LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — More than the wins over Louisville, Tennessee, Auburn, or Duke, John Calipari is hoping his new minority leadership initiative will be the most significant part of the legacy he leaves in Lexington and across college basketball.
The University of Kentucky head basketball coach has joined forces with some of the other coaching icons in his sport. Together with ProLink Staffing and the John McLendon Foundation, they hope to bring opportunity and access to minority group members, who otherwise wouldn't have those chances.
"There are some (minorities) out there who are more talented than any of us on here, but they've never had a chance," Calipari said during his Zoom interview with local and national journalists. "They've never been pushed, they never had connections or rubbed shoulders with anybody."
Calipari and his friends are intent on changing that by taking young, aspiring members of various minority groups, bringing them into athletic departments across the nation and mentoring them. Calipari has friends in high places, and many have hopped on board.
"The Pac-12 is all in," Calipari said of the conference on the west coast and its 12 member schools. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, West Virginia's Bob Huggins, and Harvard's Tommy Amaker are all in too, to name a few.
Calipari said a program like this, which can also funnel talented young people to businesses outside of college athletics, is long overdue. He says he felt moved to do something after watching George Floyd die on the streets of Minneapolis.
"I could say this however you want, but he was murdered. George Floyd was murdered," Calipari said. "That moved me to say, 'wow, am I missing something?' And I was."
Some told the coach to stay in his lane and not get too involved in something of this magnitude, but he thought it was time to do the opposite. He credits his wife, Erin, and his coaching mentor, Larry Brown, with nudging him in this direction.
Calipari says this thing got off the ground in a matter of three or four weeks, with about 50 coaches and athletic departments will to take part in the mentorship program. He said this program's success would be all cosmetic. And that's the whole point of this venture.
"Athletic departments will look a little different. In 10 years, that would be a success. In twenty years," Calipari continued, "we will have five times the number of minority athletic directors that we have now."
"This is about access, and it's about opportunities. This is about a springboard to something good," Calipari said.