It’s almost as if John Calipari can’t stop himself from finding ways to disrupt Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s life.
The Kentucky basketball coach is again dominating the summer headlines even as UK football coach Joker Phillips gets set to start his pivotal second season. Of course, at this time last year the buzz for UK fans was the basketball team’s exhibition trip to Canada and the pending eligibility of Enes Kanter, so Phillips and his players should be used to being overshadowed even as they prepare to start their season.
But now Calipari is adding to the UK hype by finding a way to have the Dominican Republic national team he’s coaching play an exhibition game against a group of former Wildcats now playing in the NBA at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville on Aug. 16.
Presale of tickets started today online and range from $37 to $105. Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday — and based on how the game Aug. 15 at Rupp Arena sold out in less than two days, odds are a lot of tickets are going to be sold to UK fans in the Louisville area.
Maybe Louisville fans can take some solace in knowing two former Cardinals— Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa — will be playing for the Dominican team. However, my guess is that seeing Calipari working the sideline on Louisville’s homecourt is not going to go over well with the majority of Louisville fans just like it wouldn’t if Pitino was coaching a group of Louisville all-stars in an exhibition game at Rupp Arena this month.
Pitino obviously tried to downplay the whole affair Wednesday during a press conference to discuss his current team’s exhibition trip to the Bahamas.
“That’s a public facility, it’s our home court during the season, but obviously anybody can go in there,” Pitino said. “Lady Gaga can go in there, or the Dominican team can go in there. None of that is any of my business. We’re just concerned with Louisville first, we’re not concerned with anything any of our competitors do. We don’t pay any attention to our competitors except when it’s time to play them and I really mean that sincerely.”
And do you believe that? I don’t.
It has to frustrate Pitino that former UK standouts John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe will be playing in the KFC Yum! Center. So will Nazr Mohammed, a player who Pitino recruited at Kentucky. And Rajon Rondo, the Louisville native who turned down a chance to play for Pitino’s Cardinals to play for UK and Tubby Smith. Josh Harrellson, who put his name on the national radar with a huge game in a win at Louisville last season, also will be there.
Pitino pleaded ignorance about the whole game.
“I know nothing about that,” Pitino said. “I haven’t followed it, somebody just asked me about it for the first time this morning. I know nothing about it.”
“It’s no different than Villanova or West Virginia, or anybody else playing there. It’s a free country and the KFC, last time I checked, was part of this country,” Pitino said.
Kentucky will continue its tradition of playing an annual game at Freedom Hall, the Cardinals’ home court until they moved to the Yum! Center last season. But Calipari managed to get this game at the more spacious, luxurious Yum! Center — something UK can’t do for a regular-season game because of the contract Louisville has with the arena.
Why isn’t this game at Freedom Hall instead of the KFC Yum! Center?
“Why don’t you ask them that?” Pitino said.
No need. The answer is because Calipari likes nothing better than needling the Louisville coach, and there’s no better way in August to do that than turning Louisville’s place into a Kentucky showcase.