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Head Coach John Calipari

John Calipari, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, guided Kentucky to its eighth national championship in 2011-2012.

John Calipari
Birthday
February 10, 1959

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A “players-first” coach with a penchant for helping people reach their dreams, John Calipari, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, has guided six teams to the Final Four, led one to a national championship, and helped 58 players earn selection in the NBA Draft during his 31-year college coaching career.

Calipari guided Kentucky to its eighth national championship and his first national title in 2012. In becoming only the second coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools to the Final Four, he has racked up more than 800 on-court victories, 22 NCAA Tournament on-court appearances, six Final Fours, and numerous national coach of the year honors.

From UMass to Memphis and now Kentucky, Calipari’s career has been successful throughout, but his most recent run in Lexington has been the best stretch of his career. During Calipari’s first 14 seasons at UK, he has led all coaches in NCAA Tournament wins (32), Final Fours (four), Elite Eights (seven) and Sweet 16s (eight).John Calipari - photo by Walter Cornett

In 2015, Coach Cal led college basketball’s first-ever 38-0 team and became one of just three coaches to make four Final Fours in a five-year span. At the end of the season, Calipari became the 96th coach to join the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While building a program out of obscurity at UMass, laying the foundation at Memphis, and restoring luster at the sport’s greatest program at Kentucky, he totaled the second-most wins in NCAA history in the first 20 years of a college coaching career.

Quite honestly, though, Calipari’s on-court success overshadows a much more significant picture.

In his goal to lead a players-first program, he has helped more than 55 young men realize their dreams and reach the NBA level with 58 players earning NBA Draft selections, including a record five first-round draft picks in 2010. Two years later, six Wildcats heard their names called at the 2012 draft, the most in the two-round draft era. UK, with Calipari’s help, would tie those six picks again in 2015, including a record-tying four lottery selections. His four No. 1 overall picks are more than any other coach, and he has had 47 players drafted during his first 14 years at Kentucky, including 35 first-round picks.

John Calipari - photo by Walter Cornett

Calipari’s players have entered the league NBAready. His players have garnered 32 All-Star selections — all since 2010 — with Anthony Davis winning the game’s MVP honor in 2017. Derrick Rose was named NBA MVP in 2011. Eight of his players have been tabbed All-NBA (14 times), three have been named NBA Rookie of the Year and 15 players from Calipari’s first 14 teams at Kentucky have made the NBA All-Rookie teams. He is the only coach in history to have a player win each of the NBA’s major honors: MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year and Clutch Player of the Year.

Much like he did at UMass, where his players graduated at nearly 80%, Calipari has stressed academics. Seventeen of his last 20 seniors at Memphis earned their bachelor’s degrees, and all 29 players at UK who were eligible to graduate by the end of their senior years walked away with a diploma in hand, including five players who earned their degree in just three years. Calipari’s teams routinely have posted a combined team grade-point average of 3.0 or better.

Calipari has raised millions of dollars to help the lives of those in need in the Commonwealth and beyond. He has had a particular passion to assist those impacted by natural disasters. For instance, in 2010, he used a telethon to raise more than $1 million for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. He followed that up with telethons in 2012, raising $1 million for victims of Superstorm Sandy, in 2017 for victims of Hurricane Harvey, played a leading role in the “Kentucky United” efforts that generated more than $5 million for victims of devastating tornadoes in Western Kentucky in 2021, and raised nearly $4 million with the Kentucky Flood Relief Telethon and open practice at Rupp Arena in 2022.

Calipari launched his foundation in 2012, and since then the foundation has worked with several key partners and donated more than $1.5 million, a figure that does not include matching funds that have been contributed from individuals and corporations. In 2013, Calipari initiated hosting an annual alumni weekend around his basketball fantasy experience with the intent to raise money for charity. After generating $350,000 for selected organizations and charities during the inaugural game, the weekend has generated millions of dollars for charity since its inception.
In 2019, when federal workers were without pay due to a government shutdown, he, his wife and his foundation assisted workers with financial help and grocery gift cards. He and his wife, Ellen, teamed up with Fayette County Public Schools to help families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.John Calipari - photo by Walter Cornett

His latest efforts include spearheading the creation of the John McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, a nationwide coach-driven initiative to provide minorities a jump-start to their careers through practical experiences, opportunities to build their network and instilling the values of John McLendon: integrity, education, leadership and mentorship. Participants in the initiative will be known as MLI Future Leaders.

He was awarded the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service in Sports by Multiplying Good in 2022. For more than 50 years, Multiplying Good has honored those who put others first. Those receiving the Jefferson Award are empowered to do more, while their stories of extraordinary public service inspire others to action. It is an award that underscores impact.

In 2017, Coach Cal was named the head coach of the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team, which finished third at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo.

Author of five books, including the New York Times Best Seller “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” Calipari is a master of communication and maximizing talent. He lives by the motto that “it’s never a matter of how far you have fallen, but instead it’s about how high you bounce back.”

PERSONAL
Birth Date Feb. 10, 1959
Place of Birth Sewickley, Pa.
Wife Ellen
Children Erin Sue, Megan Rae, Bradley Vincent
Date Hired at UK March 31, 2009
EDUCATION
High School Moon Area High School, 1978
College Clarion State, 1982 (now Clarion)
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing
  • Starting point guard for Clarion State Eagles
  • Attended and played basketball at UNC-Wilmington (78-80)
COACHING CAREER
Kansas Assistant Coach, 1983-85
Pittsburgh Assistant Coach, 1986-88
Massachusetts Head Coach, 1989-96
New Jersey Nets (NBA) Head Coach, 1997-99
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA) Assistant Coach, 2000
Memphis Head Coach, 2001-09
Kentucky Head Coach, 2010-pres.

 

Coaching Awards

  • 2024 John R. Wooden Award Legends of Coaching
  • 2023 Race Amity Medal of Honor from the National Center for Race Amity
  • 2022 Jefferson Award – Outstanding Public Service in Sports
  • 2022 Conference USA Hall of Fame
  • 2021 NABC Guardians of the Game Pillar Award (Inclusion)
  • 2020 SEC Coach of the Year (Coaches)
  • 2020 USBWA District IV Coach of the Year
  • 2020 NABC District 20 Coach of the Year
  • 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ‘Service Above Self’ Honoree
  • 2018 NABC Metropolitan Award
  • 2015 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee
  • 2015 Associated Press National Coach of the Year
  • 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year 
  • 2015 NABC National Coach of the Year
  • 2015 The Sporting News National Coach of the Year
  • 2015 Adolph Rupp National Coach of the Year
  • 2015 SEC Coach of the Year (AP/Coaches)
  • 2015 USBWA District IV Coach of the Year
  • 2012 Nell & John Wooden Coach of the Year Leadership Award
  • 2012 Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 2012 SEC Coach of the Year (AP/Coaches)
  • 2010 Adolph Rupp National Coach of the Year
  • 2010 Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 2010 SEC Coach of the Year (AP)
  • 2010 Sporting News SEC Coach of the Year
  • 2010 Yahoo! Sports SEC Coach of the Year
  • 2010 USBWA District IV Coach of the Year
  • 2009 NABC National Co-Coach of the Year
  • 2009 Sports Illustrated National Coach of the Year
  • 2009 Phelan National Coach of the Year
  • 2009 Iba National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 2009 C-USA Coach of the Year
  • 2008 Naismith National Coach of the Year
  • 2008 C-USA Coach of the Year
  • 2008 Iba National Coach of the Year  Finalist
  • 2008 Phelan National Coach of the Year  Finalist
  • 2007 Phelan National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 2007 USBWA District IV Coach of the Year
  • 2007 Basketball Times S. Region Coach of the  Year
  • 2006 C-USA Coach of the Year
  • 2004 NABC District VII Coach of the Year
  • 1996 Naismith National Coach of the Year
  • 1996 NABC National Coach of the Year
  • 1996 The Sporting News National
  • Coach of the Year
  • 1996 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year
  • 1995 Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 1994 Naismith National Coach of the Year Finalist
  • 1994 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year
  • 1993 USBWA District I Coach of the Year
  • 1993 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year
  • 1992 Eastern Basketball Coach of the Year

On This Day In UK Basketball History

On February 23, 1970, Dan Issel scored 47 points against Alabama.

 

On February 23, 2019, with an 80-53 victory over Auburn, 10th-year head coach John Calipari moves past Joe B. Hall for the second most victories by a UK head coach in program history. He trails only the Baron of the Bluegrass, Adolph Rupp.

 

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