Calipari reaches out to legendary coach Wooden

January, 19, 2010
Kentucky coach John Calipari was planning to sit down with his team on Tuesday to go over the expected ascension to No. 1 next week.

Of course, the Wildcats have to beat Arkansas on Saturday for that to happen.

"This was an NIT team last year,'' said Calipari following top-ranked Texas' loss at Kansas State Monday night, which leaves No. 2 Kentucky as the lone remaining unbeaten. "Suddenly, these freshmen and this returning group have to play well to win Saturday. And if they do, they're No. 1. But what does that mean?''

Dealing with the possibility of being No. 1 is the latest fireside chat Calipari will have with the Cats. How do they handle the constant scrutiny which comes with arguably one of the highest-profile programs in the country?

He didn't have to discuss much with his players on Sunday, as they clearly understood the magnitude of helping the earthquake victims in Haiti during a successful telethon which raised an estimated $1 million for the American Red Cross.

"It was good stuff for them,'' Calipari said. "We were all blown away with how well it went to be honest with you.''

A week ago, prior to tipoff at Florida, Calipari had another session with the squad, imploring them to understand that he might have to cut the rotation down to a more manageable eight.

The impetus for the conversation came from an impromptu call to 99-year old John Wooden last Tuesday while the Wildcats were in Gainesville in preparation for the 9 p.m. ET tip at the O'Connell Center.

Wooden apparently had watched Kentucky play this season. Word got to Calipari that Wooden had seen the Cats play. And Calipari, who incessantly searches for confirmation in what he's doing, sought council in the most recognized name in the sport.

"He told me I was playing too many guys,'' Calipari said. "I told him the best team I coached, I only played six guys at UMass [in 1996]. The problem is that I've got a lot of guys who deserve to play.''

Calipari is going strong with guards John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Darius Miller and then Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins up front. Daniel Orton is going to be the first big man off the bench with Darnell Dodson edging out DeAndre Liggins as the first reserve guard. Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson have had limited minutes in the last two games.

But Calipari still has fluctuated with his bench play. Against Auburn, Liggins was the only one off the bench who got double-figure minutes (14).

"The option is to tell everyone to be ready and if one guy is playing well then accept that,'' Calipari said. "In the NCAA tournament, as you know, you really only play seven or eight. But Wooden's point was to do that now. He's probably right. I try to make too many people happy.

"He's 99 years old, and he's right on the money. I even asked him about the aura of all the other stuff. I also brought in [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin about that too. And he came in and talked to the team before the Georgia game at home and said that the seven [title] banners hanging [in Rupp] are a badge of honor, not a burden.''

Calipari said he needed to find Wooden's number and talk to him last week because he wanted to see how Wooden handled a winning streak, too.

"I asked him, 'How do I do a better job coaching guys off the bench? How do I do what's the best thing for them? Is there anything I can do?'' Calipari said. "To do this job, you're crazy not to ask every resource you can.''

Calipari has also had late-night phone conversations with Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Indiana's Tom Crean to share and discuss how to handle different situations.

"I'm reaching out,'' Calipari said. "You can't be afraid to share. These jobs are too hard. [Wooden] was great. He was sharp and to the point. He had great ideas. He said to me, 'You know coach, you do have a good problem, having a lot of guys.' He's right about that.'''

• The latest on Renardo Sidney:

Mississippi State's ineligible freshman forward is apparently still weeks away from finding out his fate for this season.

Sidney's attorney, Montgomery, Ala.,-based Don Jackson, said the NCAA is still in the fact-finding committee stage. The NCAA and Mississippi State weren't able to agree on all the facts of the case. The university issued a response last Friday to the facts. The NCAA is supposed file a response supporting its position sometime this week.

But the problem, according to a source with direct knowledge of the process, is that the NCAA then has to determine if violations occurred. If there were violations, then it next goes to the reinstatement eligibility committee. The source said there are at least two more levels for this process to pass through before there is a resolution. There is also no sense of urgency -- on either side -- to wrap up this case with Mississippi State now 18 games into its season.

Based on a L.A. Times story in the spring of 2009, the original issue was how the Sidney family funded its housing in Los Angeles while Sidney was in high school after moving from Jackson, Miss.

But the facts of the investigation have taken on plenty of twists and turns.

Then there is the possibility of an appeal if the NCAA were to render a decision that would sit him for even more than the amount of games he has already missed.

"I'm comfortable where we are on the facts,'' Jackson said. "But the big-ticket issue, the amateurism issue, isn't really an issue anymore.''

But Jackson still can't say when a decision will come down and neither could the source.

Sidney has been pushed down to individual workouts. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury has decided against using him in real practice situations since there is no way to know when he will play.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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