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Beyond one and done: Calipari creating a love for learning for current, former Wildcat players

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

John Calipari never wants his players to stop learning.

“Our job as coaches is to create a love for learning,” the Kentucky coach said on his web site, coachcal.com Thursday. “We must promote lifelong learning, encourage young people to have curious minds and to want to read.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari wants his players to learn beyond the basketball court (Keith Taylor Photo)

Three of Calipari’s current players — Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis and Mychal Mulder — each will receive a degree this weekend during the school’s commencement ceremonies. Hawkins and Willis spent four years at Kentucky, while Mulder, a junior college transfer, played for the Wildcats for two seasons while finishing his college degree.

“What I tell these kids is that when you have an education, it’s a lot harder to rob you and it’s a lot harder to fool you,” he said. “I also tell them that when they’re older and have kids, it’s hard to tell your own kids that they need to get an education if you don’t have one yourself. Here at Kentucky, we’re trying to do everything. Yes, we do it on the basketball court, but we want to create community leaders and also want to develop lifelong learners.”

One of Calipari’s former players at Massachusetts — Marcus Camby — now 43, will receive his diploma on May 12 and his former coach plans to attend the ceremony.

“I’m looking forward to going to Amherst that day to be with him,” Calipari said. “This exciting time offers me a chance to reflect and think about a number of things, including how important it is to have an education.”

Calipari praised former Kentucky players Kelenna Azubuike, Jodie Meeks and Wayne Turner for coming back to campus and finishing their respective degree. In his eight seasons at Kentucky, 17 players have earned a degree, including three who graduated within three years. Kentucky’s academic progress rate ranks in the Top 10 percent in the nation.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Calipari said. “It’s what we believe in.”

The Kentucky coach also likes the fact that most college institutions are offering lifetime scholarship instead of those with four- and five-year restrictions, allowing student-athletes to return to campus.

‘If one of our athletes leaves school early for the NBA he can always come back and finish his degree at a later time, which many of our players have done or are in the process of doing,” he said. “It becomes a great insurance policy if nothing else.”

Although most if his players have been eager learners, Calipari singled out Willie Cauley-Stein, who ended up staying for three seasons despite a disdain for school early in his collegiate career.

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“While he was here, he and I started a book club where we would read a book and share ideas from it,” the Kentucky coach recalled. “Prior to his third year, Willie and I sat down and talked about his decision to stay in school or enter the NBA Draft. He said he wanted to come back to get better and work on his game, and that he liked school. He liked school? I was so proud. To me, it was like we won the championship. Willie became an All-American, was a lottery pick, and has become a lifelong learner and reader.”

In his closing paragraph, Calipai praised Hawkins, Willis, Mulder and Camby for reaching a personal milestone.

“I’m so proud of the UK guys for getting it done in four years, but I’m just as proud of Marcus, because it’s proof that this is about making them lifelong learners,” he said. “Congratulations to them all on achieving an important life milestone that nobody can take away from them.”

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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