When Kentucky and UCLA throw it up tomorrow night in the second South regional semifinal, John Calipari will be coaching his first game in FedExForum since March 14, 2009; his last home game as head coach at the University of Memphis.
The boos he heard while taking the court in Thursday afternoon’s open practice tell the story of how many Memphians feel about his return to the city, but for Calipari, Kentucky’s trip to his former workplace is a great time to catch up with people from his past.
“We met with friends last night. We had a reception, and a couple hundred people were there, and we got to really touch and feel and thank those people, and it was a special night,” Calipari said, when asked about his return to town. “Ellen and I loved our time here, and it was a special time. I say this over and over again. This is not the kind of place where one person can do something. You have to all be together, and this community and the administration, the school just all came behind all of us, and it was a terrific ride. We loved our time here.”
“I understand some people were upset that I left,” he continued. “I get that. I mean, and I accept that. It doesn’t bother me. I know last night we had a couple hundred people in that room, and close to tears, all of us, because we enjoyed the ride together. You know, it’s kind of special to be back. Been back many times, many, many times, but this is the first time coaching in this building since I left.”
There is one noticeable change to the arena since he was last here: the 2008 Final Four banner has been removed. He had already made the move to Lexington when the decision came down from the NCAA to have it pulled.
To that, Calipari said, “There’s nothing that can take away what that run was about for all of us, including the city. It was a special time. I mean, special kids. Antonio Anderson last night hit me, and Robert Dozier hit me, and I know Chris Douglas is — it’s unfortunate, but I’ll tell you what, that was a great run.”
It was a great run, and Cal will try to continue another great run Friday night as he looks to make it 16 straight wins in FedExForum. He lost only two home games in his last three seasons with the Tigers and road a 15-game home win streak until his time with Memphis came to an end.
Pick up where he left off Friday night?