Skip to content

John Calipari: the charitable villain?

Nov 7, 2012, 7:27 PM EDT

Barack Obama, John Calipari

Earlier today, ESPN published a terrific feature on John Calipari and the Kentucky program breaking down precisely how Coach Cal has managed to build Kentucky into the nation’s preeminent college basketball program.

And it’s simple, really: marketing.

Coach Cal is a very good basketball coach, but when it comes to x’s-and-o’s, he’s not one of the nation’s elite. All things being equal, I’d say there are probably ten coaches — maybe more — who I’d take to coach my team in a one game playoff before Cal. He’s an excellent recruiter and always has been, but he’s never been able to recruit at this level before; with the possible exception of those UCLA teams in the 1970’s, no one has.

What’s gotten him to this level is his ability to promote his program and the way that he does things at Kentucky. And there’s no better example than the one that King provided in the lead of his story:

Two days before his team’s first official practice of the season, the most polarizing — and, lately, most successful — figure in college basketball has the sudden urge to chase down Charlie Sheen.

John Calipari had spotted the Hollywood actor a few minutes earlier during a Cincinnati Reds playoff game, when both celebs were in the same suite.

[…]

With a Bloody Mary in his left hand and a Marlboro Red clamped between his fingers, Sheen places his right arm around Calipari, who’s dressed in a suit. Both men smile as a bystander snaps a picture with the coach’s cell phone. Hours later, in his office back in Lexington, Calipari is still giddy about the encounter — but not for the reasons you’d expect.

Calipari calls up the photo and then hands his phone to associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy, who manages his social media accounts.

“We’ve got to get this picture out on Twitter,” Calipari says. “It’ll generate some talk, don’t you think? How many followers does Charlie Sheen have?”

Peevy informs Calipari that more than 8 million people track Sheen on the popular site. The coach reclines in his black leather chair and grins.

“Tweet it,” he says.

That’s all it takes.

Cal has made himself more than simply a basketball coach. He’s a celebrity. He rubs elbows with the biggest names in basketball and the biggest names in hip-hop. He thrives on the attention, and there is no program in the country where he’ll receive more attention than at Kentucky. Why do you think he gave ESPN unlimited access to his program, not only for this story, but for the ‘All-Access: Kentucky’ TV show that aired. He knew what kind of attention that would bring his program, and he knew that ESPN would eat it up because of the number of eye balls that would be on TV screens when the shows aired.

It’s made him one of the most polarizing coaches in the country. Some people hate him. Others deify him. Me? I love the way he runs his program, but I also realize that everything that comes out of his mouth — especially when their are tape recorders rolling — is spoken for a reason. Everything has spin. Every interview he grants, he grants for a reason. He goes into every press conference with a game-plan.

But the most important thing to note with Coach Cal is that regardless of how you feel about him, he does use his influence in a way that benefits more people than just the prospects who will likely be making millions of NBA dollars regardless of where they go to school.

Take, for example, the Hoops for Haiti telethon he hosted back in 2010 that raised more than $1 million for earthquake victims. Or the $75,000 he raised for Kentucky’s Children Hospital by simply tweeting out a code to give when ordering a Papa John’s pizza. Or the telethon that he’s hosting on Wednesday night to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you want to call John Calipari a glorified used car salesman, I probably wouldn’t disagree with you. If you wanted to say that the real purpose of the charitable ventures was to build up public support if he’s ever caught “cheating”, I’d call you a cynic, but probably not that far off.

But at the end of the day, regardless of the reasons behind it, Cal is raising a ton of money for people that are in need of the donations.

And that’s a point that simply cannot be glossed over.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Former Bradley guard to complete eligibility at Rutgers

    May 22, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    Darius Carter, Zach Brown, Omari Grier AP

    The Rutgers perimeter rotation may be crowded, but there’s plenty of room for contributions as the team won just ten games last season.

  2. North Carolina announces receipt of Notice of Allegations from NCAA

    May 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    UNC now has 90 days to craft a response to the NCAA’s allegations.

  3. Four-star 2016 power forward commits to UConn

    May 22, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    This isn’t the only addition UConn hopes to make to the 2016 class in the very near future.

  4. Duke, Louisville and Kansas among Kentucky’s non-conference opponents

    May 22, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Wildcats will also take on Arizona State, UCLA and Ohio State in non-conference play.

  5. VCU hopes to regain year of eligibility for junior college transfer

    May 22, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwi3otuyzgqyymy0yzdhm2mzntk2mzg5zmrlnzczm2vm AP

    Mohamed and Bakersfield big man Aly Ahmed argued in 2013 that bad advice led to them being ruled ineligible that season at Houston and Bakersfield, respectively.

  6. 6-foot-10 power forward becomes Virginia’s fourth 2016 commitment

    May 21, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The slender forward joins Sacha Killeya-Jones, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy in Virginia’s 2016 haul.

  7. Power forward becomes Texas Tech’s fourth 2015 commitment

    May 21, 2015, 9:35 PM EDT

    2014 Adidas Nations Getty Images

    Davis joins grassroots teammate C.J. Williamson Jr. in Texas Tech’s 2015 recruiting haul.

  8. North Carolina’s Roy Williams discusses impact of NCAA investigation on recruiting

    May 21, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    UNC fell short in the race for Brandon Ingram, and the investigation was a big reason why.

  9. Matchups for Basketball Hall of Fame Classic announced

    May 21, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    John Calipari will coach against former assistant Orlando Antigua November 27 in Miami.

  10. Georgia Tech lands second graduate student in former UALR forward

    May 21, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The Jonesboro, Georgia native averaged 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a redshirt junior at UALR.

  11. Sports book lists Maryland as early favorite to win national title

    May 21, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Last spring Mark Turgeon was seen by some as being on the “hot seat.” This spring, one sports book believes he’s got the early favorite to win the national title in 2016.

  12. John Calipari is selling his program when he says national title isn’t a goal

    May 21, 2015, 2:09 PM EDT

    150521calipari Getty Images

    Cal is always selling his program, and his latest viral quote is no different.

  13. Ben Howland lands commitment from four-star forward from Kentucky

    May 21, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Holman was expected to spend 2015-16 at a prep school.

  14. LSU’s ’25 is coming’ campaign doesn’t try to hide that they’re monetizing Ben Simmons

    May 21, 2015, 10:34 AM EDT

    Ben Simmons (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) Ben Simmons (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    But this overt display of ‘amateurism’ may actually be good for the fight for student-athlete rights.

  15. St. John’s lands 2015 point guard Marcus LoVett Jr.

    May 21, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    The Red Storm are now up to seven newcomers with this addition.

  16. Iowa State AD urges fans to remain calm over Fred Hoiberg possibilities

    May 20, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT

    AP AP

    While Chicago has been discussed for quite some time as a franchise that may approach “The Mayor,” they still have a head coach in Tom Thibodeau.

  17. Wake Forest reinstates suspended guard

    May 20, 2015, 7:55 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Jones was suspended two weeks after the team’s season came to an end.