By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — John Calipari’s name has surfaced yet again as a potential candidate for the head coaching job with the New York Knicks. If the past is any indication, the Kentucky coach won’t walk away easily or at all.
However, Calipari is a longtime friend of Leon Rose, who was recently hired as the Knicks’ team president. Rose’s first priority is hiring a coach and it’s highly likely Rose has Calipari atop his list of candidates. New York’s current general manager is former Eastern Kentucky University men’s basketball coach Scott Perry.
Calipari said the hiring of Rose wasn’t a surprise. Rose made a name for himself as one of the most influential player agents in the NBA for more than two decades. He has represented LeBron James, Chris Paul and former Kentucky standout Karl-Anthony Towns.
“He’s a gatherer and I believe that’s what the Knicks need right now,” Calipari said in late March. “(He is) a gatherer who can bring things together and get a culture that players want to be in because they know this is about all of us.”
Despite Rose’s success as an agent, Calipari said his friend hasn’t changed amid his popularity.
“Someone wrote a story that they talked to his high school coach,” Calipari said. “They talked to people in his background. There’s a couple of things that you have to know. Leon is the same guy that he was in high school as he is today. He has the same friends, the same people he talks to. I’ve never – and that’s a hard business and you know that being in the agent business is rough (and) that’s a sport in itself – I’ve never heard anybody say negative things about him. Ever. If he even lost a player, which he lost some, never one word in a negative way about that player. Never one.”
Despite a storied history, the Knicks have missed the playoffs for the past seven seasons and hope to enjoy the same success Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed after hiring former NBA agents to oversee basketball operations for their respective teams.
Calipari has compiled a 330-77 record in 11 seasons at Kentucky and coached the New Jersey Nets for a short period in the 1990s. He compiled a 72-112 record from 1996-99 and guided New Jersey to the playoffs in 1998. Calipari said New York is a “rough place to be” when it comes to coaching.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s kind of like Philadelphia. It’s all good if you’re winning. If you’re losing, hard places to be as an athlete. But, if you win, if you compete for championships, if you win a championship, there’s no better place to do it than in New York. And I think (Rose is) going to bring those people together and you’re going to see.”
As Calipari knows, the NBA is an “unforgiving league” from top to bottom.
“If you make a mistake, personnel-wise, it’s hard, because people know your mistake and they’re not taking your mistake,” he said. “But you’re in New York. You’re playing in the Garden. You have what you need to do it. I believe he’s going to do a great job, but it’s not going to be in the first month. It may take a year or two for everyone to say, ‘This is the path that we’ve been waiting for. This is it.’”
Calipari shot down the idea of joining Rose last February but offered his support.
“I’d help him in any way I could, being a resource,” Calipari said. “You want to call and ask me about college players, my own players, I’m here. It just wouldn’t be to coach.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.