In Players First, John Calipari relates for the first time anywhere his experiences over his first four years coaching the Kentucky Wildcats, college basketball's most fabled program, from the doldrums to a national championship, drawing lessons about leadership, character, and the path to personal and collective victory. At its core, Calipari's coaching philosophy centers on keeping his focus on the players - what they need to get the best out of themselves and one another. He is beloved by his players for being utterly honest with them and making promises that he always keeps, no matter what. He knows that in this age, they come to Kentucky to prepare for the NBA; every year he gets players who in a previous era would have gone directly into the pros from high school but now have to play college basketball for one year. Calipari has fought against this system, but he has to play within it, and so he does, better than anyone.
The result is an extraordinary leadership challenge: every year Coach Cal gets a handful of eighteen-year-old kids who have been in a bubble for the previous four years at least, filled with hype about their own greatness, and they come to Kentucky feeling sure that they will play for their coach only for seven months before they go on to greater glory. Every year, he has to reinvent his team. After his 2012 NCAA championship, it was particularly dramatic; he lost his first six players in the first round, meaning that someone who couldn't even start for Kentucky was a first-round draft pick.
The overall record at Kentucky, and for his career, puts Calipari in the pantheon of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. Bold, funny, and truthful, like Coach Calipari himself, Players First is truly the first deep reckoning with the meaning of his experiences and the gifts of insight they offer.
©2014 John Calipari and Michael Sokolove (P)2014 Penguin Audio
When I heard Coach Calipari's interview on ESPN's Mike and Mike, I knew I had to read his book. There's so much more to the man than appears from a distance. I think I'm going to find myself rooting for Big Blue with him on the sidelines...until they come up against the Cream and Crimson.
I was never a fan of Coach Cal, in fact, I dispised him. HOWEVER, after listening to this book I am a convert. He talks about past and current players, gives great perspectives on teaching and coaching young men, and offers opinions on NCAA policies. I am now actually a fan of Coach Cal. Surprised to hear myself say that.
The first half of the book was interesting to listen to as a coach. After a while, Calipari strayed into his own opinions about NCAA basketball and details on how it should work. I listened to the whole thing but didn't get much out of the second half.
I wasn't a fan of basketball prior to listening to this book, but the passion displayed and technical aspects made simple made me start to enjoy the game. There are a lot of leadership gems in here as well.
He does get off topic with weird NCAA rule changes, but it's not enough to not read the book
This book covers a lot of ground about Kentucky basketball and the reasons the program, and John Calipari, is so successful. A strong reading performance and great, candid stories. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in coaching or Kentucky basketball.
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