John Calipari’s is one of 11 new members being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night in Springfield. Calipari began the day of his enshrinement 30 minutes up the road at UMass, where his head coaching career began 27 years ago.
On Friday morning, the university hosted Calipari for an honorary breakfast, celebrating the coach’s achievements. Calipari made a gesture of his own, providing a recruiting pitch on behalf of his old school after taking a tour of the basketball team’s brand-new practice facilities.
Even after Calipari left UMass in 1996 to take over the New Jersey Nets, he remained connected to the school. Both of his daughters attended UMass, and the team’s current head coach, Derek Kellogg, was a former player and assistant coach.
UMass gave Calipari his first head coaching job in 1988. He started out roaming the sidelines of Curry Hicks Cage, the 4,000-seat arena that opened in 1931. The university opened its current home, the Mullins Center, in 1993. It served as the only construction Calipari witnessed in his time in Amherst.
“There was one new building in my eight years there, the Mullins Center,” Calipari said on Thursday at the Hall of Fame press conference. “Not a classroom building, not a dorm, nada. The Mullins Center. And it was a dogfight to get that thing built.
“Derek [Kellogg] just got a practice facility. I was in the cage with squirrels and birds when I was there. The lights would hum so loud you couldn’t hear the game.”
UMass will retire a jersey for Calipari during this upcoming season, which is the 20th anniversary of the Minutemen reaching the Final Four.