Kentucky coach John Calipari says even though he was sure he understood the passion of UK¿fans when he came to Kentucky, he was wrong.
“That fan base, 99 percent of them that’s what they are into and they are about Kentucky. Then you have one percent and I don’t know what they are. If you try to lump that together, you lose site of what this is. This is the greatest fan base. Now did I understand to what level, no. Did not. But when I figured it out, it didn’t take me long,” Calipari said.
“When I¿did figure it out, I am like we need to connect with these people and it changes who we are and puts us on a page no one else can touch because of that fan base. Everything we do is to try and separate from the pack. Well, that is the first thing we did. We are connecting with these people. We are going to have an army of people with us and we are going to be transparent.”
He said the fans’ passion really hit home when he did a book signing tour not long after taking the job a little over three years ago.
“That book was written a year and a half, two years earlier. That toured show me like, ‘Oh my gosh. It doesn’t matter where I go in the state, these people are into this program and it means something to them.’ Then you do Midnight Madness and you have the grandmother, the granddaughter, the grandchild and the great grandchild and they are all under one tent,” Calipari said. “You start saying, ‘Wait a minute, this is a little bigger than I¿am thinking.’ That happened.
“They have been great at home games. Have we lost one yet (UK¿is unbeaten under Calipari at home)? I am anxious to find out when you spill one, how are they then?”
He says he learned to cherish being the “keeper of the tradition” at UK.
“Whoever is in this seat, you are the keeper of this tradition as much as anything else you do. So if you come in and think I am just going to watch tape and coach my team, you cheat the position,” Calipari said. “if you ever try to eliminate the past it is because you want the program to start with you. Like it was going to be all about you.
“The second point of it is you have a chance to move people for the good or bad by how you act or things you do, or you can sit in the office and watch tape. If you are not going to cheat the position, you better be the keeper of tradition and keep people around that can connect the dots and bring everybody back in and be a gatherer.”