Calipari says he’s staying at Kentucky
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart hears the reports that NBA teams are pursuing John Calipari.
He’s fine with it. In a way Barnhart views it as a compliment for the remarkable job Calipari has done reviving the Wildcats.
"I think that any time you’ve got a coach of his quality, there’s going to be conversations about that,” Barnhart said Thursday.
Yet Barnhart isn’t worried about Calipari bolting for the pros.
"I’m very confident he’s going to be our coach next year,” he said. "He’s made comments to me that he wants to be here a long time.”
Calipari went public with his reassurances Friday via his Twitter account.
"I will be coaching at Kentucky next year. Now let’s finish what we started!" his message read.
Calipari added that Kentucky is "the best job in the country" but that he couldn’t stop the speculation. He also said he was addressing the topic for the last time and repeated speculation linking him to the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.
Calipari led the Wildcats to a 35-3 record in his first year of an eight-year contract that averages just under $4 million annually.
Barnhart and Calipari are already in talks about a restructured deal that could have the 51-year-old Calipari on the Kentucky sidelines well into his 60s. Barnhart said the focus is on extending Calipari’s contract, not fattening up his salary, already the highest in the country.
"We just wanted to send a message that we’re doing OK and we’re heading in the right direction,” Barnhart said. "We wanted to send a message in recruiting that we’re committed to the long term and we’re committed to keeping John around here to allow us to have success in our program.”
There is no timetable on when a new deal could be reached.
"These things don’t happen at the speed of sound,” Barnhart said. "It takes a little time to work through it. There’s a lot of moving parts to those things. We want to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases the right way. We’ll get it together.”
The Bulls speculation can be tied to the coaches connection with guard Derrick Rose, who played for Calipari at Memphis. Calipari also raised eyebrows on Tuesday night by making an appearance in Cleveland, where good friend LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Calipari could not be reached for comment on Thursday. He was hosting a dinner party for a select group who contributed to the successful "Hoops for Haiti” telethon he spearheaded in January. The event raised over $1 million to help the earthquake ravaged Caribbean nation.
He said last week that he was "very happy at Kentucky” and not interested in a raise, though he was open to any ideas Barnhart may have on helping grow the program.
Barnhart declined to get into specifics about the restructuring the deal, saying only negotiations have been "cordial.”
For all his collegiate success, Calipari’s NBA resume is woeful by comparison. He went 72-112 in two-plus seasons with the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s and spent the 1999-2000 season as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He has stirred the echoes at Kentucky, embracing one of the nation’s toughest jobs in a way not seen since Rick Pitino’s teams were making it to Final Fours with regularity in the 1990s.
Calipari did it by bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in college basketball history. The Wildcats soared to the Southeastern Conference title behind the play of freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Yet Wall and Cousins are heading to the NBA after one season, as are classmates Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton and junior forward Patrick Patterson.
The rebuilding process has already begun. The Wildcats have signed guard Brandon Knight and Turkish center Enes Kanter. And while buzz around Calipari’s future builds, he’s already making plans for next season.
Kentucky is planning to play exhibition games in Canada over the summer to help the reconfigured roster gel before practice begins next fall.