Just hours before they were set to get their tickets for Big Blue Madness, the campers outside Memorial Coliseum got a visit from John Calipari.
The UK coach showed up on the outdoor courts behind the Coliseum just after 10 p.m. Friday to address the crowd of several hundred waiting for their Madness tickets.
He spoke for about seven minutes, then signed autographs for another 30 minutes or so as he worked his way back to his car so he could drive home after a day of recruiting in Minnesota.
Calipari pointed at autograph seekers, signaling it was their turn to toss him a basketball. As he was signing, one fan yelled out, “Cal … get the Harrisons!”
Here’s the transcript of Calipari’s speech in its entirety (the video is below):
“How about all of you guys? You’re nuts. You’re crazy and I love it. I’ve got my wife here and I want to tell you, that not only … as we put a tape together and we’re showing the recruits some of the stuff at my first press conference and they look at me and they say, ‘What happened to you? You were young back then.’ I said ‘Well, that was about 12 years ago.’ It was three years ago, folks. But how ’bout we give my wife a hand for all that she has to deal with. …
“I guess you guys set a record. People everywhere we go — I’m going into homes and schools and they’re following all of you and what’s going on here. And I say, you know, ‘There are some students, but most of these people are not students. These are fans that just want to get in and get an opportunity to see the team and be a part of this when it’s hard to get tickets and it’s hard to be a part of it. And they all want to be a part of it.’
“They say, ‘There aren’t a whole lot of students? No!’ How many of you are from Eastern Kentucky? (Loud applause). How many from Western? … Just a few, ohhhh. Well I can just tell you that we’re excited about what’s happening.
“What we just lived through — that national title. … You understand now when I said this would be a players’ first program, that we’re going to do everything to coach them. I’m not so sure anymore I’m in the coaching business as much as I’m in the business of helping families. That’s what it feels like. And you know what? It feels really good, to be honest with you.
“And I would tell you that, when you look at that team we had, the kid that took the fifth most shots was the number one pick in the draft. How does that happen? The player that took the fourth most shots on our team was the second pick in the draft. And a player who started the year before (when) we had a pretty good team, we went to a Final Four, we won the SEC Tournament, we were pretty good. He led us — Darius Miller — and decided it was OK to be the sixth starter. He went from a player that wouldn’t have been drafted to a draftable player going from a starter to the sixth man.
“And I’ll tell you that it shows that if you’re your brother’s keeper and you’re playing more for your team than yourself … The hardest thing is you work first of all for yourself, to prepare yourself, to get yourself stronger, to make yourself mentally more ready to play. You work for yourself that way. But the rest of it is you’re playing for your teammates. You’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for the teammates. And then you learn to play together where you sacrifice for each other. That’s when special things happen for each individual and for the team. And it was a great lesson.
“Now this team we have here, you won’t believe this, we’re going to be young. I mean, we started three freshman in 2010. We started three freshman in 2011. And we started three freshman this past year. We could start four freshman this year. And I don’t know, I really don’t. I do know we’ll be different. But I think we’re going to be a really good team as the year goes on.
“Early, it’s going to be really ugly. But that’s because we’re so new. We don’t know each other. Somebody just told me we’re the only team in the country that does not have one player coming back that started any games. We’re the only team in the country. And I think they got us rated pretty high. I don’t know if they do or not, but I imagine they do.
“And then I’ll tell you this. Who was the one that pushed Nerlens in the back? Who did that? I refuse to watch the tape. Somebody said, ‘Did you see the tape?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not watching that video.’ I’m in Minnesota and I’ll be throwing up watching a videotape of you guys pushing my players.
“But I hope you see that the guys that are around you, they’re all good guys. Yes, they can play basketball. But they’re good guys. And this is not normal. I just drove by the Lodge and you got a line of people waiting for autographs and it’s just not normal. And they have to deal with all of it. They gotta be nice, right? If they’re not nice to you guys, what? ‘Sign the one thousandth autograph! C’mon! What are you talking about?! What are you, big time?! You only signed four thousand today. What are you, nuts? C’mon, sign this!’ And they handle it with class. And I hope you notice that. And I’ll tell you this, you have inspired them — no question. Every team I’ve coached … think about it if you’re them and you’re saying, ‘Six hundred tents? Three thousand people? Waiting on tickets to watch me practice? This must be serious.’
“… Let me tell you, I stayed out here one night my first year. My ears were frozen and I went home about three in the morning. I slipped out and said, ‘They think I’m in here anyway. I’m going home.’ It was cold.
“… I think the other thing for you all here. It’s neat how you respect each other and how you treat each other. Because you know you’re all one. We’re all in this together. We’re all about this program — the Commonwealth’s team. You’re from all over the state and you’re having an opportunity to see some pretty good people.
“Again, I hope you enjoyed yourself here. I apologize. I just got back and picked up my wife and came right over. The flight took a little while longer than I thought. But I did want to come over and say thank you all for doing this and being here and being a big part of what we do. And being a big part of what we recruit. Thanks.”