ohn Calipari likes to refer to himself as old now, regularly pointing out the increasing gray on his not-a-single-hair-out-of-place head or that his artificial left hip will eventually be joined by a new right one. Calipari is only 45, hardly old by anyone's standards and certainly not so in coaching, but his days as the hot young coach are behind him. Beginning his fifth year coaching Memphis, Calipari is fond of dispensing the wisdom that accompanies his added years.
He's acquired some wear on his tires since leaving the University of Massachusetts after leading the Minutemen to the 1996 Final Four. He returned to western Massachusetts Friday night with Memphis which played Maryland in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at the Springfield Civic Center.
Calipari left to accept a lucrative offer ($15 million over five years) from the New Jersey Nets. He started impressively by taking the perennially poor franchise to the playoffs, but after an injury-plagued start following the 1998-99 lockout, Calipari was dismissed.
Still, despite the frustration and humiliation that accompanied getting fired, Calipari said he doesn't regret trying his hand at the pros.
''I did the right thing at that time. I really did. Do I wish it had been different?'' Calipari paused without actually answering his own question. ''That was a very hard time for my family.
''But I got to spend a year with Larry Brown (afterward as an assistant coach for the 76ers), which was a wonderful experience and I got a pretty good job (Memphis). What did it really do to damage me? It created security for my family and I. It was a great learning experience. It was humbling. I got fired for the first time.
''Would I do it again? Yes. If that situation hadn't come up would I still be a UMass? Yeah. Possibly. I didn't have any intention of leaving. (Former athletic director) Bob Marcum made it so I wouldn't leave for another college job.''
While he made it look easy, Calipari stressed that creating a consistent winner in Amherst was difficult then and still is. He said he sympathized with his successors, Bruiser Flint and Steve Lappas.
''It was a hard job when I was there. It was a hard job when Bru was there and it's a hard job now,'' Calipari said. ''You're in an area where the state legislature is built with all the other schools' alumni so you're never going to get the funding you're supposed to get.
''I like Steve Lappas. I support Steve Lappas and his family. I hope Steve Lappas accomplishes what people want him to accomplish there.''
RECEPTION STILL SIGNIFICANT - Calipari has been away from UMass now longer than he coached there, but his return still got plenty of attention.
When the Tigers landed Wednesday at Bradley International Airport, he got a warm reception and quite a few greetings from people in the terminal.
The fan reaction got the attention of his Memphis players.
''I think today when they saw the applause Tony (Barbee) got and Derek (Kellogg) got, they kind of got a gist that this must be bigger than they thought,'' he said. ''The only thing I say about the UMass teams to them is about how good a team we were. The reason we were No. 1 in the country wasn't because we had more talent than the other teams. It was because we had a vicious attitude to win and we played like a team knowing that winning was the most important thing.''
HOW MUCH DID HE MAKE? - Calipari is proud of how tightly he kept the secret of his total financial compensation while he was at UMass. He joked about it a bit Friday.
''You guys never found out what I was making back then, but I was making more then than I am now,'' said Calipari, who reportedly is making $1.5 million annually at Memphis. ''I'm not going to give you numbers, but it's more then than it is now.''
CALIPARI vs. WILLIAMS - The Tip-Off Classic brought two former Bay State coaches back to Massachusetts. Maryland coach Gary Williams coached at Boston College from 1983 to 1987. Friday's game also rekindled the rivalry between Calipari and Williams, which produced some great games between the Minutemen and Terrapins in the early- and mid-1990s.
12/29/93, Maryland 80 - UMass 94
12/10/94, UMass 85 - Maryland 74
12/2/95, UMass 50 - Maryland 47
Calipari won three out of the five meetings, but Williams' two victories ended the season for UMass as Maryland beat the Minutemen in the 1990 NIT and the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
MISCELLANEOUS - In his speech at Friday's Tip-Off Classic luncheon, Calipari endorsed the candidacy of Williams and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim for the Hall of Fame. The Orangemen beat Memphis 77-62 last week.
Maryland became the 12th school to make more than one appearance at Tip-Off Classic. Arizona, North Carolina and North Carolina State all have been three-time participants.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.
PRINGFIELD -- In basketball, as in literature, you can't go home again. Last night, Memphis coach John Calipari learned this lesson in humiliating fashion as he returned to western Massachusetts, once his grand stage, and saw his 25th-ranked Tigers get throttled by No. 13 Maryland, 84-61, in the Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
"That's as bad as it gets right there," said Calipari. "We're a better team than that."
The 3-0 Terrapins, coached by their own caffeinated dynamo, Gary Williams, looked ready to face the fire of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the second half, the Terps demoralized Memphis with steal after steal leading to a parade of easy and acrobatic baskets that would make the Globetrotters proud. Williams, who coached for four years at Boston College, began to clear the bench with 8:38 left and the Terps up by 30.
Maryland got 16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals from game MVP John Gilchrist. Chris McCray also had 16 points, and Nik Caner-Medley added 15.
Memphis (4-2) was paced by Rodney Carney, who had a game-high 23 points.
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The next year, Calipari's squad spent most of the season at No. 1, starting 26-0 and making a legitimate run at the first undefeated season in Division 1 in two decades.
The Minutemen finished 35-2, making it to the Final Four, where they lost to Kentucky.
That marked the end of Calipari's remarkable eight-year run at UMass. He was off to the New Jersey Nets for one rough season, one good one, and a 3-17 start of a third year that ended with the wunderkind coach getting fired for the only time in his life.
"It worked for a while," Calipari reflected yesterday. "We went to the playoffs. All of a sudden I was the golden boy who could do it from college to pro. And then all of a sudden we lose, and it's like a stampede, `We told you so.' "
He resurfaced at Memphis in 2000, where he has orchestrated another impressive basketball resurrection, though not yet approaching the heady success he once knew in Amherst. Memphis has won 20 or more games in each of his four years, but has never cracked the upper echelon of AP rankings or advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Last night, Calipari looked like a slightly older, slightly more subdued version of the exasperated soul who first prowled the sideline for the Minutemen in 1988, his only losing season as a college coach. In one game that year he implored his team to hustle by belly-flopping down the sideline, splitting his pants in the process. UMass even lost that year to George Washington, 103-77, the Colonials' lone win in a 1-27 campaign. In that game Calipari ripped off his jacket and flung it into the crowd at GW, then started unbuttoning his shirt in an effort to get a technical foul.
Now 45, he limps around after hip replacement surgery, but he was still out of his chair last night by the time the game was 13 seconds old. In the second half, at one point he bounded onto the court, gesticulating wildly, imploring his team to get back on defense. On the next possession, Maryland's James Gist rammed down a backward alley-oop dunk, and Calipari slumped back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair, still thick and dark, but streaked with a bit of gray.
"It was great seeing all of my friends," Calipari said afterward. "Short of that, it's been a while since I've seen someone do that to one of my teams.
"Like [John F.] Kennedy said, `As the tide rises, all the boats rise.' Right now we're on low tide. We're on rocks."