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April 16, 2014

We're all still watching Wildcats' Calipari

After winning a big case and accepting compliments from his fellow attorneys, the man thanked his colleagues and responded that he really would have liked to represent the opposition.

“I think I could have won arguing their side, too,” he told them.

He was cocky, confident, convinced.

I’ve recalled that courthouse exchange many years ago in watching Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. He’s always the man with the last word. Come to think of it, he’s probably the one getting the first word, as well.

The NCAA tournament finished in North Texas last week with Connecticut winning the championship, but it’s Calipari who remains the subject of the media’s fascination. Officially he’s pushing his newest book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out.”

Calipari has revolutionized college basketball by recruiting untested freshmen and taking them deep into the NCAA tournament — including a championship in 2012. He acknowledges his ability to make the system work, sending his stars to NBA fame and fortune, but says he doesn’t like it. Given a choice, he said, he’d prefer to coach players throughout four-year college careers.

Maybe Calipari is just saying, “I can beat you either way.”

Calipari has proven himself as a college coach, and one with a savvy understanding of marketing. His teams are in the middle of every discussion about trends in college basketball.

He is a master communicator. His Twitter account has 1.27 million followers. For people back home in the Bluegrass, it’s Kentucky basketball all the time.

His approach is fascinating, if for nothing else than because it’s never been done. The 2014-15 season looks to be another run built around new faces and high expectations. His incoming freshmen will rank among the nation’s elite classes. Four players — led by Indiana Mr. Basketball Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, both towering front-court players — have currently signed scholarships.

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