Elder Calipari enjoying son’s 3rd Final Four trip
Sunday, April 3, 2011
HOUSTON (AP) — John Calipari’s father Vince stood in his front-row seat at Reliant Stadium on Saturday night, moments after watching Kentucky lose to Connecticut in the Final Four, and tried to put the last month in perspective.
“It’s been a great ride,” said the 78-year-old former steelworker.
One that’s been therapeutic for both father and son.
Vince’s wife of 54 years, Donna, passed away in November following a long battle with cancer. He’s spent most of the last four months in Charlotte.
His son simply wore him down over time. John Calipari encouraged his father to use the tournament as an opportunity to bond with grandson Bradley and “take his mind off the grief that he’s going through right now.”
Bradley and Vince sat alongside each other on the team bus and got adjoining hotel rooms to make it easier to pop over for a visit. They were within arm’s reach during the game, exchanging high-fives at one point.
“It’s good stuff, it’s really good stuff,” John Calipari said.
Dad proved to be a good luck charm of sorts, watching Kentucky roll through the SEC tournament and four games in the NCAA tournament, including upsets of Ohio State and North Carolina in the regionals last weekend.
Things didn’t go so well on Saturday, when the Wildcats shot just 34 percent. Yet Vince Calipari admitted there’s no place he’d rather be.
Besides, it beats watching the game on TV, when he grows so antsy watching the Wildcats often leaves the room. Trouble is, that typically makes it even more nerve-racking.
“I shut if off and go in the other room, hoping when I come back things have changed for the better,” Vince Calipari said with a laugh.
Given the choice, Vince Calipari prefers a seat in the stands, even if it means watching his son go haywire on the sideline.
“That’s John,” Vince Calipari said.
This is Vince Calipari’s second Final Four. He watched in 1996 as his son led Massachusetts to the national semifinals before losing to Kentucky. He skipped Calipari’s last trip to college basketball’s biggest stage in 2008 while at Memphis because “it felt like a business trip.”
Not this time. Vince Calipari sat just off the floor on Friday while watching the Wildcats practice at Reliant Stadium, drinking in the atmosphere as the largely pro-Kentucky crowd voiced its support for his son, who has revitalized the program after a decade of slow decline.
The father never doubted the son would succeed, often boasting to his co-workers at the Pittsburgh airport in the 1980s that John was “going to be the best coach in the country” one day even though he was an assistant at Kansas at the time.
How confident was he? When John Calipari took over at Massachusetts in 1988, Vince thought it would only take “two or three years” for the Minutemen to make the Final Four. He was wrong. It took seven.
“Obviously, it’s a little harder than I thought,” Vince Calipari said.
He is well aware of the lightning rod his son can be. Both of John Calipari’s previous trips to the Final Four were vacated due to NCAA rules violations, though the coach was not found at fault in either instance.
“There’s a lot been said both ways about John, but he’s a good son. He’s a good person, he’s a good coach, and he tries to help everyone he can,” Vince Calipari said.