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Book Review: Players First by Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari


In Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out (Penguin Press; April 15, 2014), Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari opens up on his first five seasons at Kentucky.


For the first time, Calipari delves into what it is like to be the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, one of the most storied college basketball programs.

In Players First, Calipari writes that it is not just a game but it’s about the young athletes that he coaches. Many of these players didn’t have it easy growing and it’s one of the reasons why he came up with his Players First philosophy–a sacred belief system that the coach shares for the first time.

Of course, being the “One and Done” coach means this book won’t be without controversy. It’s a subject that Calipari addresses head on in a single chapter. The NBA ought to read Players First because Calipari offers some great ideas on the matter. The NCAA is at fault, too, as only a select few prospects are eligible for disability insurance in the event that they suffer a career-ending injury while playing in college. Calipari’s solution is truly one that can be described as Players First.

Calipari offers his thoughts on where and why the 2012-13 Kentucky team went wrong. If the Wildcats were able to do a pro-combine like they did two seasons before, maybe Archie Goodwin would have come back for another season. Calipari was relieved when both Goodwin and Marquis Teague were selected by the NBA in the first round as he thought both should have come back for a second season.

The book ends with 13 ideas in which the NCAA needs to reform. The recent meal rule is a start but it’s far from over.

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