Miles’ coach hails Calipari’s sensitivity to black colleges
Kentucky’s Friday exhibition game against Miles College, one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities, is the latest example of John Calipari seeking to help where he feels help is needed.
This follows the announcement of Kentucky starting a “Unity Series,” which will be games over the next five seasons against HBCU teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The first game will be against Sean Woods, coached by Southern, on December 7.
In partnership with the McLendon Foundation, Calipari was also instrumental in launching the Minority Leadership Initiative, which aims to help people start a career in athletics.
“It speaks of the character of man,” said PG Peeples, president and CEO of the Lexington Urban League. “Cal is a caring person who always wants to do the right thing in terms of humanity.”
When asked why Calipari was looking to help in this way, Peeples said, âHe told me his mother always told him to pay up front. And he said he’s always tried to live up to that.
This lifestyle predates Calipari’s arrival as a Kentucky coach by decades.
Anton Brown, who played for Calipari’s UMass teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s, recalled a shining example from that era. On a road trip, UMass players watched an episode of an award-winning PBS documentary titled “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement”.
The series covered the years 1954 to the mid-1980s and noted events such as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus and the murders of Emmitt Till and Martin Luther King Jr.
âA lot of guys were blown away by the things they were seeing,â Brown said. âSo they were like, you know what, we’re not going to practice today. We will boycott.
Calipari was in the hotel lobby waiting for his players to assemble before taking the bus to the gym. He called Brown, the team captain, to ask, where is everyone ?!
When Brown told him about the PBS series, Calipari came into the room and joined the players to watch the documentary.
âHe almost came to tears,â Brown said. âAnd he said to the players, hey, you know what? We don’t practice today.
Recalling this about 30 years later, Brown said, “I have a lot of respect for him for doing this.”
When asked how Friday’s exhibition match came about, Miles College coach Fred Watson said the UK contacted the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for a recommendation from an opponent .
âWith his sensitivity to HBCUs and our plight, Coach Cal wanted to play an HBCU,â Watson said.
Coincidentally, Watson is a longtime friend of Brown’s. The two share the hometown of Columbia, SC, and have played on teams together as young men.
That Calipari looked for an HBCU team to play didn’t surprise the Miles College coach.
âI’m a fan of Coach Cal,â Watson said. âI know his heart. I know what he does for us. I know how hard he tries to make an impact. It’s just an awareness.
Watson expressed his gratitude for the âgood enoughâ financial guarantee Miles College will receive.
âIt’s going to make a huge difference,â he said. âObviously, our budget cannot provide much. Our budget covers the things we need to do. There are things you just want to do. This guarantee will allow us to do things that we just want to do.
A movie theater and extra pairs of shoes are among the things her program wants to do that the guarantee will allow, Watson said.
âWhen you’re at an HBCU, there are a lot of people who do a lot of talk and are aware,â Watson said. âBut (Calipari) actually has an intentional plan behind his awareness. When he puts a plan in place to help, he puts words into action.
‘This is how you know it’s genuine’
Of course, there may be a backlash. Criticism erupted on social media when Calipari joined British players in kneeling during the national anthem ahead of last season’s game in Florida to call attention to systemic racism. Likewise, social media critics have followed the UK coach who joined the players wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt for a video produced during last year’s pre-season.
While acknowledging that such actions can help bond and recruit teams, Watson said there was a risk.
“It could also affect his donors,” said the Miles College coach. âBut when something is in your heart, you cannot be political. This is how you know it’s genuine because he takes those risks (in the service of) a greater cause.
CB Akins, the retired pastor of Lexington First Baptist Church in Bracktown, said he considered Calipari’s actions “appropriate”. Akins, UK board member from 2011 to 2017, pointed out that the majority of players are black.
âHow can you ask a team to be with you and believe in you when you’re not with the team and you don’t believe in your team? Akins said before adding, âHBCUs are the main producers of black doctors, lawyers and engineers. I think he’s taking the opportunity he has in his job to really make sure a school like this has a lift.
Peeples expects this social awareness and active response to continue in the future.
“He’s always talking about teaching his players to share, teaching his players to pay up front,” Peeples said of Calipari. âIt’s the best example for them to see how to do it. I think the record shows that his players paid attention to it. “
Of the 10 seasons the NBA has awarded a Community Assist Award, two have gone to former British players: John Wall in 2015-16 and Devin Booker in 2020-21.
Former British players have received the monthly recognition eight times: Anthony Davis three times, DeMarcus Cousins ââtwice, Booker twice and Wall once.
Miles College at Kentucky No.10
What: Pre-season exhibition match
Or: Rupp Arena
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: SEC Network