner to a standing ovation before this season’s talented team took the court for the first time.
“If I was on this team, I would not get to play. They are that good,” former UK All-American Sam Bowie said.
He was joking. I think. But Kentucky should be good. Really good.
Some could call Calipari cocky for the way he promotes his team. Those at Rupp Arena would say that’s what they want from a Kentucky coach.
“What a great night to celebrate what makes the commonwealth’s team the best in the country,” Calipari said just to remind Louisville fans once again that he considers UK the best program in Kentucky.
On a night in which women’s coach Matthew Mitchell stole the individual spotlight with his Michael Jackson “Thriller” moonwalk that included a little John Wall dance as well as a taste of the “Dougie” he did in 2010, the night still belonged to Calipari selling his message about the Wildcats to the Kentucky fans and recruits.
He paraded Josh Harrellson, Tayshaun Prince, Jodie Meeks, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Nazr Mohammed, all former UK players now playing in the NBA, and later emphasized this was a “players-first program” that was about developing players on and off the court.
“I told you this would be a place where kids want to play, because this is a place where their dreams become reality,” Calipari said. “I told you we would recruit the best and brightest players from across the country and bring them to a program committed to a high academic standard of excellence and graduate our players.”
He threw out the great UK teams like Rupp’s Runts, the Fab Five, the Unforgettables and the Comeback Cats to energize fans. Just as a reminder to fans — and recruits — he talked about the 35 wins, No. 1 ranking, Elite Eight berth and becoming the first program to reach 2,000 wins two years ago, as well as last season’s Final Four run.
“In our second year we returned to the Final Four for the 14th time in our program’s illustrious history,” Calipari said.
He talked about breaking a “barrier” when UK had five players picked in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft. “That may never be done again, unless we do it here, of course,” he said.
He could, too, with this team, based on projections for sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and with freshmen Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer. Calipari still insists senior Darius Miller has first-round talent, too.
“We do more than recruit talent. We recruit character. We want good people,” the Kentucky evangelist said late in his Big Blue sermon. “Why have we recruited the No. 1 class in the country for three straight years? Because of results.”
The results this year should be good. Calipari has even more overall talent than he had on that first team, which produced five first-round draft picks. He has more proven experience in his system. He has more depth. He also has a team he calls “hungry and humble” that desperately wants to win UK’s eighth national title.
“This program isn’t for everyone. Being a Kentucky player isn’t easy. You are held to a higher standard on and off the court. You have to want this,” Calipari said.
But for those watching Big Blue Madness in Rupp Arena, they do want it. And it is obvious his players want it, too, based on all they have said.
Now the fun is over. Big Blue Madness is a production. The scrimmage was interesting, but nothing like what lies ahead for Calipari’s team.
However, he proclaimed two years ago at Big Blue Madness fans were watching the “rebirth of college basketball,” and after what he’s done for the last two seasons, maybe he’s right. Maybe this will be the year he gets to raise that national championship banner that he said brought him to Kentucky and now brings all these talented players to Kentucky, too.