Calipari: When you ask players what they want, 98 percent say the same thing

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday April 20, 2017

John Calipari doesn’t hide from saying his No. 1 goal is to get players to the NBA, not win a national championship, and he makes that clear in recruiting.

A recent 30 for 30 documentary focused on Calipari’s career and his polarizing philosophy. Early in the two-hour film, he’s on a recruiting trip and explains where that starts.

“I enjoy recruiting,” Calipari said. “I get to meet people. I get to learn about their lives. I get to hear their stories. I get to hear their dreams and aspirations. I get to see a house and say, ‘If we all do right, it’s not going to be like this for long.’”

Every coach asks every recruit what their goals are. Many players want to take care of their families, especially the ones from a difficult background. Calipari says that’s all that matters. Derrick Rose said Calipari was the only coach who could come to his house, in a bad neighborhood, and it made an impact.

Whenever you ask a player, ‘What is your why? Why are you doing this? What do you want to attain?’ Ninety-eight percent are going to say, ‘I’m taking care of my mom,’” Calipari said. “All these kids take care of their moms. Some coaches will say, ‘My kids aren’t all poor.’ Alright. Most of mine are, OK? I don’t know where you’re getting them from, but most of mine are.

“I see a family that’s been in poverty for generations. That family may have no college graduates in it, like my family, where I came from. They may live in a house that’s $13,000. I lived it. They want a chance for a better life. That mom, her dreams and aspirations, the family’s dreams and aspirations and hopes are piled up into that young man. They just want to know, ‘Are you going to take care of my baby?’”

Calipari has seen 28 Kentucky players drafted since he took over in 2009. Kentucky has had players put up minimal numbers and still get drafted. Calipari has said before that comes down to a trust from the parents.

John Wall recounted telling Calipari one time that he wasn’t having fun. Calipari told him to look at the big picture.

Calipari replied, “Look, kid. You’re going to be fine. It’s not about one guy. It’s about a bunch of guys. You’re going to be gone in a year. What I want you to do is take these guys with you. Not only carry them this season, but take them with you, all of you go to the NBA.”

That made an impact on Wall, and the Wildcats had five players picked in the first round that year.

“That’s when I realized I’m more than just about John Wall,” Wall said. “Me and Coach Cal built that trust and bond.”

David Shaw has said his job is to win games and graduate players. Coaches always say they want to prepare players for the futures. To Calipari, that’s what he’s doing.

My job is to prepare them for their job, which is going to be a professional basketball player,” he said. “You may not like me. You could say, ‘This guy’s a bum that lets everybody leave.’ But guess what? If I do right by them, they’ll win. Even if I let them all leave, we’ll get another group and they’ll win.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to