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Centre College coach knows how “caring” John Calipari can be

John Calipari talked to Centre College coach Greg Mason after their 2018 exhibition game in Rupp Arena. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

While Kentucky and other Division I teams missed out on the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus, Division III Centre College did at least get to play even though it lost in the first round.

Centre College in Danville has also closed its campus for the remainder of the season like almost every other college but Division III plays its national tournament several weeks before Division I because of its shorter season.

“Centre is just a ghost town now,” Mason said. “Like everybody else I am just staying home and trying to stay safe.”

Mason and his assistant coaches normally would have been at the boys state tournament this week searching for future players. Instead, the Centre coaches are spending a lot more time on the phone recruiting than ever before.

“I am writing 25 to 50 recruiting letters a day,” Mason said. “I am calling three to five kids every night. We are just trying to adjust on the fly like everybody else. It’s a new age and new world. Everybody we are recruiting is very understanding but who knows what is going to happen with grades, test scores and financial aid forms.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions about everything but when bad things happen you just have to figure them out. We are strong her at Centre but I do worry about what impact this could have on a lot of colleges two or three years from now.”

Mason, like most of us, was looking forward to watching Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in what he expected to be on the “craziest” NCAA Tournaments ever.

“I think Kentucky could have been right there with anybody. Coach Cal does not get nervous. He gets even more confident and swaggy at tournament time and that carries over to his team,” Mason said. “In the NCAA generally somebody you are not expecting gets hot and makes plays. If Nate Sestina had gone 3-for-5 (from 3-point range) each game, Kentucky probably would have won the national title.”

Mason admits he’s a John Calipari fan and is a bit biased.

“Coach Cal is truly one of the great people you will ever meet,” Mason said. “He makes you feel really good about yourself. He’s been wonderful with my dad, who is 80 and going through a lot of health issues.”

Mason took his father to a UK practice in early December. His father has limited vision in his left eye.

“Coach Cal comes over to us and dad tells him about being blind in his left eye,” Mason said. “Coach Cal said, ‘Good for you because now you are only half as depressed as me after watching practice.’ My dad has not laughed a lot recently but he laughed at that. Cal is as caring for people as anyone can be.”

Centre played Kentucky in a preseason exhibition game in November of 2018. Mason would love another opportunity — and so would the numerous Centre fans who attended to bolster the crowd for the exhibition game.

“We are all about doing that but I know he likes to spread the love to other state schools,” Mason said. “But if they reach out to us, you bet we would play. It’s one of the best experiences of all time for Centre College playing there. Kentucky has a reason for doing what they do but we would love the opportunity again.”

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