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Sporting News names John Calipari Coach of the Decade

John Calipari (Jeff Houchin Photo)

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.

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  1. If Coach had been at Michigan State or Kansas, that would have been a nice 10 year run. He was hired here to win national titles and has only one ONE. All of the rest of what he did are of little significance since he left at least 3 national titles to other schools, two of which were scooped up by Duke.

    1. This sort of makes the three musketeers here on VV’s, i. e. Catmandoo, Mike, and the of late, the one and only Professor, look sort of silly now don’t it. This spells out the worth of John Calipari in terms that most any honest person would have to conclude is quite a record of achievement in the sport of college hoops. Great article of compelling truth that speaks volumes of Calipari’s coaching acumen, and his generous caring spirit for the needy. I for one hope this man stays at the University of Kentucky for long as he wants. Long after Catmandoo’s 2022 prediction.

      1. OND and Cal fatigue only continue to grow. Some of us realists get tired of the crushing and embarrassing defeats early in the season to Bottom 100 teams. We may show #19 now but you guys know that we are NOT a Top 20 team at time of this post, This week CBS bracketology had us outside Top 65..another one (NET) had us at 74. This is where we are now. My, how the mighty have fallen. Cal can’t recruit Beef and chases 5*’s that are athletic but very little else under the hood. We have trouble making shots, rebounding, passing, scoring at and defending at the rim, and finding any kind of offensive rhythm. No other coach out there recruits as much talent as Cal while getting the least productivity. Our brand now is “ALL SHOW & NO GO”

  2. You can tell by looking at and listening to Cal that he is truly LOST and has no answers for where we are at. Maybe this holiday will give the team and coaching staff time to get mentally ready to return and actually Fight & Finish rather than just talking about it. Go Cats and a victory over Pup’s Cardinals would be the start of a good 2020 turnaround!!

  3. Mike, another “Challenge” for you. If UK wins Sat, you go off VV’s for a year, now if your Cardinals win, I’ll go. Everybody knows your in love with that program anyway. You brag on them all the time. Let’s see, Calipari’s record against Louisville right now is off the charts, if I recall. I think Louisville is really your alma mater, right? Didn’t we establish that fact? As much as you pop off, it is hard to keep up with. Have you been able to get Satterfield’s autograph yet? Stoops is 1-0 against him too, just as a reminder. Hey Catmandoo, 45-13 to you little man, OH YOU REMEMBER THAT ONE! The three “STOOGES” of VV’s….. (now who would that be?) the “bashers” of John Calipari on this here site, got blistered by Lindsey’s article here, and are in denial of all these facts they seem to forget, or ignore. These facts are precisely why Calipari is in the HOF. Facts that help REAL UK fans maintain a favorable opinion of our head man through the good and the bad. And all in his 10 plus years on the job, that has earned him a “life time” contract from the University. I would say about 99% of the BBN with a brain left in their heads anyway. Now, Catmandoo is a fake, a fraud, he has proven that on this here site. When he speaks, nobody that really loves UK agrees with his views, save two, that I have read here anyway. Perhaps there are more, I doubt it. I have exposed him now. By the way, his hero, BD, well he only won 2 NC at Florida in 20 years at the helm. His last team at UF was a total disaster, that is fact. So, Cal is right on schedule if BD’s record is the standard. Cal was brought to UK to win NC, yes, that is the goal, but most importantly he was brought here to win, and he has been exceptional at that, and this season is not over yet. His recruiting, magical! Now, Mike, Oh I’m sorry, “Mr. Cardinal” keep up here, you could already be rid of me if you had taken the OSU challenge, but your cowardice was for all to see. Will it show up again? My man…. “Mr. Cardinal” Catmandoo’s sidekick, and the “Professor’s now too, here is another chance for you to show your true colors and pick against the mighty ” Kentucky Wildcats” playing at Rupp, here on VV’s, in the big rivalry game come Saturday, like you and Catmandoo did in the football game. Everything is in your favor. Louisville is a great team. I am prepared to go down singing On On UK win or lose. Should you prevail, Hornet, Cats79, and others, etc. to name a few will continue to bring sanity to this site. How about it, are you in weasel? By the way, I thought “weasels” were brown, not red.

  4. Hope you guys have a sincere Merry Christmas.
    You need some peace and good will

  5. Mike DeCourcy has long been a fan of John Calipari at UK. In addition, I am not sure who else deserves the recognition as coach of the 2010-2019 decade. It was a very successful decade, as cited by Larry in the article.

    I am pulled in each direction about Coach Calipari, and have written as much on these and other pages in the past, both distant and recent.

    On one hand, the pull is that Calipari is paid big bucks to keep UK in the top 4, or close enough to the top 4 to maintain reasonable hope that the team can break through that barrier in March. By that standard, he has not been getting the job done since 2015 and the fans have had to endure very unacceptable ball for about ½ of every season, and the program loses several ball games each of these seasons that at least put the all-time wins situation at jeopardy. He has already disposed of the consecutive game streak with at least 1 three point basket. He has now lost a game at Rupp to one of the bottom ½ teams, something that should never happen with any coach. Gillispie’s losses to VMI and Gardner Webb at Rupp probably contributed as much to his demise at UK as his personal issues. All coaches use coach-speak, but his form of coach speak has worn very thin.

    Then I feel the pull in the other direction.

    On the other hand, the pull is that UK has managed to overcome the primary inertia against remaining in the top 10 better than any other program during Calipari’s Era. By that Standard, it is clear that finding another coach that can improve upon Calipari’s 10 year record, without dissecting it into 3 and 4 year segments will be difficult, if possible at all. Actually, what prior 10 year period can match Calipari’s performance over a 10 year span? Rupp’s 1948-1958 (actually 11 years, but 1954 was no season) would be clearly superior.

    What about since 1958? For Rupp, almost any decade that does not contain 1948-1954 is less impressive than the 1948-1958 decade. In addition, I don’t think any Rupp decade since 1955 can measure stronger than the Calipari Decade. Almost any decade that contains the 1996-1998 sequence still would compare more favorably than the Calipari decade, especially given the probation situation that Pitino faced when he arrived. That is why I think the 1992-2001 decade is quite impressive, and perhaps slightly more impressive than Calipari’s decade due to 2 titles in 4 final fours. I don’t believe any decade you could build around Hall’s 1975-1978 sequence of teams can be a stronger decade than the Calipari Decade. The fact that Hall followed Rupp makes the 1975-1984 decade quite impressive with 1 championship and three final four appearances. The way 2 of the 3 final fours ended for Hall’s Cats remains disappointing, just as the way 3 of Calipari’s final fours ended poorly.

    I think the Big Blue Nation believes Rupp should have had more championships such as in 1954 and 1966, and 1970 was a missed opportunity too. Ditto with Hall, pointing to 1975 and 1984, and arguments continue about the 1977 group. Ditto with Pitino, 1997 and arguably 1992. Ditto with Calipari in 20011, 2014, 2015 and arguably 2010. This is why I don’t place must weight on this particular argument when directed at the current coach, regardless of who that coach may be.

    So I would rank 10 year windows as follows:

    #1 Rupp 1948-1958 (4 titles, and 1954 would have been a 5th)
    #2 Pitino 1992-2001 (2 titles in 4 final fours)
    #3 Calipari 2010-2019 (1 title in 4 final fours)
    #4 Hall 1975-1984 (1 title in 3 final fours)

    It is not without note that these decades produced the 8 titles. It is also interesting that between the end of Rupp’s Decade to the start of the Hall Decade, 16 years passed. Between the end of the Hall Decade to the beginning of the Pitino Decade, 8 years passed. Between the end of the Pitino Decade to the start of the Calipari Decade, 8 years passed. That is 32 years in basketball purgatory in three segments. It happens to all programs.

    As a student, I was opposed to those who were very critical of Coach Rupp’s ability in the 1960s without accounting for his record in the 1940s and 1950s. I believed Coach Rupp should be in that seat for as long as he wanted. As much as I do not like the OAD Players First philosophy, I have the same view about Calipari,. He should be in that seat for as long as he wants.

    One last point, one that I have also made here many times. I have observed that the Big Blue Nation grows impatient with coaches when the coaches do not deliver championships. The impatience seems to set in about 5 to 6 years after a championship. For Hall, that was the early to mid 1980s, for Rupp it was the mid 1960s. For Tubby Smith, it was the early to mid 2000’s, and for Calipari it is just now setting in given the performance of teams since 2015. I believe Calipari has 1 or 2 more seasons to deliver another championship, or the Big Blue Nation will become increasingly loud about a change at the top.

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