Calipari keeps pressure on NCAA

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON — Notes and quotes on University of Kentucky athletics (past and present) from this past week:

John Calipari still wants to push the NCAA envelope on the heels of that organization’s stunning about-face concerning its food policy this past week.

There’s been much publicity in recent years about the NCAA’s banishment of cream cheese on bagels for current athletes and recruits (while okaying peanut butter ... or maybe it’s vice versa, whatever) and the recent shocker out of the University of Oklahoma that some of its athletes had eaten an extra, er, impermissible, amount of pasta.

I assume the latter case will spark an influx of Italian food lovers to Norman, and we can’t have that.

So last week NCAA officials announced that student-athletes can eat whatever they want at the training table.

This came after Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier claimed at the Final Four that some student-athletes go to bed hungry, and after Calipari spent the better part of two days last week at ESPN promoting his book (Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out) and knocking the NCAA.

“Just a coincidence,” Calipari said with a wink this past week about the recent knocks on the NCAA and that organization’s change of heart about food.

Calipari has been one of the NCAA’s harshest critics, particularly since arriving at Kentucky five years ago, suggesting that the day may come — sooner rather than later — when the bigger schools break away from the NCAA.

And while I believe most of Calipari’s grievances have considerable merit, he proposed one idea this week that won’t fly, though I understand and fully support the heart that has spawned his idea.

Here’s what Calipari suggested, along with his wife, Ellen:

“We want to start a fund. We’ll fund it ... we’ll put the money in. That every player that’s ever played for me, whether they be at UMass, Memphis or Kentucky, can request a grant for their children’s education. And when I stop coaching, the money that’s left in that fund would be split between Memphis, Massachusetts and Kentucky.”

Calipari said he formally made this proposal to the NCAA. He got the following response:
“’It’s an extra benefit,’’’ he said the NCAA ruled. “’Because you’ll use it in recruiting, and you’ll have an advantage.’

“Well, I won’t if 50 other coaches do the same thing. We can afford it — I’m not the only guy that’s done well and been blessed. Well, if 50 of us do it, that’s bad.”

While I occasionally throw jabs Calipari’s way for reasons that don’t amount to much, I’ll say this for Cal: The guy has a bottomless heart, and the benefits extend far beyond the guys he’s coached in his career.

Ask the people of Haiti...

“This is common sense stuff,” Calipari said of this most recent proposal. “How much have I leveraged this position to do for other people? You all know it. Now you want to take it a step farther, and that’s when we fight.”

UK summer plans
Calipari pretty much confirmed this week that he will take his Wildcats to play a series of games in Spain this summer.

Asked specifically about Spain this past week, Calipari said initially that he hadn’t “made a total decision” about where the Wildcats will go, but then said: “It will probably be something to do with the World Games.”

Those games are in, you guessed it, Spain.

“Which means we’d probably get beat up each game because you’ve got NBA players on every one of those (international) teams, but it would be a great experience,” Calipari said.

Willie
Cauley-Stein

Center Willie Cauley-Stein has always struck me as a refreshing (maddeningly?) free spirit, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that the 7-footer from Olathe, Kansas has elected to pass up the spring NBA Draft and return to UK for a junior season.

This despite the fact that virtually all projections had Cauley-Stein going no worse than the mid first round of the draft.

Cauley-Stein, by the way, recently had surgery on an ankle he hurt during the NCAA Tournament. In typical Calipari/UK fashion, the specifics of the injury and the surgery have not been released, as if there’s any point to that secrecy at this point. Though Calipari did say this week that Cauley-Stein would be “fine” within a couple months.

“Willie basically said, ‘You know, coach, I’m in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I’m going to be really close to my degree (after his junior year). I still have to grow as a player, and we left something on the table there that I’d like to try again.’”

Alisha Adair
Former Western Hills High School track and field star Alisha Adair, a freshman at UK, enjoyed the best day of her young Wildcat career Saturday at the Kentucky Relays.

Adair won the 200 meters — coming out of lane eight — in a personal best time of 23.91, and then ran one of the best relay splits of her career, 52.7, as part of UK’s second-place, 4x400 meter relay team.

“Alisha Adair sort of jumped out from the crowd a little bit today,” said UK coach Edrick Floreal. “She’s sort of been in the background, and today, running 23.9 and splitting 52.7 in the 4x400 meter relay, was a great job.”

Kentucky will host the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships May 15-18.

J.T. Riddle
Another former Western Hills star, J.T. Riddle, is off to a slow start this spring with the Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers, a farm club of the Miami Marlins.

Moving up from lower Class A Batavia, N.Y., this season, Riddle is hitting .156 for the Grasshoppers through 26 at bats.

The Grasshoppers play the Legends in Lexington July 1-3.

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