LEXINGTON, KY. (EYT/D9) – Clarion University alumni and basketball legend John Calipari will be in town tonight for the official renaming of Tippin Court.
(Photos courtesy of University of Kentucky Athletics)
The court will be renamed “Coach Cal Court” at 7:15 p.m. in a special invitation-only ceremony held at Clarion University.
The Western Pennsylvania native and Moon Area High School graduate is a 1982 graduate of Clarion University and a former standout guard during his time as a Golden Eagle. Under the direction of Joe DeGregorio, a Clarion University legend, Calipari was a member of the program when they were ranked in the Top 25 nationally at the Division II level. He also helped the Golden Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament berth in 1981.
“It will be a time to come together and reminisce and laugh over all of that stuff that happened 40 years ago,” Calipari told exploreClarion.com.
Out of high school, Calipari attended UNC Wilmington for two years, but eventually decided to transfer halfway through his career. He discussed transferring with his high school coach, Bill Sacco, who is also a Clarion University alumni. Sacco proposed that DeGregorio try to get Calipari to come to Clarion to finish out his college career.
“I had two or three Division I offers and if I did not go Division I initially, I would have gone to Clarion because of Coach D (Joe DeGregorio),” Calipari said. “When I arrived at Clarion, the players and my teammates really took me in. All of them were great, and I was really taken in right away by them.”
The university has changed quite a bit over these 40 years, but Calipari has kept in contact with his teammates – and even his head coach – and is appreciative of the experience he had as a student-athlete there.
“I can remember being there and being unsure how things would play out, but this group has truly been and remained friends for 40 years,” Calipari said. “The university then was a little bit bigger and we had a lot of fun. The athlete’s all knew each other and it was a fun place.”
Calipari graduated with a degree in marketing and even spoke about how strong of a degree he believes he received from Clarion University’s business school.
“The head of marketing when I was in school ended up becoming the president of the university,” Calipari said. “Joe Grunenwald did such a great job as president, and that is who we all learned from in marketing when I was a student.”
Calipari has fond memories of small-town Clarion and its population of around 5,000.
“It is a really safe place where everyone seems to know one another,” Calipari said. “It is pretty rural, so if people are into fishing, being on the water, or that kind of thing, it is a great place to be.”
The basketball team was ranked in Division II during his stint as a student-athlete, but they were not the only Clarion University program ranked, something Calipari remembers a great deal about as the Golden Eagles had Division I wrestling, swimming and diving, and gymnastics that were all among the best programs in the nation at the Division I level.
“It was not just basketball that was good, but all the teams were really good,” Calipari said. “There was a real pride about being there and an expectation that the programs would win. The players were that way, too, and we even featured a pretty big basketball team for a Division II school. We just had some great guys and they have all done well in life. We used our time there and jump started and used it as a springboard for our lives.”
His basketball knowledge and coaching skills have taken shape over his career at a collection of places, but he credits Clarion University most for his development of his skills the most.
“I probably learned more of the soft skill there than anywhere I have ever been,” said the current Kentucky Wildcats basketball coach. “We had a very personable and funny group of guys. Taking those skills and learning how to communicate and talk to people – we all learned that at Clarion. You will never be lost in the numbers game, you will have relationships with professors that last years, and you will be in a safe place. I would recommend the school to anyone.”
For those interested in watching the court dedication, the event will be streamed live from Tippin Gymnasium on the PSAC Sports Digital Network app or using this link beginning at 7:15 p.m.