Kentucky's John Calipari says he wouldn't have left his job as the Wildcats' head coach for a lucrative coaching gig with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA — even if he knew LeBron James would be returning to his hometown team.
The Cavaliers reportedly offered Calipari nearly $80 million over 10 years, including a role as team president. Days after he reportedly rejected that offer, he signed a seven-year, $52 million extension with Kentucky. Calipari led the young Wildcats to a national championship game appearance this year after a disappointing regular season. And he has four stars — Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison — returning for another year.
In an interview with The Courier-Journal from the Bahamas on Sunday, Calipari suggested he stayed at Kentucky in solidarity with the underclassmen who remained at school to further develop and hone their skills. He told the paper he was "not as [close] as everyone thought" to leaving his post at Kentucky.
"They came back because it was good for them and their careers and they knew they needed more developing and coaching. That was by me. That's what they wanted," Calipari told the paper. "So that made it a tough deal to say, 'I'm just going to leave these guys here.' With who? It may be somebody I don't know that wouldn't do the things for them that they needed to do.
"Now, obviously coaching at Kentucky is special. It is unique and special. But this, for me, becomes about these kids. I have no desire, nor am I out looking for [jobs]. I got the job. I got the job. What would move me to stay was these kids need me here. That's what I'm doing. At the end of the day, that was what [kept him at UK]. It wasn't money."
Calipari said that not even knowing that he'd have arguably the Eastern Conference's most formidable team after James' return to the Cavs in free agency this summer would have changed his mind.
"No. No. I don't think so. Because he and I have a great relationship, but it's not based on me coaching him," Calipari said of James. "We've got a relationship. I've known him for years and years. We've always been friends. But it was never based on that. I've said that. I've had a chance to coach Derrick Rose, John Wall and DeMarcus [Cousins], Anthony Davis and Michael [Kidd-Gilchrist]. And I'm leaving names off, but I've coached some of the best players in basketball, and it is a thrill. There's nothing better than that. Especially when those guys are all good guys.
"Well, LeBron is also that kind of player and that kind of person. But again, leaving guys who made decisions based on what's right for their career was something I couldn't have gotten by anyway."