ATLANTA – Already one of just two coaches to win the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year three times, John Calipari is looking to become the first four-time winner of the award with the his inclusion on Monday’s semifinalists list.
Calipari is one of 11 coaches up for the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s top coaching honor. Calipari (1998, 2008, 2015) is tied with Duke’s Mike Kzryzewski (1989, 1992, 1999) for the most Naismith honors.
Four finalists will be announced on March 20, at which point fans can support their favorite coach by visiting NaismithTrophy.com/vote. Voting will take place March 22 through April 3 with the fan vote accounting for five percent of the overall final vote.
The winner will be awarded at the Naismith Awards Brunch during the Final Four in Minneapolis.
The Atlanta Tipoff Club’s national voting academy is comprised of leading journalists from around the country, current and former head coaches, former award winners and conference commissioners. The voting is based solely on the performances of the 2018-19 season.
Calipari’s work in 2018-19 has certainly been one of his finest.
With Calipari at the helm, Kentucky completed a 26-5 regular season Saturday and earned a No. 2 seed in the annual Southeastern Conference Tournament, just a game behind LSU for the SEC regular-season championship.
UK has positioned itself for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a No. 5 ranking in the NCAA Evaluation Tool, a 5-3 record vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams and a 10-4 mark vs. quadrant one teams, including five of those away from home.
Calipari has once again proved to be a master of blending talented but young pieces together in a short period of time. With just two significant returners from last season’s Sweet 16 team in PJ Washington and Nick Richards and one of the most inexperienced lineups in the country – KenPom.com rates UK 351st out of 353 teams in its experience rankings – the Wildcats have won 16 of their last 18 games and positioned themselves as national title contenders.
Washington has emerged as an All-American player, Kentucky’s freshman class has proven to be one of the best in the country, and UK overcame early-season adversity and a late-season injury to graduate transfer Reid Travis for Calipari’s sixth straight 25-win season.
Calipari has strung together 25 straight seasons of 20 or more on-court wins, the longest active streak in the country. Three of UK’s five losses this season have been by a combined five points, and UK’s strength of schedule ranks No. 16 in the country.
How has Calipari’s team done it? His career staple: defense.
After struggling to defend early in the season with new pieces, the Wildcats are once again one of the best defensive teams in the country. UK ranks No. 8 in the latest KenPom.com defensive efficiency rankings.
UK has been particularly good in the conference season on the defensive end, limiting opponents to just 62.6 points per game and 39.4 percent from the field. The Wildcats have held five league foes to their lowest point total at the time of the game.
This season has featured a couple of milestones for Calipari.
With an 80-53 victory vs. Auburn on Feb. 23, Calipari moved past Joe B. Hall for the second-most wins in program history. He trails only the legendary Adolph Rupp (876 wins) for the most wins at Kentucky and earned win No. 300 at Ole Miss on Tuesday.
When he reached win No. 300 at UK, he became the fourth-fastest coach in NCAA Division I history to 300 wins at the same school. Only Bill Self (358 games at Kansas), Claire Bee (359 games at Long Island) and Rupp (366 at UK) got there faster.
A “players-first” coach with a penchant for helping players reach their dreams, Calipari has guided six teams to the Final Four, led one to a national championship and helped 42 players earn selection in the NBA Draft during his now-27-year college coaching career.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer guided Kentucky to its eighth national championship and his first national title in 2012. In becoming only the second coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools to the Final Four, he has racked up more than 700 on-court victories, 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, six Final Fours and numerous national coach of the year honors.