He had a telethon to raise money for Haiti after a hurricane devastated the island. He’s been involved in other charitable works with his players. Rather than go overseas to play during a summer trip, he took his team to Canada to get in the same number of games in a much shorter, easier travel period. He’s persuaded ESPN to televise a practice. He took the national championship trophy on a tour of the state.
Now Calipari may have the NCAA scrambling to find a way to prevent any other coach from doing what he’ll be doing the next few weeks while he coaches the Dominican Republic national team in its bid to make its first ever Olympics in London. The team had four practices at the Joe Craft Center over the weekend and is getting ready for the FIBA World Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela where it must finish in the top three to make the Olympics.
Calipari coached the team last summer and that gave him a chance to spend extra time with UK senior to be Eloy Vargas. Now he’s getting to spend time with one of the nation’s high profile recruits, 6-11 Karl Towns Jr. The New Jersey sophomore, who is only 16, is eligible for the team because his mother,¿Jacqueline, is Dominican.
He could likely grow even more since he wears a size 20 shoe.¿Last season his team (St. Joseph of Metuchen, N.J.) was named the nation’s top team by ESPN. He has above-average ballhandling skills for a big man and has already shown a strong post game. He can also shoot outside and hit 70 3-pointers last year. He may not block shots like Anthony Davis, but he certainly has other skills like the UK center did last season when he led the Wildcats to the national title.
Now he’ll be playing with NBA players Al Horford, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia and coached by Calipari. Kentucky is one of about 25 schools that have shown a lot of interest in Towns. Towns’ father recently told ESPN that Calipari did not add his son to the team for a recruiting edge.
"Coach Cal is great, but I always tell people he still has to bank on a kid and his ability because an Olympic spot is on the line and that's no small thing," said Karl Towns Sr., who is the coach at Piscataway (N.J.) Vo-Tech. "There are many players he could have chosen, but Karl has a mindset and skill set that they haven't seen in a long time."
Towns averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as a freshman. His numbers will improve the next three years and he won’t be a recruiting surprise like Davis — who hopes to be the only player not yet in the¿NBA on the U.S. Olympic roster — was when he grew six inches in one year.
Towns will get to see UK’s facilities and campus. He’ll get to see the passion of UK basketball fans by being in Lexington.¿He’ll not only be around Calipari, but he’ll get to know UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua even better. He’ll also have to see the current and incoming UK¿players and hear plenty from them about the Kentucky program.
And it’s all perfectly legal and certainly bound to drive those folks at the NCAA crazy.
Did Calipari know Towns would be on this team when he took the job with the Dominican Republic national team last year? No. Did Calipari have the final say in adding him to the roster on this team? No.
But will Kentucky and Calipari benefit from having him on the roster and in Lexington? Absolutely.