John Calipari has heard the complaints about Kentucky’s home schedule and even about his decision to not participate in the annual Maui Invitational in Hawaii. He just doesn’t agree with those complaints.
Following Kentucky’s victory over Mount St. Mary’s, Coach Calipari was asked about next week’s Maui Invitation basketball tournament, where several of the country’s top-tier teams are set to compete. Michigan State, Kansas, Virginia Tech, UCLA and Georgia, among others, are all scheduled to play on Nov. 25-27. Throughout that same week, the Wildcats will play Lamar and University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Calipari has had to defend his anti-Maui stance several times in the past, but he was extra defensive Friday night. Hawaii is simply too far, and the competition is simply too tough for his young team at this point in the season. Not just this year, but every year.
“I’ve got young guys,” he shrugged. “We schedule the way the kids benefit. I know fans want me to schedule for fans. I schedule for the kids. At the end of the day, we still have one of the best schedules in the country every year. Just can’t do it up front. You can’t.”
“We always have a young team. You can’t play five top-10 games in your first seven games… We [would] get totally rattled. Now, you’ve got a team of young guys that are 1-5. It would be okay here in Kentucky to be 1-5, wouldn’t have a problem. Everybody would be fine,” Calipari said sarcastically.
To be fair, Kentucky did lose to Evansville not that long ago. Sure, they beat then-No. 1 Michigan State just days before that, but isn’t that the point? It’s early in the season, and Calipari doesn’t want to risk his young team starting the season on consistently-sour notes. The Maui invitational would certainly chance that. The long plane flight and five-hour time difference doesn’t help either.
“It’s just a long way. I mean, we don’t need to play in it,” Calipari said of the Maui invitational. “We’re struggling against the teams we’re playing. You put us in that kind of event – traveling 12 hours – just not good for us.”
Kentucky’s head coach clearly has no regrets about avoiding the Hawaiian tournament. He also doesn’t regret the team’s home schedule, nor does he regret his message to season-ticket holders where he asked them to “get to those games, put those fannies in the seats and please be a part of this.” After the basketball game Friday night, Coach Cal reiterated that same sentiment.
“I don’t need to do it. But I want the fans to understand the part they play for these kids,” Calipari said. “When they walk in this arena, these fans are for them. Even when they’re struggle, it’s a big deal to help me build this team up. You help me.”
According to Calipari, selling the tickets isn’t the problem; filling the (chair-back) seats of Rupp Arena is the real issue.
“The tickets are sold. I mean, they’re sold. That’s not the issue. The issue around the country – not here – but around the country is getting students to games, then getting ticket holders to make sure someone is sitting in their seat. [It’s] not just a Kentucky issue – it’s everywhere. You think if it’s a little issue here, it’s a huge issue in other places.”
Still, Calipari wanted to emphasize his love for the BBN… and its family atmosphere.
“All I’m saying is we’ve got the greatest fans… Everybody wants to play here. There’s no liquor – people spitting on people, throwing things, cussing – that doesn’t happen here,” Calipari said. “This is an unbelievable crowd. We need them here building up our kids because it’s still going to take some time.”