LEXINGTON, Ky. – John Calipari confirmed Tuesday that Rick Pitino is not on his holiday mailing list, but Kentucky’s basketball coach said there is no overt animosity between him and the Louisville boss.
“It’s been fine,” Calipari said of their relationship. “I mean, look, we’re 90 miles away from each other and at competitive, rival schools. You know, it’s hard to send each other Christmas cards. It is what is. I’ve known him for 25 years. I know how good a coach he is. He’s a great coach, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s won everywhere he’s been. National championships, Final Fours. I mean, come on, you know how good he is.”
There’s been plenty of talk over the years about how the former friends became bitter rivals, but both have maintained – despite sometimes taking veiled shots at the other – that it is overblown.
“You’re cordial. We’re not mean to each other, not nasty to each other,” Calipari said. In fact, at a recent Peach Jam recruiting even in Augusta, Ga., “he and I worked out together for 30 minutes and talked. Would you have liked to have a camera on that? We talked about his son and we were talking about what was going on and just went back and forth. I think that was after something you guys said he said or I said, we said. Anything I say is geared to somebody.”
To be fair, it usually is.
Were he interested in sparring, Calipari has bragging rights. As Kentucky’s coach, he’s 8-1 against Pitino. He’ll try to improve on that number when the sixth-ranked Wildcats (10-1) visit 10th-ranked Louisville (10-1) on Wednesday night.
Calipari was asked Tuesday: If he’d lost 8 of 9 to a rival coach, wouldn’t that get under Calipari’s skin?
“Well, if you listen to (West Virginia coach) Bob Huggins he’ll tell you he beat me 8 of 9,” he said. “I don’t think any of the past games have any bearing on this game. And when I’m coaching against a guy that’s won some games against me, I’m not worried about the past games. I’m just saying, ‘How do we win this game?’ I would say (Pitino) is thinking the same way.”
Personal rivalries aside, Calipari knows what the battle between the state’s two biggest programs means to the people who live here.
“I’m happy when it’s over. Just get it done, because everybody makes it life or death and it’s not life or death. It’s worse than that,” he said. “So, literally, and imagine Rick’s the same way: Just play the game, let’s see what happens and let’s go. We’ve got our league to deal with, he’s got his league to deal with, let’s just move on.”