Of the 12 minutes John Calipari spent discussing Kentucky’s need for basketball facility upgrades in the Bahamas, he’d like 30 seconds of it back — or a rewording, at least. “I said the wrong thing,” the UK head coach said at the time. “… Sometimes it doesn’t come out the right way.”
The other 11-plus overlooked minutes? Those didn’t just disappear. Calipari feels the upgrades are necessary, with a new practice gym being at the top of the priority list.
UK AD Mitch Barnhart disagrees, making it clear “it’s not a project that we’ve put on our strategic plan” with the Joe Craft Center — built in 2007 — being just 15 years old.
“We’ve continued to make enhancements during that time,” Barnhart said in August. “We’ve enhanced that facility over and over again. It continues to be a state-of-the-art facility. We take really good care of it.”
Barnhart’s assessment of Kentucky’s facilities, though, doesn’t quite align with others in the college basketball world. Calipari’s thoughts are clear — “It has to be bigger and not leak like the one we’ve got. It’s gotta be bigger because that’s what they are now. People should come in and see this and say, ‘Whoa.’ This is Kentucky basketball, the gold standard in the country.”
ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, who coached college basketball for 34 years — 22 as a head coach — and now covers games at different venues across the country for a living, sides with Calipari.
No, not because he’s close friends with the Kentucky head coach and is looking to push an agenda; he just continues to see other schools with better facilities. Others are making state-of-the-art upgrades to get there.
And it’s not one, two or even a handful of programs. Greenberg can name 50 schools with better facilities — including Virginia Tech, where he coached from 2003-12.
“He does need new facilities,” Greenberg told KSR on the Sources Say Podcast this week. “That’s not me being a mouthpiece for Cal. Pat Forde wrote something like — Pat, do your homework dude. I can name 50 schools that have better practice facilities than (Kentucky’s), it’s antiquated.
“It’s not nicer than my practice facility at Virginia Tech. It’s not nicer than VCU’s practice facility, not nicer than Illinois, not nicer than Arkansas, Auburn is moving into a new one. That’s just the way it is.”
It’s not necessarily even about what’s brighter or shinier out there. It also comes down to the fact that the men’s basketball program shares its facilities with other sports, including the weight room. The coaches don’t even have a joint meeting space, something other programs — especially blue bloods — have at their disposal.
Kentucky does not.
That’s not even accounting for the basketball dorms, upgraded in 2012 with the opening of the Wildcat Coal Lodge. With brand new palatial student dorms popping up across campus seemingly by the day at this point, though, the team’s living space isn’t even the best at the school anymore, let alone elsewhere. And it’s noticeable.
“They need to improve the housing, they need to improve the practice facility,” Greenberg told KSR. “They don’t have a place as a staff to meet, they don’t have a standalone weight room — they share it with a bunch of other sports. Let me tell you something, if you walk into Duke’s practice facility, that practice facility and weight room isn’t for more than one sport. They have a place to meet as a staff.
“A standalone building is what they need. The best programs in the country have standalone buildings that are built for men’s and women’s basketball. That’s just the way it is.”
A standalone building is exactly what Calipari is looking for, something that would be “the centerpiece of the campus,” he says. It would feature new-and-improved practice courts and weight room, obviously, while also serving as a Kentucky basketball museum of sorts including exhibits with interactive features, interviews with former players, trophies and accolades — essentially a Hall of Fame. Include sports science departments and nutritionists while you’re at it, creating an all-in-one, multi-use facility shining a proper spotlight on the program.
“All of it should be 20 years ahead, and we can do that,” Calipari said. “Everybody should be behind this.”
Upgrades are being made elsewhere on campus. The baseball facility “might be the nicest in the country,” Calipari says, “and I’m happy about that.” Soccer? “$200 million.” Soccer? “Unbelievable.” And track? “I love it.”
And then you factor in the billions spent on student dorms, dining facilities and the brand-spankin’-new 378,000-square foot student center, among other developments.
Necessary growth is happening on campus. Calipari believes it’s now his program’s turn to be a part of that growth — even if he has to pull together the money himself, just as he did for the Rupp Arena locker room back in 2012.
“Now when people go in, they say there’s not a better locker room,” Calipari said. “How many years ago did we do it? That locker room will be fine for another 10 years.”
“The locker room, it’s great. Absolutely phenomenal — John worked really hard to get that thing built,” Greenberg told KSR.
Anthony Davis sent Calipari a whopping $350,000 for flood relief in Kentucky this year alone. To be included in a project of this magnitude, one that includes a basketball museum highlighting the best players and moments in school history? One that not only continues to move this program forward, but gives it a substantial lead over the competition?
“They will give to something like that,” Calipari said. “These kids will.”
One way or another, it needs to be built, says Greenberg. Upgrades are necessary.
“Is their practice facility OK? It’s OK, but I’m not sure the people at Kentucky want OK,” he told KSR. “They want the best of everything, because that’s who you try to recruit. That’s what you’re recruiting against.
“Look, the reality of it is, everyone is building new facilities. If you’re recruiting, you’re walking these players into the facilities — the size of the assistant coaches’ office, the lack of a meeting room. Tom Izzo’s movie room upstairs in their office complex is an incredible theater. Obviously, Kentucky has theirs in the locker room.”
Again, a locker room Calipari raised money to build on his own.
“(The practice facility) is not up to par in terms of the best in the country,” Greenberg told KSR. “I would think Kentucky would want the best in the country.”
Calipari drew up plans for Kentucky’s locker room upgrades back in 2012 on a whiteboard. Architects took those plans, drew them up professionally and the renovation was completed in “eight or nine months.”
This is bigger, obviously, but the UK head coach believes the project can be finished in a year or two. “With the funding, it’ll move,” he said. And the hope is that it rocks the college basketball landscape for two-plus decades.
“I want this, whatever we do, 20 years, everybody’s still talking,” Calipari said. “Building it the right way, we can do it, and we can raise the money. But you’ve got to get started, and you’ve got to have champions for men’s basketball. Who are the champions? Can’t be just me.”
He’s not alone in his thinking. Now he’s hoping the school comes around on the idea, as well.
If not, Calipari’s got a list of 50-plus draft picks ready to take his call.