Calipari honored to be No. 1
By Dan Wolken
July 22, 2007
John Calipari went on a mini-media blitz this week with local and national reporters, previewing the 2007-08 basketball season. And the question he kept getting over and over centered on how he was handling the monstrous expectations flowing around the University of Memphis program.
After all, most coaches would probably do anything to avoid being preseason No. 1, as Memphis was anointed by national college basketball writers like CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish, ESPN's Andy Katz and Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News.
But Calipari is seemingly embracing the No. 1 moniker, turning what could be viewed as a burden into a positive. Here's a taste of what he said, and what he probably will repeat many more times before October.
"It's a different setup when you're at North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA to be No. 1 preseason or the first two weeks," Calipari said. "That adds another thing to what you're trying to deal with. If you don't win the national title, you're not worth anything. Here, it's totally different.
"To be in the league we're in, in the situation we're in, and we're preseason No. 1, that's quite an honor. It also helps in recruiting, which gives us another year under our belt to stay ahead. It has a different connotation when it's Memphis. It's almost like, what? How? That's really crazy. Well, for North Carolina or Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, it's like, 'That's right, and if we don't win the national title we're going to put for sale signs on that coach's front yard.'"
Speaking more in-depth on the issue, Calipari did admit that he'll have a couple key responsibilities. One is figuring out playing rotations and combinations. More important, however, will be ensuring individual agendas don't dissolve the team concept that Memphis developed last season.
"Two years ago, we had one agenda," Calipari said. "We played to win, they gave up minutes for each other, but Rodney (Carney) and Shawne (Williams) struggled a little bit because they were thinking ahead, and they struggled at times. Darius (Washington), the same thing. He was trying to say, 'I'm playing to get a contract.' You can't play for that. We have to guard against that."
The Gazelle Group, which runs the 2K College Hoops Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, still hasn't officially announced the three teams that will play in Memphis' region of the season-opening event.
But The Commercial Appeal has learned that -- unless there are late changes -- Memphis will play Tennessee-Martin in the first round on Nov. 5, with Richmond and Wyoming playing the other first-round game at FedExForum.
Though Memphis fans can probably go ahead and make their reservations for the semifinals in New York, either Richmond or Wyoming could be a tricky second-round opponent.
Richmond is coached by Chris Mooney, a former Princeton player and head coach at Air Force, who runs a pure Princeton offense. Playing that kind of team, especially so early in the season, can be a nightmare, though it would offer Memphis some meaningful exposure to the offense before facing Georgetown on Dec. 22.
Though Wyoming hasn't had much success the past few years, its backcourt would present a legitimate test. Brandon Ewing, a 6-2 point guard from Chicago, is one of the best unknown players in the country and led the Mountain West in scoring last season at 19.9 points per game.
When Rick Majerus took the head coaching job at Saint Louis, the idea of renewing an old Conference USA rivalry might have occurred to some Memphis fans.
Indeed, Memphis and Saint Louis will start a series this year. The only catch? Nobody will get to see it, since the teams will play each other in a closed scrimmage on Oct. 27.
The NCAA allows every team to play two preseason exhibition games, which typically are poorly attended and barely competitive. As an alternative, Division I schools can scrimmage each other in a closed setting, with no fans or media members allowed to watch.
Though the scrimmages aren't necessarily played under game conditions, coaches generally consider them more productive than exhibitions.
The John Calipari Basketball School has added a "Summer Hoops Finale" camp for ages 7 through 18. It will run from Aug. 6-8 at the Finch Center (on Spottswood and Echles), and the cost is $125. Lunch will not be provided. Contact Andy Allison at email@example.com for more information. ... Memphis is currently the 7-1 co-third choice to win the national championship, according to the Caesars Palace sports book. Memphis opened wagering on April 7 as the 6-1 favorite, but North Carolina has been bet down to 4-1, with Kansas at 6-1 and UCLA along with Memphis at 7-1.
To reach reporter Dan Wolken, call 529-2365