Calipari: James deal never discussed
CHARLOTTE -- Kentucky coach John Calipari denied that his program is under NCAA investigation and that he and NBA MVP LeBron James had discussed a package deal for Calipari to coach him in the NBA.
Calipari was in Charlotte before and after the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., tending to his mother, Donna, who is battling an illness and seeking treatment, with his father, Vince, also by her side.
Calipari addressed the speculation on a number of topics in a brief interview Thursday night.
When asked to give the facts as to whether he and James discussed the NBA, Calipari said: "We never talked about me coaching him. That never came up in our conversation."
We never talked about me coaching him. That never came up in our conversation.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari on coaching LeBron James (pictured)
What role did basketball-connector, perceived power-broker and mutual friend William Wesley have in promoting a package deal of James and Calipari?
"It's not true and when I said I would be at Kentucky next year, obviously our recruiting didn't suffer," said Calipari about his top-rated recruiting class that includes Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and JC transfer Eloy Vargas.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Wesley had proposed a package deal of James and Calipari to the Chicago Bulls. A source with direct knowledge of the Bulls coaching search told ESPN.com that they weren't pursuing Calipari. A number of general managers told ESPN.com in Chicago last month that they didn't believe James would hold a team hostage with a deal-breaking offer that Calipari had to be the coach. The GMs said they would have to listen if that were the case but none thought James would make that demand.
Calipari said he has had a developing relationship with James.
"He's my friend," Calipari said of James. "I've gotten to know him over the years. He's one of the neatest guys because he's loyal to his friends and if anybody knows me, being Italian, it's about family and friends and being loyal to each other. He's as loyal as I've ever seen. But he holds people accountable around him.
"We've never discussed anything [about coaching]," Calipari said. "I love that he publicly said Cleveland has an edge [to re-sign him as a free agent next month]. I said all along that he doesn't have a problem with Cleveland but we've never discussed it [coaching]."
When asked why he is constantly rumored to be pursuing the NBA he said: "When you're coaching at Kentucky, you're not stopping all the stuff and you don't try to, you do your job. Obviously I'm not chasing the NBA. I've got the greatest coaching job in the country I believe. Maybe others will say the same thing. We led the nation in attendance, in single-game, overall, road and we have as much of a fan base in the nation in Big Blue Nation."
Calipari was defiant in rebutting charges that there is an NCAA investigation into the men's basketball program.
"It's not true," Calipari said. "It's not true. When you're coaching at Kentucky, you're held to a different standard and like in politics there is a core group that absolutely loves you and everyone else is trying to unseat you in any way they can -- anything to trip you up, that's what it is.
"If you're not up to that, then don't coach at Kentucky," he said. "If you are faint of heart as they come at you, there's no way to defend everything, then you march on."
When you're coaching at Kentucky, you're held to a different standard and like in politics there is a core group that absolutely loves you and everyone else is trying to unseat you in any way they can -- anything to trip you up, that's what it is. If you're not up to that, then don't coach at Kentucky. If you are faint of heart as they come at you, there's no way to defend everything, then you march on.” -- Calipari on reports of NCAA investigations
Calipari said that four players graduated [seniors Ramon Harris, Mark Krebs, Perry Stevenson and junior Patrick Patterson] from this past season's team but he did admit the grade-point average has to rise. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported the GPA of the team in the fall was a 2.025 in the fall, the worst since 2002. The spring semester GPA was 2.18. Four freshmen left Kentucky after one season for the NBA draft. One of them, John Wall, is expected to be the top pick in the draft and told ESPN.com last month that he did earn a 3.5 GPA in the spring semester.
"We have to improve our GPA, which we will since we just got there," Calipari said. "We won a lot of games. At Kentucky, they want everything. They want it all -- all As, all wins by 20 and wan the highest GPA. Don't coach at Kentucky if you can't accept that."
Calipari wouldn't address the specifics in the transcript of former freshman guard Eric Bledsoe. The New York Times reported last Friday that there was the potential academic fraud and payments made during Bledsoe's high school career in Alabama. If those allegations were investigated by the Alabama High School Association and if he were ruled ineligible, then the NCAA Eligibility Center could reopen his initial-eligibility case.
When asked about the story, Calipari said: "Stop, there's nothing there. I'm not going to talk about it."
When asked how Calipari can change the perception that he's always in the midst of a chaotic storm, he said: "As long as I'm at Kentucky, you've got to be able to take the shots or don't stay at Kentucky. To be the coach at Kentucky and get what I get, you can't be a 35-year-old coach whose never been fired. I've been fired."
Calipari added that he has reminded his family that not everyone loves their father.
"If you're family can't deal with the scrutiny then this isn't the right place to be coaching," Calipari said.
Last week, Calipari and his wife, Ellen, donated $1 million to Streets Ministries, payable over five years, to help underprivileged children in Memphis.
"When we left, we left a lot of friends in Memphis, Tennessee and a lot of people were angry that I left and that's fine and I understand that," Calipari said of taking the Kentucky job in April of 2009. "We left a lot of friends but we also left some causes that we felt very strongly about."
Calipari said the first payment on the donation was made in December.
Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com.
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