On Wednesday, John Calipari spoke to the media at his basketball camp at Bardstown High School. There were only four reporters, and three were local guys talking about the Bardstown connections and how the visit related to the community. Without the regular media throng (and the Jerry Tipton “I will interrupt everyone to make sure my question gets asked” factor), it thus gave me a chance to ask questions to Calipari in the group about a few topics, most notably his reaction to the media witch hunt that has followed him since he arrived in Lexington. I found his answers very interesting and very telling about his general feelings on the issue. Rather than simply give soundbites, I have reproduced his answers in their entirety and I think you can learn a lot about how he feels, which seems similar to that of many fans. The exchange began with this:
Were you happy Tom Izzo decided to stay in college basketball?
“I am happy. Tom and I talked, But can you imagine if I did that? Could you imagine if I took two weeks? It would have been an absolute slam, a this guy is the worst. Tom went through the process and I am happy about his decision because he is a friend. But it just makes me laugh.”
Along those lines, do you think there is a double standard or that the media is out to get you personally?
“I hope not. I dont believe that and I dont know why they would be. But what does happen is that you start to see agendas and I dont know if its always been that way or what. But here is what I will tell you about coaching at Kentucky. Its like being in politics, our core fans in this state will love what we are doing. And if you sit in the seat I am, its great because they love you. The other side however is trying to unseat you by any means, be it innuendo or rumor. They say things like ‘where there is smoke there is fire.’ And the guy is standing on the side with a billow, pumping smoke in there. But I guess thats the way it is and you have to live with it if you are coaching at Kentucky. Your kids are going to get scrutiny that makes you say, ‘what is that about, thats nothing?’ Thats why I say, you cant be a 35 year old coach and take this job and go through what I have been going through. I have been fired once, I have had about every nasty thing written about any human being has been written about me. I cant even tell you what hasnt been written about me. But after a while you just deal. I am about our kids, our program, our state and that is really all I worry about. Everything else is just wasting time.”
On the fan criticism, does it ever frustrate you at all though? Do get immune to it?
“Thats the great thing about being at Kentucky. I dont have to say anything. There will be other places and fans that will write in and talk about it. My only thing in this is that I dont read it. I dont get on a computer, I dont read a newspaper, I dont listen to talk radio. My wife doesnt so I can live a normal life. You do the right things and you do right by your kids and you march on. All I can say is that I sleep good at night and so whoever wants to paint it however they want to paint it, I am the coach at Kentucky and there are a lot of people who seem unhappy that I am coaching here.”
I personally found these answers very interesting. It was clear that while Calipari is very comfortable in his own skin and with the way he manages the program, he recognizes that there is a media focus on the Kentucky job in general and him in particular. I found his notion of some having personal agendas and saying “where there is smoke, there is fire”, while all the time pumping in the smoke, very interesting and dead on. In the same vein that the Fordes, Thamels and locally, Bozichs, write about the “cloud of suspicion” on the program in their opinion pieces, they are at the very same time, adding to the flames by their talk and (in Forde’s case,) actions. I also found it interesting that he recognized that there are some who simply dont like the fact that he has the job…a truth that I can attest is certain after being at media events over the past year where such comments were made. Of all of Calipari’s comments on the topic that I have read, I found the ones today the most illuminating. They addressed the matter most directly, and contained jabs that seem aimed at a few media sources directly.
I will have more of Calipari’s comments on other topics (the Freshmen coming in, NBA Draft statuses of the five former Cats, the Canada trip, etc) tomorrow. Stay tuned and stay cool…..