By ERIC LINDSEY, UK Athletics
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Underscored by more victories than any other coach or program over the last 10 seasons, more Final Four appearances, a record number of NBA Draft picks, and the 2012 national championship, John Calipari was named the College Basketball Coach of the Decade by Sporting News on Monday.
In a piece penned by national writer Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News credits Calipari for changing the college basketball landscape. Detailing Calipari’s success – what DeCourcy described as a “college basketball revolution” – DeCourcy wrote that “no one defined the 2010s in the same way as Calipari … nor achieved the same degree of consistent success.”
In an era where players can enter the NBA Draft at 19 years of age, Calipari has masterfully balanced the priority of players’ long-term professional dreams with individual and team development, leading to on-court success that no other program has matched over the last decade.
“I knew we were going to make the program — and I said it at the press conference — it was going to be a players-first program,” Calipari told Sporting News. “We were going to make decisions based on them and their needs. And it’s not just about the name on the front. It’ll be about the name on the back. That’s how we’re going to do this.”
The distinction by Sporting News is hard to argue. One only needs to look at the numbers.
Now in his 11th season in 2019-20, Calipari owns more wins, more NCAA Tournament victories, more Final Four appearances, more Elite Eight berths and more Sweet 16 showings than any other coach since arriving at Kentucky.
With a 313-74 record at UK through last week’s game vs. Ohio State, he trails only the Baron of the Bluegrass, Adolph Rupp, in total wins as the head coach of the Wildcats. His winning percentage of .809 at Kentucky is only fractions behind Rupp’s pace through his first 387 games at UK, and he surpassed Rupp during the Wildcats’ 2019 Elite Eight run for the most NCAA Tournament victories (31) as Kentucky’s head coach. When he reached the 300-win mark at UK last season, he became the fourth-fastest coach to 300 wins at one program in NCAA history.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer (first ballot) led Kentucky to a national championship and four Final Fours (2011, ‘12, ‘14 and ‘15) in a five-season span, just the third coach (John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski) in the history of college basketball to accomplish such a feat.
In addition to UK’s total wins under Calipari and its NCAA Tournament success, Calipari’s Kentucky teams have captured five regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and six SEC Tournament titles since 2010. They’ve won 30 games in five of the 10 seasons.
Keeping his promise from his introductory press conference to recruit the best of the best, all 11 of Calipari’s recruiting classes at Kentucky have ranked in the top three of the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which tallies major recruiting rankings and plugs them into a formula to calculate a consensus ranking. The 2020 class, which is still in the works, is already being heralded as the top haul in the country and should keep the top-three streak alive.
For his career, Calipari owns a 758-214 on-court record with six Final Four appearances heading into next week’s game vs. Louisville. When he reached career win No. 300, he became the fourth-fastest coach to get there, behind only Rupp, Jerry Tarkanian and Roy Williams. He’s one of only two coaches (Rick Pitino) to lead three different schools to a Final Four and he’s the only coach in NCAA Division I history with at least 189 victories at three different schools.
The three-time Naismith National Coach of the Year has led his teams at UK, Memphis and UMass to a combined 30 combined regular-season and tournament championships, which trails only Rupp (41) and Gonzaga’s Mark Few (33). Calipari’s 25 straight seasons with 20 or more on-court wins is the longest active streak in the nation. Only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (15) and Roy Williams (12) – with longer careers – have more 30-win seasons than Calipari (11), and he was the first coach in NCAA Division I history to record five straight on-court 30-win seasons when he did so in consecutive seasons from 2005-06 to 2009-10.
As someone who prides himself on helping young men reach their dreams, Calipari has helped 49 players earn selection in the NBA Draft during his college coaching career, including 38 in his first 10 drafts at Kentucky. The 38 picks over that 10-season span is more than any other school or coach.
Overall, he’s churned out 38 NBA draft picks, 29 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall selections, 13 top-10 picks and 21 lottery selections at Kentucky. Since the 2008 draft, 43 of Coach Cal’s players have been taken in the NBA Draft, including 31 first-rounders. Calipari has produced a top-10 pick in 12 straight drafts. No other school has had a first-rounder in each of the last 12 drafts. Included in Calipari’s NBA success are four No. 1 overall picks (Derrick Rose, Karl-Anthony Towns, John Wall and Anthony Davis). No other coach has had more than two No. 1 picks.
Calipari’s teams routinely post solid marks in the classroom. In 2019, Kentucky earned a perfect four-year composite APR score of 1,000 for the fourth consecutive season. It was also the sixth consecutive year in which UK earned a perfect one-year score of 1,000. Going back to 2007-08, the first year of the APR, all of Calipari’s teams have far surpassed the Division I average APR score.
All 20 players at UK who have been eligible to graduate by the end of their senior years have graduated, including four players (Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Polson, Alex Poythress and Brad Calipari) who earned their degree in just three years.
His foundation, The Calipari Foundation, has raised millions of dollars to help the lives of those in need in the Commonwealth and beyond. He has had a particular passion to assist those impacted by natural disasters. For instance, in 2010, he used a telethon to raise more than $1 million for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. He followed that up with telethons in 2012, raising $1 million for victims of Superstorm Sandy, and in 2017, for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Calipari launched his foundation in 2012, and since then the foundation has worked with several key partners and donated more than $1.5 million, a figure that does not include matching funds that have been contributed from individuals and corporations. In 2013, Calipari initiated hosting an annual alumni weekend around his basketball fantasy experience with the intent to raise money for charity. After generating $350,000 for selected organizations and charities during the inaugural game, the weekend has generated millions of dollars for charity since its inception.