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John Calipari reflects on growing up with 3 TV channels, no call-waiting, differences in motivating players

John Calipari. (Vicky Graff Photo)


After his team’s win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday, Kentucky coach John Calipari was in one of his philosophical moods where he can sometimes go off on an unexpected challenge like he did when asked about Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda admitting some health issues caused him to change his perspective on coaching as he has got older.

“What happens as you age, you know, the reality of what this is kind of hits you. Early on, you’re trying to survive. Like I had no basement to go back to. Like, there wasn’t like, ‘OK dad, I’ve got to go work for you. No,'” Calipari said.

“So early in your career, you’re in a dogfight. Everything is a struggle. Everything is a fight to survive. You hit a certain point and then you realize – like when I get together with the UMASS guys, like, I apologize. I know what I was like. I can’t believe you could play for me, and not only that, you fought for me and won. And they say I’m soft (now). So when they see me coach in practice now, they say, ‘You got soft.'”

Calipari said times have changed so much from his childhood days until now and players face entirely different challenges.

“This social media and all the other stuff that they read, when we grew up  there were three channels: ABC, NBC, CBS. There wasn’t 195, I’ll watch whatever I want,” Calipari said. “There wasn’t call-waiting. The phone rang 6,000 times. If the guy didn’t hang up the phone, I mean, it just kept ringing and ringing and ringing, and you’re like, does this guy understand I’m not picking up this phone?

“And he just kept calling, 78 — I’m counting them now — it’s 89, 90, 91. He finally hung up the phone. I’m like, are you kidding me? I want to pick up the phone. Who would dial a phone 90 straight times? But I didn’t. Now these kids, in any part of the world can get a hold of them and tell them whatever they want to hear. It’s different how you — like these kids need me in a different way than kids in the past.

“And they need more individual meetings. They need to know, yes, I do love you, even though I’m hard on you. They need to know stuff that. I had kids, we were just talking about Bruce, my brother. He said, ‘Cal, you used to get on guys at UMASS and they wanted to prove you wrong.’

“’You think that? Yeah? Watch this.’ I had one guy, I can’t remember exactly what I called him — I do remember — but he started making baskets and he got 30 in the second half at Rhode Island. And Jimmy McCoy, every basket he made, he looked at me, ‘How about that?’ And I didn’t say anything because we ended up beating him by a hundred because he got 30 in the second half. But even that case, I didn’t go back and smooth that over, and it bubbled for too long. I should have gone right away. I learned that lesson.

“But now if I do that same thing to some of these kids, they are more fragile. There’s so much stuff coming at them that you’ve got to deal with it different. I’m still holding them accountable. And I told them after the game, ‘What’s the best version of you look like? And it can’t be in just one area. It’s got to be. This is what you need to do.’”

Calipari believes his players know he cares about them and while he knows he’s paid to win and expected to win, he cares about players’ growth.

“I’ve changed because I don’t have the energy. Like, you won’t believe this, I’ve got to get sleep. I’ve got to sleep before where I could go and go. Now, at (age) 48, when you start getting older like this, you’ve got to get more rest,” Calipari joked.

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