Calipari dishes out stories about days at Kansas

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Kentucky head coach John Calipari speaks during a news conference for the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball game as forward Anthony Davis, center, looks on Sunday, April 1, 2012, in New Orleans. Kentucky plays Kansas in the championship game Monday night.

Mark Humphrey, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — A good story is worth re-telling.

With Kentucky coach John Calipari facing Kansas for the NCAA title just as he did in 2008 when he was at Memphis, he fondly recalled his days as a volunteer assistant in Lawrence, Kan. He talked about being able to eat steak, which he never did growing up, and putting on weight.

He even re-told the story about being the man with the ladle at the training table.

And not in a "Boy, this sounds familiar," way.

Word for word.

"I would serve peas or corn. 'What would you like? I'll be there early for practice if you want to do some extra shooting. What would you like, peas or corn?' That's what I did," Calipari said in 2008.

"I would be in the line. 'Would you like peas or corn? Peas? Great,'" Calipari said Sunday, even dropping in the laugh-getter about the extra shooting.

Even if the stories are canned, the affection Calipari feels for his days at Kansas is genuine. It's where he met his wife, Ellen, who worked in the school's business office. And it's where he got his start in basketball.

Calipari has come a long way since then.

He has taken the Wildcats to the Final Four twice in his first three seasons at Kentucky and will make his second appearance in the NCAA championship Monday night. He's got kids recruiting him as much as the other way around, and he is among the highest-paid coaches in the country, making more than $4 million this season alone.

Quite a change from that first job.

"When Ted Owens asked me to join his staff, I said, 'What position?'" Calipari recalled Sunday. "He said, 'Volunteer.' I said, 'How much does that guy make?'"

BLOCK PARTY: Kansas coach Bill Self is willing to anoint Kentucky star Anthony Davis as the nation's best shot blocker. Self also believes the Jayhawks have a close second.

Jeff Withey, the former volleyball player from the beaches of San Diego, has emerged in the NCAA tournament as one of the premier defensive players in the game. He blocked 10 shots in a win over N.C. State, and then caused all kinds of trouble for Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.

The 7-footer swatted seven shots, altering half a dozen more.

"Guys like Anthony and guys like Jeff cover up mistakes," Self said. "That's a big advantage."

Withey already has set the school record with 137 blocks and has at least five in a game 11 times, while Davis has set an NCAA freshman record with 180 this season.

The way the two go about things is slightly different.

Withey uses his height and wingspan to overwhelm opponents, whether it's a guard trying to get to the rim — such as the Buckeyes' William Buford — or a big guy like Sullinger. Meanwhile, Davis uses his uncanny quickness to close come across the lane and block shots seemingly out of nowhere.

"He was 6-3, he grew to 6-10 — he's nimble like a guard. He doesn't try to block it in your hands. He lets you release it. That's what great shot-blockers do," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He's nimble. He's quick to the ball. He's got a quick twitch."

GUEST APPEARANCE: You never know who's going to show up at a practice these days.

Hall of Famer Larry Brown, the only coach to win NCAA and NBA titles, has been hanging around Allen Fieldhouse the last few weeks and was front-and-center in the Kansas section when the Jayhawks upset North Carolina to win the Midwest Regional last weekend. He's also dropped in at Villanova, Maryland and Kentucky.

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