Memphis Peak

by March 08, 2012

But are Calipari’s days in the Bluff City numbered? The last few years have seen his name rumored around nearly every possible pro and big-time college opening, but few have even tempted him—Cal seems genuinely content in Memphis. Calipari (who should top 400 career wins this season) brings much more to an institution than just Ws. Much like the situation when he arrived at UMass as a 29-year-old, Calipari took over a Memphis program that was struggling even more in the classroom than between the lines. Ask him about his graduation rates and it’s clearly a source of pride. For the record, he inherited a group at Memphis with a 0-percent graduation rate, a number that now hovers around the 75-80 percent range. “What I try to do is recruit players that I think will do well here,” Coach Cal says. “We’re on the path that I want to be on, which is, guys are graduating and we’re putting guys in the NBA, too.”

But Calipari isn’t entirely content with what he and his staff have accomplished in their seven years in the Volunteer State. In an unprecedented move, Calipari has reached out to, of all places, the Far East. This summer, the University of Memphis joined with the Chinese government and the country’s professional basketball league in an effort to provide both coaching services (in the states and abroad) and to hopefully tap into the enormous market of talent in the 1.3-billion strong nation. China has been head-over-heels in love with the game of basketball and the NBA for some time, but its players and coaches have little knowledge of the American collegiate game.

Back to the early fall practice. The session is nearing its end, and the delegation of Chinese players and coaches seem confused.

“Did you see how we pass the ball by using the backboard?”

Coach Cal’s inquiry, said in English, was translated through Memphis Director of Player Development Rod Strickland (yes, that Rod Strickland) and Xia Song—an agent and the voice of the NBA in China.

The contingency looks at each other in disbelief, as if there must have been something lost in translation. Song looks back at Cal for clarification.

With a smile, the energetic coach assures his guests there was no mistake: Yes, they can run an offense like this.