DESTIN, Fla. - Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari sat down with Cats Illustrated for an extended interview this week at the Southeastern Conference meetings.
Presented here is the fourth and final part of that interview. Some questions have been altered for clarity. Brief portions of the interview have been omitted.
Cats Illustrated: You said earlier that people said you were wrong about scheduling and that those people were wrong, but they were entitled to their opinion. Can you understand the way they feel about the Indiana thing, that Indiana's an emotional thing for some people?
Calipari: No, it's not emotional. It was emotional for Indiana's people because we were their only game. Well, it's not my job to put your schedule together. And again, playing in football stadiums - whether you agree or not; you're wrong if you don't agree - you have to agree that the NCAA Tournament is being played in football stadiums. And if you're one of the programs - maybe one of the only, or one of the very few - that can play in those kinds of arenas and do it in the regular season, why would you not do it? So if you can do it as you put your schedule together, you've got to play a game at home and a game on the road to prepare you for SEC play. Why would you not do the other? 'Because we have to keep this game going?' What? The whole season is to prepare to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Cats Illustrated: But can you understand people who have an emotional attachment to the game, who say, 'We've played Indiana for a long time, and we're going to miss playing Indiana?'
Calipari: Yeah. Sure. But I think when they read why we're doing it, because you keep them informed, the Indiana fans are the ones that are upset. Our fans are not. I mean, there may be a few, but when they look at the logic behind why you're doing it, our fans are (fine).
Cats Illustrated: North Carolina was just a matter of getting it off the road the same year that Louisville is. Is that game important? Did it mean something to keep it?
Calipari: Yeah. (Pause.) I would like to do a tripleheader where on Friday the men and women play and on Saturday the football team plays.
Cats Illustrated: Against the same school?
Calipari: Yeah. In a stadium.
Cats Illustrated: Have you talked to Joker about this? How open is he to that idea?
Calipari: If it's the right team. We've got a great team. We have the program, and they're dying to play us. I just don't know if I want to help that program, because in basketball, playing them helps them, and I'm not sure I want do that.
Cats Illustrated: Do you ever run into that anymore, or are you past that point now as a program? Like, some coaches will say, 'I'm not going to play this guy in this city, because he wants to recruit this city and I don't want to give him the chance.' Do people still think that way about you, or are you beyond that?
Calipari: Well, we recruit the nation. So for anybody to say, 'This will keep them from recruiting our area,' you're out of your mind. The world's too small. What you're doing is, you don't want to play us, basically. We're recruiting nationally. We don't have to play in a place. We didn't play in Chicago and we got good players out of Chicago. We didn't play in New Jersey and we got good players there. We didn't play in Indianapolis, and we got Marquis Teague, obviously a really good player from their state who won a national title and was a big part of it.
But I'm good. Tommy (Crean) and I are good. I just said, 'Move on, man.' We gave (Indiana) an opportunity to play two years in their state (in Indianapolis) and they said no. Well, then it's easy. We're not doing.
Cats Illustrated: And I think you said that that means Indiana doesn't really want to play you.
Calipari: I don't know if they don't want to play. They just want their way, and you can't do that when you're dealing with Kentucky, whether I'm coaching here or not. You don't have your way. If you want to be on our schedule - my thing with every school is, if you want to be on our schedule, it's got to be good for both. It can't be about you and it can't be about us. If I'm doing something that you say won't work for you, then, Indiana, don't play. If you're trying to do something that doesn't work for us, then we don't play. There's 50 other top schools that want to play us and will work with us and it makes sense for both teams. It's like Baylor. Baylor plays us on CBS and we go to Jerry Jones' stadium and split the tickets. It worked for them. It's a home run for them. It's a home run for us. 'But that's not Indiana.' Stop. We're getting half the tickets on a road game in a football stadium, trying to break an attendance record and doing a doubleheader that's never been done before in college basketball. It works for us.
Cats Illustrated: And getting a game at Rupp for a neutral-site return game. Don't you still have to balance out anything you do with getting a certain number of home games?
Calipari: Yep. For us, there's a budget part of this. But it's not the overriding factor. If we can do everything we're doing and Mitch (Barnhart) can make a million more dollars, he's happy as hell. He's like, 'You got what you got done and you included the women? Thank you. Can I kiss you on the lips? And you got us a million extra dollars? You won a national title? You had a 3.2 grade-point average?'
Cats Illustrated: You said you and Tom Crean are good. When you coach against a friend, when you recruit some of the same players, when you have these scheduling issues, relationships can be strained. Has that one not been?
Calipari: Never has been. I told him to stay clear of it when they said no. 'Don't get in the middle of this one. Let the powers that be that said no, let them explain.' That was my comment to him. Just stay clear. I didn't want him damaged by it. In the end, the question comes back, 'Two games in your state and you said no? What the hell? Why would you say no? Do you know who started the neutral Indiana-Kentucky stuff.
Cats Illustrated: Indiana did. It was Bob Knight, I believe.
Calipari: He was the one who did it. He did it, and it became a huge deal. The best college basketball experience out there, and it was Bobby Knight that did it.
Cats Illustrated: You mentioned budgets and bringing in money. You're doing some locker-room stuff at Rupp Arena, and the new lodge opens this fall…
Calipari: This summer. It's open this summer.
Cats Illustrated: Are there still things you want done?
Calipari: This program right now is pretty well squared away for the next 20 years when the locker room gets done. Whatever gets done with Rupp Arena, we'll be fine with when the locker room is done. The housing is done. We've got some small knick knack stuff at the Craft (Center). For the next 20 years, whoever's coaching here, it's 20 solid years of having everything in order. And we did it at a time where it's going to be hard for people to catch up, because all the states are struggling right now. To say we're going to go spend $13 million, OK. Unless you're a football program and you're the cash cow and they're going to invest back into you, it's hard, man. We got this done at the right time. When I first got on campus, they were going to redo the (Lodge). I said, 'Stop. Why would you spend $5 million? Let's spend $11 million and build a new building.'
Cats Illustrated: Are you genuinely able to say now, 'Whatever they do with Rupp Arena, I'm fine?'
Calipari: Yeah. I mean, I'm good with Rupp Arena. If they want to go through and redo it, I just don't want them to lower (the number of) those upper-deck seats. They've got to figure out how Eastern Kentucky doesn't get punished. If they want to build a new building, I'm good with that, too.
Cats Illustrated: This - pardon me for saying so - doesn't really seem like your personality to say, 'You decide, and whatever you want to do is OK with me.'
Calipari: What's our record in the building?
Cats Illustrated: It's a bunch and zero.
Calipari: Building doesn't bother me. Look, my kids are not going to go in the boxes, they're not going to go in the concourses, they're not sitting in the upper deck. They're playing on that basketball court. That court and that locker room and that walkway is all we see. If that stuff's all good as you upgrade and do the other stuff, that's fine.
Cats Illustrated: You just said that it's tough to spend unless you're a football program and they're going to invest back in you. Do you ever feel for Joker and his program, in a situation where they're competing against programs who can spend so much on football where they're a little handcuffed?
Calipari: Well, I don't think we're handcuffed in what we can do. I think part of it is, you're in a state that puts you at a disadvantage. There's no recruiting base. You're talking about a stadium that seats 72,000 and people come to those games. Could you make it 82? OK, maybe make it 82. Could you spruce up the boxes some? OK. There are other things that you need. You've got practice fields and all that. A recruiting room. They've talked about maybe blowing up that building and redoing offices. But the bottom line is, where's our base of recruiting? It's just a hard deal. I think Joker's outstanding. I just think it's a hard deal. You think financially is what holds them back? I don't. I'm going to tell you, we've got the right coach. We do. We've just got to have a breakthrough with some kids.