Kentucky’s investment paying off
When Kentucky officials met with coach John Calipari two years ago to talk about the program’s vacant head coaching position, they came armed with a sales pitch.
Turns out, they didn’t need one.
Instead, it was Calipari who ended up doing the selling. When university President Lee Todd and athletic director Mitch Barnhart outlined their vision for returning the Wildcats to glory, Calipari cut them short and assured them he was the man for the job.
“He said, ’This is it: Notre Dame football and Kentucky basketball, and I want to be a part of Kentucky,”’ Todd said. “I knew then we had the right man.”
Standing in a giddy postgame locker room on Sunday night after Calipari led the Wildcats to their first Final Four since 1998, Todd believes now more than ever the school made the right call.
“The more I see him on a daily basis, and [the way] he coaches and teaches players, the more proud I am of the decision we made,” Todd said.
Even if it came at a steep cost — eight years and $31.65 million — and a bit of a gamble. Calipari’s resume is brilliant but also pockmarked with a couple of NCAA splotches that are hard to ignore.
Kentucky plays Connecticut Saturday in Houston. In Calipari’s previous visits to the Final Four, with Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, were later vacated by the NCAA for rule violations. Though Calipari was not found at fault in either instance, the stigma is something he bristles at.
And it’s something that follows him wherever he goes.
Even as Calipari celebrated with his players on the floor of the Prudential Center on Sunday evening, a fan stood 20 feet from the floor and taunted Calipari, repeatedly shouting “it will just be vacated.”