Over the course of this offseason we will use Thursday to look back at various events, games, players, anything you want. Think of it as #tbt for Today’sU.com. Some of these will be first-hand accounts or just a rambling about the good ‘ole past. Follow me @uklefty22 for all #tbt posts as well as other ones throughout the week.
The most important hire in college basketball modern history came while cameras were focused on a door in Memphis. This hire changed the landscape of college basketball in the present day and more importantly made the most famous program in college basketball relevant again.
The hire should have happened two years ago, but the Kentucky brass missed with Billy Gillispie. This time there was no miss. There was only one guy who was capable of doing the job of head coach at the University of Kentucky. That man is still the head coach and arguably the most hated man in college basketball not named Mark Emmert.
That man is John Calipari, and he will go down as the most important hire in modern college basketball. I was there to witness the day unfold.
It started on March 28, 2009 when Billy Gillispie was fired as the head coach at the University of Kentucky. Four days later, with the cameras focused on a door in Memphis, Tenn., word spread around the country that Calipari would be the next head coach of the Wildcats. Immediately around campus students were running around, trying to get news if this was true and what was going to happen with recruits.
Working at the student newspaper at the time, there was special access granted to us. We were able to secure an exclusive interview with Jodie Meeks, who ultimately decided to leave for the NBA after an All-American year, at the student rec center. There was Patrick Patterson, the best recruit Billy Gillispie ever had, with headphones on outside the Wildcat Lodge where the players lived, with a smile and a skip to his step. There were tears by assistant coaches of Gillispie, knowing they were now going to have to find another job.
More importantly, there was hope on Kentucky’s campus and around the Commonwealth. First came John Calipari, then came the expectations, then came the second coming of the most important commitment in Kentucky basketball history.
It was eerily similar to 1990, when Rick Pitino was the head coach of the program coming off sanctions and needed a splash in the recruiting world. He was able to get five-star Jamal Mashburn from New York, who resurrected the program and made Kentucky Kentucky again. This time it was 2009, and John Calipari was trying to make Kentucky relevant after a string of failure years.
The recruit was John Wall, and he made Kentucky into the program it is today. He was the first recruit to commit to Calipari in Lexington and immediately made the Wildcats cool again. His commitment spearheaded a flip from Memphis to Kentucky by DeMarcus Cousins and was soon joined by All-American Eric Bledsoe.
Just like that the cameras on the door in Memphis made sense. This was the second coming of Rick Pitino in Kentucky. The door made Kentucky relevant again.