Wednesday, September 9, 2015

John Calipari on Hall of Fame Induction: "I've been blessed my whole career"

Kentucky had coach John Calipari spoke to the media Tuesday about his upcoming induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame:



Here's a transcript of Calipari's comments:

On being in the same Hall of Fame as Celtics like Bill Russell and Red Auerbach …
“I was a basketball fan, and I liked the Celtics. I wouldn’t say I was a die-hard Celtics fan. But to have Tommy Heinsohn and Jo Jo White (be inducted in the same class). Jo Jo and I worked on the staff at Kansas together. He and I were together on that staff and when we were there he was probably in his mid-40s and was still ridiculously in shape and could still play. It’s kind of neat. With Louie (Dampier) the issue for Louie is he won’t get up there and he won’t say much. He really needs to because he’s such a fan-favorite. In the history of this program there may never have been a better shooter. As far as just unassuming, humble, deference to everybody else. I want him to enjoy this night because it’s well deserved for him.”

On how many people will accompany him this week …
“I’ll have a lot of people there based on my UMass days, and Memphis days, Pittsburgh friends, friends from here in Kentucky are coming up. There will be a lot of people there. See it’s different when you’re a player. Yeah your team mattered – it mattered, but none of that matters – you had to perform yourself and then your team had to do well and then you have an opportunity for this. As a coach it’s all based on everybody else. It’s based on the kind of staff you had. How about this? It’s based on the kind of jobs you had. You have guys that have been at the greatest jobs in the history of their whole career. Then you have other guys who have been at mid-major jobs toiling. Some started at Division II. So the job you had matters, which depends on other people offering you those jobs. Then the players that you coached so when you’re coaching there are just so many more people involved. You had to become an assistant coach, and someone had to give you a chance so that you could become a head coach so that you could maybe get a job like this. The journey is totally different and it’s more inclusive of more people than if you played.”

On if the current UK team will go to the ceremony …
“That would be the plan.”

On how much he has visited the Hall of Fame as a fan …
“Ellen and I, our first press conference when I was hired by UMass was at the Hall of Fame. That’s where they did it, but it was at the old Hall of Fame. I’ve been back a lot. The new Hall of Fame I’ve been into probably four, five or six times. It’s surreal based on the fact that I’ve been there when different people were inducted. Was in the whole setup, and then all of the sudden you turn around and it’s happening to me.”

On if he’s had a chance to reflect on being inducted in the months since the 2015 class was announced …
“I haven’t, but it’s funny, all my friends and some Hall of Famers who are friends say you don’t realize until you walk in there and you’re on that stage. Then it hits you like what just happened? I’ve worked on a speech more than I’ve ever worked on any speech ever. Not for the sake of the speech, for time. This isn’t just my night. There are 10 people there other than myself. So everything I’m doing every time I come in is how short can we make this yet hit what we need to hit. We have taken down a few trees trying to get this thing, believe me. Eric and Metz are laughing, but believe me I’ve changed it 6,000 times to just keep shortening. Let me put it this way: I don’t want to be that guy.”

On what he expects his emotions to be like as the ceremony goes on …
“A friend of mine called me today and said, ‘I know how you are with logistics. You’re worried about everybody else. You just need to step back and enjoy this.’ That was my call today. Right now all I’m worried about are logistics. Do all the people have rooms? Are they all set? Did we call them about the reception? If you’re in this profession, whether you’re coaching or playing, the greatest thing about this Hall of Fame is that it includes high school. It includes all genders. It includes the entire world – FIBA, high school, pro, college, and everything. That’s what makes this Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame different. It’s neat.”

On what he would have said years ago if someone had told him he was going to be in the Hall of Fame …
“Do you remember me when I was in Pittsburgh? Back then you were coaching and into what you were doing. You were day-to-day. You enjoyed it. To have the opportunity to be a college coach – I’ll say it again: my grandparents came through Ellis Island and didn’t speak English. My parents are high school graduates. I came from a loving and caring home of hard workers that grinded. ‘Dream. You can do better than this.’ That’s where I came from and to ever think, ‘Well some day I’ll be in the Hall of Fame,’ - no. I was stunned last year when they said I was a finalist because I didn’t even know how to be eligible. What did you have to do to get it? I don’t know. I never thought about it. Then, I had to ask, ‘What’s a finalist?’ I didn’t even know what that meant.”

On his introductory press conference comments about always being the underdog, but now being at UK …
“I’ve been at great schools. Kentucky changed everything for me. All coaches wait on that call from one of those schools. When I got the call, I looked and it became, ‘You’re on the biggest of stages now. You were always trying to build programs from scratch. You were trying to take programs and create relevance. You were trying to coach at places that never got their due or respect they deserved even though they were No. 1 in the country. They never did.’ Now you’re here at Kentucky and it all of the sudden becomes, ‘Can we be the gold standard? Can we be the school, program and athletic department that other places emulate? Could you do it in the classroom? Could you do it on the court? Could you do it in the community?’ That’s a difference at a place like this. I also come back to, just historically, you have to be on a path through one of these kinds of schools to be thought of as one of those guys, which I don’t see myself as one of those guys. My dad always told me growing up, ‘It’s okay to feel phony, just don’t be phony.’ Well I feel phony. I’m in the Hall of Fame. Come on. First ballot? I didn’t even know that was a big deal. Someone had to tell me. Other than going and saying, ‘I love that this guy’s in there,’ it’s a way of thanking those guys for what they did for this great game. It’s the ultimate pat on the back or thank you for players, coaches, contributors, and officials. Dick Bavetta is going in as an official. I think, I can’t believe this, but I think they give out awards for media. It’s disgusting, but I think they do.”

On what he would say to people that think he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame for various reasons …
“What would those reasons be? I’m not worried about those people. Those people aren’t the people that have helped us get to this point and where we are. I’m not worried about those people. They’re going to have a tough weekend.”

On his ascension from being a “scrapper” to now, and advice for young coaches …
“The biggest part of this is that you can really be focused on your players’ success and still be fine with your career. You can be totally focused on how you can help them reach their dreams and direct programs instead of trying to drag it. The crazy thing is that I have a lot of time to coach. Normally this stuff happens when you’re done coaching. You’re either retired or at the very last legs. It’s not going to change who I am, how we do things, or my approach to this. It’s something that we’ll deal with.”

On if the players are more excited about this than he Is …
“I would say a guy like Terrance Jones has called me five times to make sure what time everything is. A lot of those guys are coming back. A lot of the Memphis and UMass, a big contingent of the UMass kids. When you coach it is not what you’ve done, it is what, No. 1 has been done for you, such as the opportunities to coach at certain places, what a staff has done for you, and then thirdly, the No. 1 thing: you couldn’t really recruit the kids if you didn’t have a job and assistants help you do it, but it all falls back to how they perform for you and what did they do as players that leads you to this. To see all those people. There are widows of some of my mentors that will be there. People from my Pittsburgh days when I was in high school, my high school coach and his wife, my college coach and his wife, so for me it’s going to be more about us all getting together and saying ‘can you believe this?’ and that we all did this. This happened because we all did it.“

On his own children’s feelings towards his induction …
“We never talk about my own children. Yeah, they’re excited. I have a daughter, and if you want to say something about me publically you’ll have your own fist fight right there. She’ll do it publically. Twitter, Facebook, whatever you’d like. My middle daughter is a little bit the same. She’s not as bad as Erin. And Brad, he’s just here for the ride. He’s having a ball.”

On if he hadn’t been inducted at this point, if he would keep wondering if he would get the call saying he would be …
“I don’t know. That’s a good question, you’d have to go back and see who has gotten in and where they’ve coached. I will tell you that there are some unbelievable coaches at every level, Division II, Division III, lower level Division III that have done things and impacted the lives of others and had the same path, except the last call they never really got. I’ll tell you, I’ve been blessed my whole career. I had opportunities to leave Memphis to go to other jobs that maybe if I had taken this never would have been an opportunity for me. I have bumped into fate once or twice, chased it pretty hard, but I bumped into it, and like I said I have been blessed. I am just the face of all of this around me, of what’s happened. Here’s the issue, you’ve got eight to 10 minutes to speak. So you thank the Hall, you congratulate the other inductees, you’ve got other presenters. Do you just say your name or do you say something? You’ve got to say something. You have to talk about your wife, unless you don’t want to be married. You’ve got to talk about your children, because they’re there. My sisters are there, do you not mention them and their husbands? My in-laws, if you want to stay married you have to mention that they’re there. Then your high school coach, your college coach. Then you’re at six minutes. I mean, now you start trying to thank everyone and what happens? The music starts playing and you get the hook and you’re leaving people out. I’m telling you the hardest thing I’ve had to do is put together this speech. It has been torture to try to say what’s important and what’s not, how do we do this and who do I thank? The good news is that it has taken my mind off of everything else, to just think about how I make sure that I touch the people I need to touch, and how do I do it?”

On if he has practiced the speech out loud…
“What? Then when I change I tear stuff up and the next tree goes down. Yes, I have done it 50 times to try and get this thing into a time frame.”

On what is still out there to accomplish …
“The biggest thing is not what is out there for me just coaching to be able to coach and to coach at a place like this is honor enough for me. The question becomes can we continue to do what we have been doing for these kids? Fourteen graduated in six years, three of those graduated in three years. The things they’ve done in the community and all the other things, how they’ve connected on a level with no other program with the state the way they’ve done this. Then you say, in the next five, six, seven years how many guys can we really get in the league? And then how much money can all those players earn? How many lives can be changed and those families’ lives that can be changed? The honor is just coaching here. The question is just what we can do for these kids? And then if we can continue to do that on a high level for them? We are doing things that no program or only one or so programs have done in the history of our game. Now, what if we keep doing it for five or six years? There is no guarantee but the plan is how can we take this to another level? What is the next level of we are doing?”

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