Annual Rite Of Passage: Coach Cal Denies Reports Of NBA Interests

If it’s early summer, then it must be "Cal to the NBA" story season.

According to the rumor mill, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari is once again eyeing a potential NBA coaching position. Given Calipari’s NBA history, stature within the basketball community, and experience developing NBA superstars, his return to the league always seems imminent, even though it has never materialized. I mean, except that one time when it did, but Calipari would probably prefer we all forgot about that.

In a tweet responding to the report, Calipari chalked up the seemingly annual report to espionage tactics meant to scare recruits away. He then followed up by saying he has the “best job in the country” and expressed excitement for the upcoming season.

These types of articles always fascinate me because of how much drama always simmers below the surface.

At face value, the story is simple: seven NBA coaching jobs are reportedly opening up this summer—a few with legitimate superstars (Blazers, Mavericks, and Celtics) and another with the league’s most dynamic future star (Zion Williamson). A savvy, veteran coach with a penchant for understanding big basketball personalities and who can handle the limelight could turn one of these teams into an instant postseason contender. Plus, given the inevitable rise of overseas basketball and G League contracts for young players looking to spend their gap year making money instead of playing for free, college basketball will undoubtedly face even more of a reckoning in the coming years than it did with the “one and done” era, the era in which Cal has undoubtedly thrived.

In other words, it may be a great time to give NBA coaching another shot.

But Calipari also occupies this mythical standing in basketball circles, thanks to his All-American recruiting machine at UK. His connections within the AAU circuit are well-documented, and once his legions of players move on from his program after their one-year tenure (often at his behest), he gets to assume this guru status, as if his tutelage were the reason they are quite often lottery picks. Whether that’s true or not is debatable, but the fact remains: being the undisputed king of anything requires some brazen chess moves to keep interest high and the legend intact. Under Calipari, going to UK has become more than a chance for young players to win basketball games. It’s a massive privilege—an invitation to a country club that can never be revoked.

Is Calipari leaking stories like this to give the program its yearly shot in the arm? Probably not, but anything that reminds potential players that their future coach is a celebrity in high-demand is a good thing for the Calipari brand. He gets a chance to puff his chest, remind the world that he’s the most famous coach in all of basketball, and keep UK contract negotiations fresh as a daisy.

Like any entrepreneurial endeavor, building a sleek, powerhouse business takes time, and Calipari has certainly put in the hours. Walking away from that kind of success would be a massive risk because once it’s over, it’s likely over forever. So breathe easy, Wildcat fans. Coach Cal probably isn’t going anywhere. But then again, there’s a lot of really great NBA opportunities out there right now.