Peas or Corn? Calipari Served Well by His Three Early Years at Kansas
Go Tigers! John Calipari speaks with the media on Sunday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Go Tigers!
John Calipari speaks with the media on Sunday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Go Tigers!

April 6, 2008

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - When he sees that Jayhawk logo or hears the rock-chalk chant, John Calipari thinks back to his good ol' days at Kansas.

Watering Larry Brown's flowers. Walking his dog. Picking up the laundry. Stuffing envelopes.

"You know what?" the Memphis coach said Sunday. "It was the greatest time of my life."

Calipari has done well since, leading the Tigers into a date with Kansas on Monday night in the NCAA championship game.

Yet he fondly recalled starting out his college coaching career in 1982, working for free as a volunteer assistant at Kansas. One of his main jobs was handling a big spoon at the athletic training table.

"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," he said.

Along with a free meal, those long hours provided food for thought.

"It was tough for a 25-year-old because you're not going to hang around the students. You didn't have any money to go to the country club," he said. "But what it made me do, I just got into basketball."

He also gained a great appreciation for the school's hardwood heritage. Pretty rich tradition, too, from Wilt Chamberlain back to James Naismith - the Jayhawks' first coach was the man who invented the game.

"I remember the first time in Allen Fieldhouse, the old locker room. I went in, and it was old. I'm thinking, Phog Allen showered in this shower. I mean, it was old," he said. "The storied history of Kansas."

Calipari worked under coach Ted Owens, helping run his summer basketball camp. Brown took over when Owens was fired, and the new coach asked Calipari to stick around.

Calipari stayed at Kansas for two more years and met his future wife, Ellen, who worked in the school's business office. Later, Calipari's path took him to Pitt as an assistant, the NBA and now the NCAA title game.

 

 

Over the years, he's always kept a soft spot for his start at Kansas.

"I went out there with two pair of shoes, three pairs of slacks, a blue blazer, three shirts and two ties, happy as hell," he said.

Jayhawks coach Bill Self also apprenticed at Kansas, arriving as a graduate assistant after Calipari left. The two coaches are friends, and Self chuckled at the thought of Calipari working the food line.

"I think my jobs were much more meaningful than serving the peas and the corns," Self said. "I was in charge of making sure we rented out the correct bowling alley on game days and numerous things like that. Because if you know coach Brown, he's very, very superstitious, because if you bowl and you play well, you probably played well because you bowled on that lane."

"So I had many responsibilities like that," he said. "Cal is right in this regard: Making $4,500 a year, being a grad student, all that stuff, I don't know if I could have had more fun than what I had that grad assistant year in Lawrence."

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THE NAME GAME: Chris Douglas-Roberts and his Memphis teammates talked at the Final Four about how inspiring it was to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak to them last week. But now it can be revealed: The Tigers felt a little trepidation when coach John Calipari announced there would be a visitor.

"We didn't even know he was coming. We have an academic adviser named Jesse and so when coach told us that Jesse was coming, we all looked at each other and thought, 'Oh no, who didn't go to class?"' Douglas-Roberts said Sunday.

"Then Jesse Jackson walked in and it was like, wow. He didn't even talk basketball to us, but more about life and our education."

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OLD-SCHOOL TIES: Kansas and Memphis share this distinction: The athletic directors at both schools graduated from the University of Iowa.

Kansas' Lew Perkins played basketball and graduated in 1967. Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson played football and graduated in 1965.

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