Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari is returning to the site of his first college job Saturday, when the Wildcats visit Kansas.
Calipari had several jobs as the lowest coach in the pecking order when Ted Owens hired him as a volunteer assistant for the Jayhawks’ 1982-83 season, including serving food at the training table.
Many coaching stories begin this way. Few continue to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, where Calipari was enshrined last year.
“I was blessed to have the chance,” Calipari said Friday. “Can you imagine being 22, 23 and your first opportunity to be around the game is at a program like Kansas?”
Owens was fired after the season, but his replacement, Larry Brown, retained Calipari, who stayed until 1985. The next season, Bill Self stepped into a similar role at Kansas.
Calipari said he’s only been to Lawrence “a couple of times” through a career that’s taken him to Massachusetts, Memphis, Kentucky and the NBA, but he hasn’t forgotten Allen Fieldhouse.
The noise in the building, Calipari said, “literally moves you. If you’re standing and they really get loud, it will move you. You feel it.
“Going to Allen Fieldhouse, (Kentucky players) will experience something they’ve never experienced in their life and won’t again.”
His best memory of Lawrence? It’s where Calipari met his wife, Ellen, who was working in the Kansas athletic business office.