Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out
Now with a new chapter on the Wildcats' legendary comeback in the 2014 Final Four
John Calipari, one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, presents the world of college basketball from the coach's chair, unvarnished and straight from the heart. Players First is Calipari's account of his first six years coaching the University of Kentucky men's team, leading it to a national championship in 2012 and the championship game in 2014, all while dealing with the realities of the "one-and-done" mentality and an NCAA that sometimes seems to put players last. Filled with revelatory stories about what it takes to succeed at the highest level of the college game, Players First is a candid look at the great players and rivalries that have filled Calipari's life with joy and a sense of purpose.
order to win at Kentucky. And they need it because a lot of them—eight months after they start with me—will enter into a league of grown men. One thing I have to guard against is the tendency of my kids to look too far down the road—and also to take certain things for granted rather than pausing for reflection. I have to remind them that here is where we are. Right now. Focus on what we’re doing in the moment. And don’t be afraid to stop to honor the milestones you’ve already achieved. What’s
we’re in. There’s no use whining about the rules. (I will, however, put forward my ideas on changing them in the next chapter.) My responsibility is to deal with the situation intelligently, ethically, and in a fashion consistent with my Players First philosophy. I want to recruit the very best players to Kentucky, as many of them as I can get. They are permitted to enter the NBA draft after one season with us, and if I do my job correctly, they will have that option. They’ll be draftable.
I don’t give up on kids. I don’t give up on teams. I don’t give up on seasons. That’s bred into me as a coach, a big part of who I am. Only at the very end is there that moment of stark reality: We’re done. We got to the end of our story. It had been a while since I’d had a team that struggled so much and was seen to have so grossly underachieved. Six of my previous seven teams, going back to 2005–2006 at Memphis, had won thirty or more games. They’d averaged thirty-four wins. The team that
on defense. It’s the same words you use in relation to a family. It’s all about shared responsibility. You’ve got just five players on the court at the same time. You don’t have seventy-eight guys on a roster—offense, defense, special teams—you’ve got a dozen. We all know one another. We’ve all got to live together. Character matters probably a little more than it does in other sports. Kenny Payne, one of my assistant coaches, uses the term “teamsmanship”—which is like citizenship in a
to the house in the middle of the day and I tell them they have to take naps. They spread out all over the house—the basement, whatever couch they can find, spare bedrooms. You look around the house and see a huge kid sprawled out in every room, dead asleep. But having them at the house is not just about rest and nutrition. I like them to see how I am with my wife and kids, and I don’t say that to imply that I am some kind of paragon of a family man. But I’m a successful guy who makes a good