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November 22, 2013

Notes: Calipari talks Knicks speculation, UK attendance

The New York Knicks don't have a job opening. John Calipari has a job.

And yet, even in November, the Kentucky coach is being linked to the NBA team. CBS Sports' Ken Berger wrote a column on Thursday suggesting that Calipari will be a candidate after the season if the struggling Knicks fire head coach Mike Woodson.

The speculation is frequent and natural, given that CAA, the agency that represents Calipari also represents New York star Carmelo Anthony and Knicks assistant general manager Allan Houston and director of player personnel Mark Warkentien, as Berger notes.

But the chatter is falling on deaf ears for the Wildcats' coach.

"I mean, I don't pay any attention to it," Calipari said Friday. "The job I have to do here, to develop these kids and get 'em right, is all-encompassing."

Calipari went 72-112 in two-plus seasons with the then-New Jersey Nets from 1996-99, making the playoffs in 1998. He's remained a much-discussed NBA job candidate, in large part because of his success developing young pro prospects during their stays at Kentucky. The program has produced 13 first-round NBA Draft picks since he took over.

Asked on Friday if he's interested in returning to the pro ranks at some point, Calipari said "I'm good where I am. I've said it publicly."

He talked about the "purpose" of his job at Kentucky, saying it's to prepare players "in all areas, not just on the basketball court, to prepare them for reaching their dreams."

Still, the Knicks enter the weekend at 3-8, and NBA speculation -- whether in New York or elsewhere -- is unlikely to end.

"My focus is here and I don't get into all that, rumors and innuendo," Calipari said. "And it won't be the last one that's out there, and I just don't deal with it."

Tepid Turnout
Kentucky plays Cleveland State on Monday, and it's likely that there will be some empty seats at Rupp Arena when the Wildcats take the court.

The upper-level student section has had large areas of open space for multiple games this season, and Tuesday's game against Texas Arlington -- with an announced attendance of 20,305 -- drew the smallest crowd to Rupp Arena in the Calipari's four-plus seasons.

Decreased attendance has been an issue at a number of programs this season, including at Michigan State, where coach Tom Izzo expressed disappointment in the fan turnout to see the No. 1-ranked Spartans play last week.

It's not a concern for Calipari.

"That's one great thing here: I don't need to market and I don't need to sell tickets," Calipari said. "I don't need to put up billboards. No, we'll be fine."

UK has led the nation in home attendance in 18 of the past 18 seasons. Over that span, the Cats have averaged 22,960 fans per home game. UK's average announced attendance during Calipari's tenure has been no lower than 23,099 per game.

But Calipari noted that all of Kentucky's games are televised, which leads some fans to skip attending in favor of watching from home.

"That has an impact, but that's everywhere," Calipari said. "I think the one program that has sustained that support is this program."

Speak Up
Calipari has emphasized defense in practice this week, including a practice on Thursday that point guard Dominique Hawkins said was almost entirely defense.

A key component to that defensive focus is communication. Calipari lamented after the UT Arlington game that his players don't talk to each other, and don't speak loudly enough when they do.

The added volume is an adjustment for Kentucky's young players.

"In high school, we did it," Hawkins said. "But it wasn't a big deal back in high school. Now it's a big deal because the fans -- you really can't hear nothing when you're out there on defense. You've got to holler (at the) top of your lungs just to hear what's going on, on defense."

Practice makes perfect, and that means forming hollering habits at the Craft Center in front of NBA scouts and practice guests and no one else.

"I do feel odd to do it in here because everybody's hearing you scream, and there's people watching you on the side," Hawkins said. "I guess they're OK with it, but it feels really awkward when you do it."

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