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“Certainly in the three years he’s been at Kentucky, even before that at Memphis, nobody’s recruited like he has. Nobody’s coached his guys better, too, considering how many young kids he has, how he gets them all to play for one purpose.”

Calipari is funny and fiercely loyal inside his circle of players and friends, but abrasive sometimes outside of it. The big knock against him is not winning it all even once, despite sending nearly two dozen players to the NBA in the last decade. Having been photographed at the scene of NCAA crimes at both of his first two head-coaching jobs _ UMass and Memphis _ without being charged in either, reporters rarely give him the benefit of the doubt. Those same people never tire of reminding Calipari how the NCAA “vacated” his accomplishments at those schools _ ordering both Final Four appearances and banners, dozens of wins and paychecks to be wiped off the books or handed back.

After enduring the wisecracks for years, Calipari turned it into a running gag.

“Two years got vacated,” he told reporters on his 53rd birthday a few months back, “so I’m 51.”

Yet he and Self have plenty in common, too, beginning with internships under coach Larry Brown at Kansas.

“He followed me,” Calipari said. “When I left, he stepped into that spot at Kansas.”

And then a few moments later, Calipari told a story that reminded the rest of us that like Self, he paid his dues, that not everything in his career was always sweetness and light. He noted that “spot” was a lot less glamorous than it sounded, recalling his job interview with Ted Owens, Brown’s predecessor at Kansas.

“I said, `What position?’ He said, `volunteer.’ I said, `how much does that guy make?’”

The answer was nothing. The job was almost worse than the pay. When he wasn’t soaking up lessons on the practice court, Calipari was manning the serving line in the team’s athletic dining room.

“`Would you like peas or corn?’” he recalled, slipping back into the role. “Peas? Great.’ I served the baseball team, basketball team, football team.

“They had steak,” Calipari said wistfully. “I never had steak growing up.”


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at