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San Antonio Memphis basketball coach John Calipari could buy a mattress store or three with cash today if he so desired, but it wasn't always that way.
Calipari was new to Lawrence, just hired as a graduate assistant on Ted Owens' staff. Workers inside Allen Fieldhouse were breaking down a set from the movie, "The Day After," when Calipari took the opportunity to save a buck.
"They were throwing these cots away because the whole Allen Fieldhouse was a triage, so it was filled with cots," Calipari remembered fondly. "So I didn't have a bed. They're throwing these cots out, so I went over and took one. I got the wide cot. I had to put a piece of wood under it. But that was my first bed."
Calipari worked for Owens in his last year on the job at Kansas and for Larry Brown in his first year.
"I loved it," "Calipari said. "I was a volunteer. To eat, I worked at the training table. I would serve peas or corn. 'What would you like? I'll be there for practice if you want to do some extra shooting. Would you like peas or corn?' That's what I did. But you know what, it was the greatest time of my life. I remember the first time in Allen Fieldhouse, the old locker room. I went in, and it was old. I'm thinking, 'Phog Allen showered in this shower.' I mean, it was old. And I said, 'This has been here since the building, right?' They said, 'Yeah.' The storied history of Kansas."
Then Calipari moved onto a job with more responsibility at Pittsburgh, and two weeks later Brown had a new, similarly energetic, bright and ambitious graduate assistant by the name of Bill Self.
"I'm sure John did have a lot of those jobs," Self said of the peas-or-corn question. "I think my jobs were much more meaningful than serving the peas and the corn. I was in charge of making sure we rented out the correct bowling alley on game days and numerous things like that, because you know coach Brown, he's very, very, very superstitious, because if you bowl and you play well, you probably played well because you bowled on that lane, had nothing to do with Danny (Manning). So, you know, I had many responsibilities like that. You know, Cal is right in this regard: making $4,500 a year, being a grad student, all that stuff. I don't know if I could have had more fun than what I had that grad assistant year in Lawrence."
Somewhere close to 11 p.m. today, either Self or Calipari will win his first national title. When that happens, Brown will be elated. And heart-broken. He'll love it. And he'll hate it.
Self is close with Brown, but Self said Calipari is even closer. Both men credit Brown with having a big hand in helping to mold them into the coaches they are today.
"I thought at the time, and I still do, that he's the brightest mind I've ever been around," Self said of Brown. "... He was tough, but he made the game easy for the players."
Much like Calipari and Self.
"The thing that impressed me most about him was he was like a camera because he could see all 10 players on the court at once," Self said. "... I think I see the game and I developed my philosophy from him more than anybody else because, in large part, when I was with him, I knew absolutely nothing, so I was like a sponge just trying to soak everything up."
When the New Jersey Nets fired Calipari, Brown was right there to pick him back up by making him his assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers.
"Getting fired? Whoa, that's like falling down a flight of steps," Calipari said. "A lot of times there were people on the sideline kicking you to fall faster. And that's part of life. You find out who your friends are. I had a hundred calls when I got the job. I had, I have to say, three calls when I got fired. Larry Brown, my father, and Howard Garfinkel (Five-Star basketball camp director). Those were my three calls. So you know, anybody that's been through it knows what it is. That's why Larry Brown reaching out and saying, 'Come on down here and join me,' what it did for me, one it starts to bring you back. Men, their livelihood, how they make a living, is who they think they are. That's their life. So you kind of die. And so he helps there. He also confirmed how I felt about the game and how I teach it because I was with him."
Self and Calipari pursue the same type recruits. Fast and long. Rosters filled with such players tend to inspire observers to brand coaches as good recruiters. Teams with outstanding shooters and teams that prefer a slower pace tend to result in the coaches receiving credit for their masterful work during games. The stereotypes are nonsense, of course.
All great college basketball coaches excel in three areas: 1. They see how players will mesh when deciding which guys to recruit; 2. They motivate their players to play hard; 3. They get them to play together at both ends of the floor. Both Brown disciples bat 3-for-3. When the final buzzer sounds on the 2007-2008 college basketball season tonight, 20 seasons after Brown won it all with KU in his final college game, one man will be a national champion. The other will be mentioned alongside UCLA's Ben Howland and Rick Barnes of Texas as the best college basketball coaches who have yet to win a national title.