By Jamie H. Vaught
John Calipari covered nearly everything during his 45-minute news conference at UK's annual basketball Media Day festivities last Thursday afternoon. And he was in a pretty good humor.
The 55-year-old coach, who is beginning his sixth year at Kentucky, discussed many topics, including his health, UK’s No. 1 preseason ranking, his 12 starter-caliber players, leadership, and autograph scandals in college football.
Last season, when the Cats roared to the national championship game and finished with a 29-11 mark, Calipari often didn't sleep well. He was suffering a lot of pain with his hip arthritis and taking medications. He looked tired.
But not this time as he looks refreshed after undergoing a right hip replacement surgery last May. It was his second hip operation after getting a left hip replacement 10 years earlier when he was the head coach at Memphis.
Calipari was asked how he was feeling physically.
"Very good. I just left the Rotary (Club of Lexington) and asked how many people had ever had their hip or knee replaced, and only three didn't raise their hand," he laughed. "I'm sleeping for the first time. I don't have to sleep two hours a night."
Calipari commented he doesn't really have any reaction to his squad being ranked preseason No. 1 in USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll for the second straight year.
"Looking back, I don't know where we've been ranked, but that's fine. I mean there are probably five, six or seven teams that all could have been No. 1 in the country. At the end of the day, you've got to play games and figure it out. It's good. It's something for our kids to live up to, but really it has no bearing on what we're about to try to undertake (the new platoon system, using two five-player units to begin the season)."
Following UK in the preseason poll are No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 5 Kansas.
Unlike the past when Calipari has traditionally used a six- or seven-man playing rotation, he is now trying a new, unconventional system to see if it will work because his team has tons of All-American talent.
Said Calipari, "Let me just say this about the two platooning and this is not my political affiliation, but this isn't communism. So if one group deserves to play a little bit more, they will. We're going to figure that out as we go.
“If I was worried about me, we'd play seven guys. But right now all I know I'm trying to make sure that I'm taking care of every one of these kids. This is the best solution that I could come up with, and I racked my brain how do I do this and make sure none of these kids are left behind? That's what I'm doing. I'm on a mission to make this work for each of these kids.
"I'll say it again the easiest way. It's not communism. We want greatness. We want those guys to strive for greatness. I couldn't think any other way of doing it other than let's do it."
Kentucky coach also added that he would probably put together a team of five good foul shooters at the end of the game if the opponent is fouling.
Calipari anticipates there will be several players who can lead the 2014-15 team.
"You guys that follow me know I try to empower my team and make it their team, not mine," said Calipari. "The other side of it is I'm trying to teach all of these kids what it means to lead, and what it means to serve. So every player that leaves this program, if he's ever in a leadership position, has something to draw back on.
"Now, does that mean I'll have 12 guys leading this team? No. Does that mean I only want one leading this team? I absolutely don't want one. What if he struggles?
"You want to have probably four different guys that can drag this team at some point or another, and that will play out."
College football has seen some players embroiled in autograph scandals, including the recent one involving Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
"I don't sell my autographs," Calipari quipped when asked about the scandals.
And he jokingly added that he could sell his autographs. Then he got serious about the heightened awareness of this sticky issue in college athletics.
"Well, if you followed, there are things that go on other campuses that absolutely can't go on here (at Kentucky. Or) I'll be called in front of a congressional hearing, forget about NCAA. I'll be talking to John McCain about what happened.
"We're held to a different standard here and that's fine. If you want to drink, smoke, chase, do all that, you can't do it here. You just can't. If you choose to do that, don't come here. I tell every recruit the same thing. This is a different animal. What goes on over there can't go on here. It can't. We're at Kentucky.
"I'm not saying that they don't do stupid things. Great kids do stupid things. My children have done some of the stupidest (things). But at the end of the day, I think these kids understand here that there are things if that's there and no one will know. They know. There are no secrets in this program. There are no secrets in this athletic department."
Calipari and his Wildcats tip off their regular reason on Friday night, Nov. 14, when they face Grand Canyon at Rupp Arena.
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Switching to football, it's sure going to be very interesting to see how Mark Stoops' 5-2 Wildcats handle top-ranked Mississippi State this weekend after getting whipped by LSU 41-3 last Saturday night, their worst outing of the season.
Mark Stoops, obviously, was disappointed with UK's performance in the Death Valley.
"Anytime you lose, it’s a setback," Stoops told the reporters. "Nobody likes to lose that way. To be really ...physically handled is what sticks out to me. Along with our mistakes, we need to coach better. I take responsibility for that. We're going to correct it, and we'll move on. We can't let one game define us. We have to move forward."
Kentucky’s SEC showdown (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium will mark the 15th time in school history that UK will meet a No. 1 team in the country. The Wildcats are 3-11 in games with top-rated clubs, with the last victory taking place in 2007 when host UK stopped LSU in three overtimes.
A quick prediction: MSU by 14 (revised from last week's 17).
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of the growing KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.