All indications suggest that John Calipari of Memphis is Kentucky’s choice to be its new basketball coach.
Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson said on Monday that he had granted his counterpart at UK, Mitch Barnhart, permission to talk to Calipari about replacing Billy Gillispie.
“However, I will tell you that we are elated with the job John has done as our head coach and we will do everything in our power to retain his services at Memphis,” Johnson said in a statement .
Potential stumbling blocks remain. No one has a source saying UK and Calipari have agreed to a salary. Memphis is paying him in excess of $3 million per year.
Another potential stumbling block is all the younger players recruited by former UK Coach Billy Gillipsie. When those players, as young as eighth grader Michael Avery, agreed to scholarship offers, it drew criticism based on whether UK might renege on the commitments. UK president Lee Todd gave assurances that those commitments would be honored.
Would Calipari be willing to take the job knowing he had to give scholarships to those players? And it’s not such a small number: Dakotah Euton, Vinny Zollo, KC Ross-Miller, Dominique Ferguson and Avery.
Todd backed off that earlier commitment on Monday. He said he would have to think about whether he’d want the new coach to honor commitments made by Gillispie.
Also unknown is Calipari’s feelings about this year’s signees: Daniel Orton, Jon Hood, G.J. Vilarino and Konner Tucker.
People with an interest in UK’s basketball search have either spoke glowingly of Calipari or acknowledged him as the leading candidate.
ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale spoke enthusiastically about the prospects of Calipari becoming Kentucky’s coach.
“He would be a grand slam,” Vitale said, “an absolute grand slam. He brings the whole package, the (Rick) Pitino package.”
Under Rick Pitino in the 1990s, Kentucky enjoyed one of its finest stretches of basketball in a program used to success. The Cats went to three Final Fours in a five-year period, winning the national championship in 1996.
Former UK All-American Mike Pratt, who is assisting the school’s search for a basketball coach, emphasized last weekend that the ideal candidate would be someone who can handle all aspects of college coaching: working with players, recruiting, public relations and, in Kentucky’s case, serving as an ambassador for the program, university and Commonwealth.
After noting the success Calipari had at Massachusetts (193-71) and Memphis (252-69), Vitale marveled at the winning Calipari could do with Kentucky’s resources.
“He would be an incredible superstar,” Vitale said.