I know it seems like we write this story every Midnight Madness, but it just has to be said once again: John Calipari is the PT Barnum of college basketball and he has made Kentucky basketball the “ Greatest Show on Earth”. He thinks big, he has big plans, he has big impact, and in most cases, he backs his plans up. If there is any doubt about this, one just needs to look back on the past year and what Calipari has done and what he has planned for the future.
After a 14 year drought, John Calipari returned the Kentucky Wildcats to the top of the mountain with a second straight trip to the Final Four which resulted in Kentucky’s 8th National Title. The next month, Calipari won a heated recruiting battle for Nerlens Noel and sealed the deal on his fourth straight number one ranked recruiting class. Nerlens Noel showed a bit of showmanship himself by shaving the UK logo in the back of his head and ESPN ended the festivities with a repeat of the Kentucky Kansas matchup from November of that year. All in all, the Noel announcement equated to a three and ahalf hour infomercial for Kentucky and Calipari.
Calipari would need that class as his charges once again made history at the NBA Draft. Anthony Davis became Kentucky’s second number one draft pick in three seasons when he was picked by the New Orleans Hornets. The big shock came when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was selected number two by Charlotte which was the first time in history that team mates were selected one-two. The history continued at the draft as six Wildcats had their name called, another new record. Four more Wildcats were called in the first round, making it 11 in the past three years. Never was Calipari’s “Players First” mantra more evident than when he is helping players live out their life long dreams of playing in the NBA.
Then, in September, Calipari brought it all together as he put together a NBA Players Alumni game and a reunion of the 1996 National Champion team. It was done for charity, but the recruiting impact was felt as Julius Randle paid a visit to Lexington and came away impressed. Front and center at the Alumni game was rapper Drake, and that also made an impact on Randle. Calipari has stated that he wants to hold the Alumni Game annually and you can bet that it will be bigger and better every year.
Calipari also further flexxed his social conscience and took part in a breakout session of the Clinton Global Iniative entitled “”Turning inspiration to action: advancing the individual.” Calipari spoke at the same breakout session as former first lady Barbara Bush, which is rarified air for a college basketball coach.
In the end, it all comes down to what Calipari does best: recruiting. In the last couple of weeks, Calipari has literally locked down his fifth straight number one recruiting class with three top ten commitments in Andrew and Aaron Harrison along with James Young. The Harrisons are widely thought to be the top package deal in college basketball … ever. And there are bigger fish to fry. Kentucky is in extremely well with the top players in the 2013/2014/2015 class in the form of Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl Towns, Jr. Calipari has signed 12 Top 10 players since 2009 and there is no readon to think to think that he can not get any player he wants.
This is all Calipari has done since April. His plans for this season and the future are just as astounding.
As we know, Big Blue Madness is tonight and in his quest to include all Kentucky Sports in his success, BBM will actually feature a womens volleyball game before the event. The goal is to break the current attendance record of around 17000. After BBM, Calipari’s Wildcats will be opening the new Barclay Center in New Jersey and will have a game against Duke in the Georgia Dome.
For Calipari, his scheduling ideas have clashed with the mindset of the Big Blue Nation. Calipari prefers big games in big venues while his fanbase prefer home court rivalries. Next season, Kentucky will take their show on the road for a neutral court game against Michigan State and will play Baylor at the biggest venue: Texas Stadium. The Baylor game will be a double header with the UK Hoops squad. Calipari has stated his desire to have a triple header involving mens and womens basketball, along with football. At this point, that just seems to be a formality.
And for the cherry on the Sundae, it was announced this week that Kentucky would get their own “All Access” show on ESPN on Wednesdays in October. The 30 minute infomercial starts on October 17 and will document this years team and their preparations for #9.
There was talk of a Kentucky game on an airline carrier next year, but that idea seems to have been nixed. But the big plans don’t stop there. Kentucky is one of 16 teams to participate in a dual tournament featuring Nike schools and honoring Phil Knight’s 80th birthday in 2017. At this point, there is no idea to absurd, or out of the realm of possibility for Calipari to consider. I know somehow, he is going to make the Big Blue Madness at 70,000 seat Commonwealth Stadium a possibility.
And having 70,000 rabid fans show up for a basketball practice in October? I doubt PT Barnum could pull that off. With Calipari, it’s just a matter of time.