Barack Obama, John Calipari

John Calipari: the charitable villain?


Earlier today, ESPN published a terrific feature on John Calipari and the Kentucky program breaking down precisely how Coach Cal has managed to build Kentucky into the nation’s preeminent college basketball program.

And it’s simple, really: marketing.

Coach Cal is a very good basketball coach, but when it comes to x’s-and-o’s, he’s not one of the nation’s elite. All things being equal, I’d say there are probably ten coaches — maybe more — who I’d take to coach my team in a one game playoff before Cal. He’s an excellent recruiter and always has been, but he’s never been able to recruit at this level before; with the possible exception of those UCLA teams in the 1970’s, no one has.

What’s gotten him to this level is his ability to promote his program and the way that he does things at Kentucky. And there’s no better example than the one that King provided in the lead of his story:

Two days before his team’s first official practice of the season, the most polarizing — and, lately, most successful — figure in college basketball has the sudden urge to chase down Charlie Sheen.

John Calipari had spotted the Hollywood actor a few minutes earlier during a Cincinnati Reds playoff game, when both celebs were in the same suite.


With a Bloody Mary in his left hand and a Marlboro Red clamped between his fingers, Sheen places his right arm around Calipari, who’s dressed in a suit. Both men smile as a bystander snaps a picture with the coach’s cell phone. Hours later, in his office back in Lexington, Calipari is still giddy about the encounter — but not for the reasons you’d expect.

Calipari calls up the photo and then hands his phone to associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy, who manages his social media accounts.

“We’ve got to get this picture out on Twitter,” Calipari says. “It’ll generate some talk, don’t you think? How many followers does Charlie Sheen have?”

Peevy informs Calipari that more than 8 million people track Sheen on the popular site. The coach reclines in his black leather chair and grins.

“Tweet it,” he says.

That’s all it takes.

Cal has made himself more than simply a basketball coach. He’s a celebrity. He rubs elbows with the biggest names in basketball and the biggest names in hip-hop. He thrives on the attention, and there is no program in the country where he’ll receive more attention than at Kentucky. Why do you think he gave ESPN unlimited access to his program, not only for this story, but for the ‘All-Access: Kentucky’ TV show that aired. He knew what kind of attention that would bring his program, and he knew that ESPN would eat it up because of the number of eye balls that would be on TV screens when the shows aired.

It’s made him one of the most polarizing coaches in the country. Some people hate him. Others deify him. Me? I love the way he runs his program, but I also realize that everything that comes out of his mouth — especially when their are tape recorders rolling — is spoken for a reason. Everything has spin. Every interview he grants, he grants for a reason. He goes into every press conference with a game-plan.

But the most important thing to note with Coach Cal is that regardless of how you feel about him, he does use his influence in a way that benefits more people than just the prospects who will likely be making millions of NBA dollars regardless of where they go to school.

Take, for example, the Hoops for Haiti telethon he hosted back in 2010 that raised more than $1 million for earthquake victims. Or the $75,000 he raised for Kentucky’s Children Hospital by simply tweeting out a code to give when ordering a Papa John’s pizza. Or the telethon that he’s hosting on Wednesday night to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you want to call John Calipari a glorified used car salesman, I probably wouldn’t disagree with you. If you wanted to say that the real purpose of the charitable ventures was to build up public support if he’s ever caught “cheating”, I’d call you a cynic, but probably not that far off.

But at the end of the day, regardless of the reasons behind it, Cal is raising a ton of money for people that are in need of the donations.

And that’s a point that simply cannot be glossed over.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

PHOTO: Baylor shows off new uniforms

Scott Drew
Associated Press
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Wednesday afternoon the Baylor basketball program sent out some images of its uniform combinations for the upcoming season, and the volt color way that first made a splash in 2012 is back. Baylor’s got four different uniforms it can wear this season: home (white), away (green) and two alternate uniforms.

While there is some volt green in each of the four uniforms, its presence is relatively tame compared to the uniforms Scott Drew’s program wore back in 2012. Of course those uniforms were part of adidas’ AdiZero uniform release (Baylor is now outfitted by Nike), with two other schools (Cincinnati and Louisville) wearing colorful uniforms with shorts that had “interesting” patterns on them.

While some of the new uniform designs in college sports have received some pushback from fans and alums, this stuff is about the players and recruits programs look to land for the future. Everyone likes free stuff, and when it comes to apparel for young athletes having something that’s both free and “exclusive” is seen as a positive.

Pressure is on new coach Steve Prohm at Iowa State

Steve Prohm
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AMES, Iowa (AP) Five months ago, Iowa State’s Steve Prohm was the coach at mid-major Murray State. Now he’s in charge of one of the big favorites in the Big 12.

Prohm officially began his first season in charge of the Cyclones on Tuesday with the team’s annual media day.

Iowa State has all the pieces to make a run at the league title and more – provided that Prohm can handle coaching college basketball at the highest level, of course.

In the minds of Prohm’s players, the Cyclones have nothing to worry about.

“Coach (Prohm) is in here earning our trust and our respect every day,” said senior forward Georges Niang. “Even though he’s not trying to cross any of our toes, he puts his foot down when he needs to and lets us know that stuff needs to get done. I think he has a great combination of how to keep us motivated…and still be stern and be able to get the most out of us.”

Fred Hoiberg’s departure for the Chicago Bulls after five mostly successful seasons gave Prohm a shot at a national title. The roster Hoiberg left behind for Prohm is loaded.

Niang, a likely preseason first-team All-American, second-team All-Big 12 point guard Monte Morris and league defensive player of the year Jameel McKay headline one of the nation’s most talented starting units. Throw in veterans like Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and transfer Deonte Burton, and Prohm might just have the best roster a new Power Five coach has inherited since Bill Guthridge took over for Dean Smith at North Carolina in 1997.

Guthridge reached the Final Four with his first team.

Prohm isn’t shying away from the notion that Iowa State is among the handful of teams with serious national title aspirations.

“Yeah, they’re realistic,” Prohm said when asked about the sky-high expectations for this year’s team. “I think we have the opportunity to have a very special season.”

The similarities between what type of styles Prohm and Hoiberg use was cited as a big reason why Iowa State hired him. Hoiberg even lobbied for Prohm to athletic director Jamie Pollard during the hiring process.

To that end, Prohm is going to let his players have a ton of input on how they play. Prohm doesn’t plan many changes, just tweaks that mostly involve techniques to improve Iowa State’s somewhat inconsistent rebounding and defense.

“I don’t need to say, `This is the way we’re doing things guys because this is the way I did it.’ That’s stupid,” Prohm said. “I need to meet these guys halfway.”

Prohm also acknowledged that he’ll be doing quite a bit of learning himself this season. But Prohm said he intends to embrace the unique opportunity he’s been afforded.

“This is a great situation to walk into. No question,” Prohm said. “Is there pressure? Yeah. But who wants a job with no pressure?”