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John Calapari is the modern day P.T Barnum, retransforming Kentucky Wildcat Basketball into "the Greatest Show on Earth"


“Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Tonight, for one night only, we present to you, the greatest in Kentucky Wildcat Basketball history at hallowed Rupp Arena.  Watch Rajon Rondo and his amazing feats of skill as he fakes out three defenders on the way to the basket.  See the fastest man alive, John Wall as he becomes a blur down the baseline.  Or the the incredible man child of DeMarcus Cousins.  Don’t get him mad.  He’s got some nasty elbows, folks.” 

It’s not hard to imagine the scene outside Rupp Arena tonight if only P.T. Barnum were still around.  Barnum, of course is the legendary showman responsible for creating the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus.  He’s also know for the “greatest show on Earth” phrase.  Bailey was the ultimate showman, drawing the crowds in with a style and bravado never before seen.  Alas, P.T.  Barnum never had a chance to promote Kentucky Wildcat basketball as he passed on April 7, 1891.

You can argue however, that Barnum was reincarnated in the form of John Vincent Calipari on April 1, 2009 when Calipari was officially introduced as the head coach of the Kentucky program.  In just 28 months, Calipari has resurrected a NIT bound program and delivered them to the promised land of the Final Four, while making Lexington the hotbed of college basketball yet again.

Some say that P.T. Barnum was the “show business millionaire”.  John Calipari became the first college basketball coach with a million followers and it was done with relative ease.  As the legend goes, Indiana’s Tom Crean is the one that introduced John Calipari to Twitter and Crean challenged Calipari to join the social network.  In just a few weeks of opening his Twitter account, Calipari zoomed past Crean and into the nillion follower status.  To date, Calipari has around 1,100,000 followers. Tom Crean?  Just a tad under 40,000.  Other college coaches like UCLA’s Ben Howland?  Around 6,000.

Twitter mastered, Calipari wracked up the number one recruiting class in about six weeks time, which culminated in John Wall choosing Kentucky Blue.  Then Calipari started to really think big, and imagined reinventing Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness into an outside event at Commonwealth stadium, with 70,000 bluebloods watching a basketball practice.

That did never happen, but it showed how the mind of John Calipari works and how he is always thinking BIG.  Big Blue Madness happened at Rupp Arena but John Calipari delivered one of the best stump speeches ever, speaking for nearly 20 minutes and sending the Rupp Arena crowd into a frenzy.  And since then, we have seen how Calipari continues to think big, from arranging an impromptu middle of the season, all star telethon to benefit the victims of the Haiti earthquake to his latest effort which is partnering with Kentucky banks to bring financial education to Kentucky school children.

What other college basketball coach does that?


And let’s not forget the “star power” Calipari has brought to Lexington.  For so long, Ashley Judd was “the celebrity Kentucky fan”, but lately, she is having her title infringed on by the likes of LeBron James, Drake, Magic Johnson, Josh Hopkins, Mike Tomlin, Ben Rothlisberger, and others as John Calipari is a one man public relations and marketing campaign for Kentucky basketball.

Which is why Calipari is so revered by the Big Blue Nation.  I could give you lists and more examples of what John Calipari has accomplished in his time at Kentucky, but James Streble did that just a few days ago.  But Calipari’s latest  “P.T. Barnum-esque” feat brings us to today’s event.

When the news of John Calipari coaching the Dominican National Team, I greeted it with a “ho-hum” attitude.  I really don’t follow international ball that much and what John Calipari does with his summers is up to him.  And I am sure that several of you had the same initial thought.  But I was wrong.  This is John Calipari we are talking about and this HAS to be turned into an event.

Taking advantage of the NBA Lockout, John Calipari sprung into action and seemingly overnight, the “UK Legends” versus the Dominican National Team idea was born.  Proving that Kentucky is the hotbed of college basketball and taking advantage of last year’s historic NBA Draft Class, Calipari arranged for some of the NBA’s biggest and biggest rising stars to scrimmage against his Dominican Team.

To add to the appeal and circus like frenzy, Calipari adds two National Title coaches to the event in Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum.  That fact that Crum is involved has set this event on fire and inflamed the entire Louisville Cardinals camp.  And while Cardinal fans are too closed minded to admit it, Calipari has made these events a celebration of the basketball passion of the Commonwealth, bring together two legendary coaches with NBA stars who were not alive when Hall and Crum won their titles.


The event quickly sold out Rupp Arena, so Calipari took his show on the road to Louisville and arranged another game for tomorrow night in the Yum! Center. When the Yum! Center open, Kentucky quickly moved in on Freedom Hall, having a UK floor installed and establishing a branded home away from hom in the heart of enemy territory.  The University of Louisville could refuse a Kentucky exhibition game into that arena, but less than a year of it opening, John Calipari has found a way to get his former players and the UK brand onto the home court of their most heated rival.  Who else can do that?  And what are Cardinal fans to do?  Show up and boo or protest Calipari,  who is honoring and recognizing in Crum the coach that guided Louisville to their only national title?

And it is all good for Kentucky basketball.  And for Louisville basketball since a couple of the Dominican charges are former Cardinals.  And it ignites that Kentucky/Louisville basketball rivalry to the whitest hot intensity it has ever been before and makes it the number one rivalry in all of college sports.  Seriously.  when was the last time you heard about Coach K and Roy Williams bickering or taking shots at each other.  The UNC/Duke fanbases despise each other, but the relationship between Coach K and Roy is a tea party compared to Calipari – Pitino lovefest.

And it will be a damn good show tonight.  Forget the fact this is not a UK event or that “Kentucky” will not be mentioned.  It will be a lovefest for the former Kentucky players.  Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall will get some well deserved recognition.  And the Calipari coached Dominican squad will get the best possible scrimmage partner they could ask for.

It’s a win – win – win situation.  And Calipari has delivered it with the zeal and enthusiasm of the greatest show promoter of them all.  P.T. Barnum would be proud.

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