INDIANAPOLIS — It was a brazen move, admitting to a possible NCAA violation right here in the city where college basketball’s governing body is headquartered, but Kentucky coach John Calipari looked right into the cameras on Saturday and confessed: His wife has been doing one of the players’ laundry for free.
The rogue athlete in question is walk-on freshman guard Brad Calipari, who now lives on campus in the Wildcat Lodge, “but he still brings his clothes over to his mom to wash,” UK’s coach said, grinning. “It’s probably against the NCAA rules, but he does it.”
Kidding aside, John Calipari shared an unusually tender side of himself on the eve of the Cats’ second-round NCAA Tournament game against Wichita State. He lit up at a question about what it’s been like to coach Brad, his only son and the youngest of his three children, for the first time.
“It’s just nice being around him,” the elder Calipari said. “Like when we travel. It was my birthday down at Alabama and I was feeling awful. I was in a room by myself. I call him, say, ‘Hey, come on up here.’ Why? ‘Because I’m in a room by myself. Come on up.’ Dad, please don’t make me come up there!”
That’s what a college freshman who is trying to impress friends, teammates and girls is supposed to say — 50-something dads in unfashionable jeans are so lame, after all — but in a more honest moment Saturday, Brad admitted he kind of loves this time together, too.
“He never really got the chance to coach me any time from when I was little to high school. Even when I would have workouts (at UK’s facility), I would usually work out with the assistants because he was too busy doing other stuff, so I wouldn’t really ask him,” said Cal Junior, as star forward Bam Adebayo calls Brad. “But this year has been great, being under him and watching how he does things, how he coaches, everything he teaches these guys.”
Walking on as the son of the most polarizing figure in college basketball comes with a downside or two, too. Every road game this season, the opposing student section had a healthy dose of harassment ready for both Brad and Dad.
The worst he heard? “Oh, man, something I can’t say on camera,” the son said. Not even a censored version? “Beep, beep, beep, beep.”
John Calipari’s wife, Ellen, joked in the preseason that when the vitriol turned on her little boy, she might have a hard time not physically assaulting the offender. So far, she has not beaten or strangled anyone.
“I would be more worried about my older sister,” Brad said. “Erin would be ready to fight somebody. Her and (middle sibling) Megan both have been telling me stories about going to a bar to watch the game and hearing someone say something — and they’ll say what they need to say back.”
But John has taught Brad never to respond, and the latter has shown remarkable restraint. In fact, he usually plays along with the hecklers. Florida’s were most creative, he said, and the “Calipari doesn’t recycle” sign cracked him up.
“He’s always told me I’m going to get it the worst because I’m his son. I expect it, so I have fun with it. No reason to get mad over it,” Brad said. Not even the nasty ones. “Laugh at them. That’s all you can do. It’s pathetic. Sometimes you got grown men saying it. You’re yelling at a kid.”
John Calipari does plenty of yelling at kids himself, and he does not spare his son. Adebayo said there isn’t a cold separation of father-son, coach-player roles — “You shouldn’t have to disown your son on the court” — but sometimes Brad does get it worse than the players who don’t share a last name with their coach.
“One day we were in practice and we were doing this lunge drill, and (John Calipari) was like, ‘Everybody is athletic enough to do this drill except for Brad.’ We all busted out laughing and Brad started smiling,” Adebayo said. “I feel like it’s a blessing for him, because a lot of kids have to go away from home, get away from their parents, but he comes right to college and gets to be with his dad more. Cal’s going to be hard on him, but at least he gets to be around his dad and just have fun with his dad.”