Calipari: "We ain't dead yet, boys!"
LEXINGTON - An emerging pattern in John Calipari’s public personality over the past five years may not necessarily be a giant leap to take logically, but here goes: When his teams are winning, he lights up. He’s no stranger to hyperbole to begin, and when he’s feeling good, he’ll go wherever he wants to go to make his point, even an exaggerated version of it.
That’s where he went Tuesday.
He noted that of the teams in the Final Four, Florida is the only team that has not endured an extended drought this season. Wisconsin lost five of six games in January, including a home loss to Northwestern, the worst team in the Big Ten. Connecticut never lost more than two in a row this season, but an 81-48 loss to Louisville on March 8, the last game of the regular season, seemed to suggest the Huskies weren’t to be taken seriously in the postseason.
And then, he addressed his own team.
“You all counted us off,” Calipari said to media members at the Joe Craft Center. “I had to be wheeled in, in there (pointing to the practice gym) in a casket. And I opened it and said, ‘We ain’t dead yet, boys!’ for my guys to believe. You guys didn’t know I did that. That wasn’t for public consumption.”
Later in the news conference, a reporter asked if that was really true. Calipari’s response was to yell to the back of the hallway, where Willie Cauley-Stein was hobbling in on crutches.
“Willie, did I get wheeled in, in a casket, and open it and say, ‘We ain’t dead yet’?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
“There you go,” Calipari said.
Cauley-Stein’s entrance into the room at that exact moment was serendipitous, because he was the perfect player to go along with the joke.
Though Calipari was never actually rolled in to the practice gym in a casket, the imagery wasn’t completely foreign to players. According to several players Tuesday, he told the team he was going to do it.
“When he told us that, we all just started dying laughing,” Marcus Lee said. “It was probably the funniest thing that’s happened this year.”
It seems Calipari always finds a way to get his message across, even if he doesn’t have to climb into a casket and be rolled in front of the team to do it.
Calipari also responded to a jab thrown at Kentucky fans by Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Calipari and Ryan have a great relationship, Calipari said, but Ryan said Monday on a Final Four coaches teleconference that Wisconsin fans don’t think they “invented basketball” unlike basketball fans in other states.
“Our people don’t think they invented it, they just made it better. And our fans do have all the answers to every issue concerning basketball,” Calipari said. “They’re crazy, they’re nuts. They watch the tapes more than I do. I bet you there are fans out there that have watched more Wisconsin tape than I have. There’s no question. Like, ‘How many games have you watched? I watched their last seven.’ What? You’re a fan, go enjoy the process. Enjoy the growth of the team. Enjoy what’s happening. Have joy with the guys. ‘No, I’ve got to prepare for this game.’ Prepare what? What are you talking about?
“But you know what, that’s fine. If that makes them click and go and get up in the morning and smile, then I feel good about it.”
Photo: Kentucky coach John Calipari is at his liveliest, at least in the media, this time of year. (Photo by James Pennington)