John Calipari’s latest podcast guest is former NFL great Jason Taylor, a regular participant in Cal’s annual fantasy camp. Like Calipari, Taylor hails from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, and the two spend some time chatting about his career and what advice Taylor, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, would give to aspiring professional athletes. That’s all fine and good, but the most interesting part to me came about ten minutes in when Calipari, who is famous for not holding his players back from going pro, described how difficult it can be to see kids who aren’t ready to make the leap to the next level leave.
“I feel a sense of responsibility that this young man make it,” Cal said. “That’s why when kids leave me earlier than they should, sometimes it breaks my heart because I know they needed more time. You shouldn’t go yet, but I’m not going to hold you back because it’s your decision and your life has to be your life but I’ve had my heart broken — not that I’m mad — I just know it’s going to be a hard road and that I cannot play a part of that road. I’m done now. And you’re going to be out there, son, by yourself, fighting those sharks.”
I can think of a handful of players Cal may be referring to here, from Dakari Johnson to Marquis Teague to maybe even Isaac Humphries. For a man with a reputation for pushing kids out of the door, it’s always interesting to me to hear Cal reflect on those he knows aren’t ready for the next level. Unlike some coaches, he still lets them go because, as he said, it’s not about him. It’s about them.