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PLAYERS FIRST by John Calipari


Coaching from the Inside Out

by John Calipari and Michael Sokolove

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59420-573-6
Publisher: Penguin Press

With the assistance of Sokolove (Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater, 2013, etc.), University of Kentucky basketball coach Calipari (Bounce Back, 2009, etc.) lays out his coaching philosophy as it applies to his current position as head of college basketball’s most storied program.

As it becomes increasingly common for basketball players to join the NBA if not straight out of high school, then after only a year or two of college, coaches at elite universities, under pressure to sign top prospects and make deep runs in the NCAA tournament, are facing new challenges. Landing in Kentucky in 2009 after making the Final Four as head coach at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Memphis, and briefly coaching the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, Calipari has found success with an NCAA championship in 2012 and with 17 of his Kentucky players drafted by the NBA, including No. 1 overall picks John Wall and Anthony Davis. At the forefront of the author’s narrative is the problem of having to compete under the microscope that is Kentucky basketball with a virtually new team every year. The coach is not concerned here with X’s and O’s but with helping his players succeed, as a team and individually, both on and off the court. Much of this “players first” philosophy comes across as obvious common sense, though the frequent discussion of specific players will be of interest to followers of the team. Where Calipari, known throughout his career as outspoken and whose teams have been cited for NCAA violations, really gains steam is in his discussion of proposed reforms to the embattled organization, which has come under increasing criticism over its handling of the student athletes who bring billions of dollars in revenue to the NCAA and its schools.

No backboard-shattering revelations but a candid look at what it takes to remain at the top of the college basketball heap.