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Kentucky coach Calipari says coronavirus could lead to changes in college basketball

Lexington Herald-Leader — By Jerry Tipton Lexington Herald-Leader

March 24-- LEXINGTON, Ky.-While holding court for a nearly hourlong teleconference Tuesday, Kentucky coach John Calipari sat in his office at home. Reporters hooked in via computer or telephone.

The change brought on by the coronavirus pandemic-stay at home and avoid close contact with others-was self evident.

Calipari began the teleconference called to review and wrap up UK's 2019-20 basketball season with the now-familiar cautions of the time: Wash your hands regularly, stay at home, etc.

He also advised exercise, reading, watching movies with your family and ordering meals for delivery or pick-up.

Calipari acknowledged the significant change in lifestyle.

"I haven't been in my home this many days," he said. "You can only clean the garage so many times. I'm, like, should we do a yard sale?"

Calipari said he is enjoying the extra time to read. He added that "no recruiting, no travel, I'm fine with that."

That might sound odd given the Big Blue Nation's seemingly constant preoccupation with recruiting. But, when asked how restrictions on recruiting might impact UK's ability to sign more players, Calipari said, "Thank goodness, we're ahead of the game. We're in pretty good shape."

Then, he used the restrictions on recruiting to revive an idea he said he had been voicing since he coached for UMass in the 1990s.

"Why are we recruiting in the summer?" he said, adding that recruiting should be confined to April and May, and then September.

"We get a chance to be with our own team (in the summers) ...," he said. "(And) live normal lives."

Schools could save the money spent for travel in summer recruiting, he said. Plus, recruiting could be more "localized," which presumably could mean more Kentucky-bred players for UK.

Calipari also hinted at another possible change the coronavirus could bring. When asked if he had any second thoughts about the scheduled trip to London to play Michigan this December, Calipari said, "It is up in the air right now. I say up in the air (to mean) where is this thing going?

"And we probably have until about June to make that decision. Do we do something that is closer to us? So, it is being thought of."

A statement from Michigan officials on Tuesday said, "COVID-19 has affected so much so far that we are sure the London event will be evaluated throughout the spring and summer before any decision is made. The safety of the teams, staff, workers and fans is what comes first."

UK players are off campus. One player contracted the flu, which led his family to have him tested for coronavirus, Calipari said, adding that the test came back negative.

Kentucky's trips to Texas A&M, Florida and Nashville (for the Southeastern Conference Tournament) in late February and early March led Calipari to advise the players to keep a social distance from elderly relatives.

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting cancellation of the NCAA Tournament led to calls for granting seniors an extra year of eligibility. Calipari seemed to look favorably upon reports that the NCAA might grant extra years of eligibility to players in spring sports, but not winter sports like basketball.

"They're not having their seasons," Calipari said of spring sports athletes. "So, (the NCAA) has to do something for them."

As for basketball, Calipari cited unintended consequences that would complicate a decision to grant players an extra season of eligibility. Scholarship limits might have to be expanded. Three more scholarships for men's teams could mean three more for women's basketball. How is that paid for? And incoming freshmen might have signed with a program under the assumption that seniors would be departing.

Calipari also voiced concerns about tampering. He repeated his earlier idea that head coaches should be fired if a program is found to have tried to entice a player on another team to transfer.

Calipari also spoke of a hypothetical ripple effect: the exchange of business cards during the traditional exchange of handshakes after games.

Of course, Kentucky would have a vested interest in the NCAA granting an extra season of eligibility to senior basketball players. Nate Sestina was a graduate transfer player for UK in 2019-20.

"Would I love to have our man back, Nate, for another year?" Calipari said before answering his own question. "Absolutely."

Calipari likened Sestina to former UK player Derek Willis as a perimeter shooting threat, but also possessing more of a physical presence around the basket.

Sestina served as an example off and on the court, Calipari said. "Every day you walk in, you see him, you smile."

While the coronavirus has shaken the sports world, Calipari offered a reassuring thought.

"Every day this goes on is one less we're going to be in it," he said. "Because it will end."

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