I took my first visit to the famous Nike Employee Store in Beaverton today. It was everything it was made out to be. It is truly an athletic apparel shopping nirvana.
Besides the great prices on Nike gear, the other cool aspect of the store is that you never know who you will run into. While browsing the golf section, I ran into Clippers Director of Scouting Gary Sacks and Suns General Manager Steve Kerr. They were both in town for the Nike Hoop Summit.
A few minutes later, my eye caught a cool looking black velvet Nike sweat suit featuring that familiar blue UK logo. But this suit was not on a rack, it was on the shoulders of new Kentucky assistant coach Rod Strickland. Rod and I met years ago, but I had not seen him in forever. After a quick catchup, I told him to tell Coach Cal to call me. I had yet to talk to John since he took the UK job, and I had heard that Cal was trying to reach me.
Rod then tells me that Cal was also in the store. Cal, Strickland and Orlando Antigua were all looking for deals on Nike gear to take back to their respective families. Last night, the trio attended the Lakers/Trailblazers game at the Rose Garden--the same place where tonight's Nike Hoop Summit will be played.
A few minutes later, I found Cal in the shoe section. It was the first time we had seen each other in about 8-9 months. The last time I saw him, he appeared on a taping of the Best Damn Sports Show.
After a quick congratulatory hug on getting the UK job, Cal looked at me and said, "Can you believe I'm at Kentucky?" Even some two weeks after taking the job, he is still genuinely excited about the opportunity to coach the Wildcats. He said it was his dream job, and he is certainly acting like it.
We spoke for a good 20 minutes. He asked me questions about the past and the future of the program. I told him some of the things I believe will help him be as successful as possible.
Our conversation was quite candid, and thus I cannot share everything we discussed. However, I will tell you one thing I said should be at the top of his priority list: bring back the former players. Since Tubby Smith left Lexington, former players were starting to feel less and less welcome on campus and around the program. From what I have been told, both Billy Gillispie and Mitch Barnhart are responsible. If that is indeed the case, they both should be ashamed.
What makes a great program truly great is the history of the program, and that history should always be embraced. Every kid who comes through that program should know what the former players went through. The past should lead the future--something that has been lost at UK.
Cal completely agreed with me, and you should expect to see some former UK players on his staff. You may have heard about Scott Padgett accepting a job. That is true, but he won't be alone. Expect another former player who won a championship at Kentucky to be involved in some capacity as well.
As I have written here previously, I felt very confident that John Calipari could get Kentucky back in the upper echelon of college basketball. Not only am I even more confident in that belief, but now I think my prediction will come to fruition even faster than I thought.
(Editor's note: Calipari will not be in attendance for tonight's Nike Hoop Summit. College coaches are not allowed to watch recruits practice or play during this current period. However, Calipari plans to talk to both John Wall and Xavier Henry shortly after the game. While he wants both players to come to Kentucky, there's no question that Wall is the more pressing need. Kentucky desperately needs a point guard. The Cats haven't had one since Gillispie ran Derek Jasper out of town.)