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Keith Taylor: Calipari is focused on the here and now, not the Brooklyn Nets

John Calipari insists he’s focused on the task at hand and that’s coaching the Kentucky Wildcats.

It’s nothing new for the Kentucky coach to be linked to other coaching jobs, especially in the NBA. His name surfaced for an opening in Brooklyn with the Nets, who parted ways with their coach and general manager over the weekend, creating two immediate openings within the organization.

 Kentucky coach John Calipari insists he's staying at Kentucky and dismissed NBA rumors Monday (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari insists he’s staying at Kentucky and dismissed NBA rumors Monday (Bill Thiry Photo)

Almost immediately, rumors swirled regarding the team’s search for a new head coach and general manager, with Calipari’s name mentioned as a possibility to fill the two vacancies. Those jobs likely won’t be filled until the end of the season, but that didn’t stop Calipari from shooting down rumors on the possibility of joining the Nets.

“You may have heard me say this before, I absolutely have the best coaching job in sports and I plan on being at Kentucky for a long time,” Calipari said in a post on his Facebook and Twitter accounts Monday. “I am not negotiating with anybody. My total focus is on this team and winning the next game.”

Calipari coached the Nets in the late 1990s and turned down overtures from the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago. In addition, Calipari also has been reportedly courted by the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans.

What makes the Nets’ opening so intriguing is the fact that Calipari is close friends with Brooklyn CEO Brett Yormark. Despite the friendship between the pair, bringing Calipari to Brooklyn would be costly for the organization, owned by billionaire Dmitrievitch Prokhorov.

For now, Calipari is sticking with Kentucky. He signed a seven-year, $54 million contract extension with the Wildcats last spring after leading Kentucky to its fourth Final Four appearance in five years. Calipari said on the weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday that coaching college basketball outweighs the lure of making a second attempt at coaching in the NBA.

“Anytime you can have a championship culture, anytime you can be in the hunt for championships or in this case in college in recruiting, you have one of the best jobs,” he said. “You don’t have to put fans in the seats, you don’t have to raise money. Just coach basketball. It’s a great job, and one that I appreciate having and am humbled to be here.”

Kentucky (12-3, 2-1), which split two games last week and fell to No. 14 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, hosts Mississippi State Tuesday at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats have dominated the series between the two teams recently and carry an eight-game winning streak over the Bulldogs into the contest.

“Both Mississippi State and Auburn are both capable of beating us (this week),” Calipari said Monday. “We are going to have to just continue to work to be a consistent basketball team, which is what we aren’t right now.”

SEC Standings

The Wildcats made a step in right direction in a 77-61 win over Alabama last weekend, bouncing back from an 85-67 setback to LSU in Baton Rouge a week ago. Despite the progression, Calipari wasn’t to see more improvement from his squad in moving forward.

“We have to practice and I have to make a point when guys are not bringing it, and I’ve got to get our players to coach each other when they’re not being consistent in practice,” Calipari said. “It takes some leadership (and) it’s going to take some consistent practice. When we’re all being our best version, we’re really good. And when we’re not and we have two or three players no-show, anyone in the country can beat us.”

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland considers Kentucky’s backcourt duo of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray “one of the best backcourts in the country” and added the Bulldogs will have their “hands full” facing a “great challenge.”

“It can’t be a tougher venue and team to play against on the road with all the success they’ve had,” Howland said. “I caught the very tail end of (Ole Miss head) coach (Andy) Kennedy’s comment about not wanting start out there (in the SEC) again next year. Everybody knows how tough it is.”

Schedule update: Kentucky’s game at top-ranked Kansas, part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, is set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 in Lawrence, Kansas.

The game, which features the two winningest schools in NCAA Division I history, will be a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

The meeting will mark UK’s first trip to Allen Fieldhouse since Jan. 7, 2006 and just its second since Dec. 9, 1989.

This marks the third season of the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge, though this will be the first season where all 10 games of the challenge will be played on the same day.

Ten of the SEC’s 14 teams will participate in this year’s event against all 10 of the Big 12’s institutions. Each of the 10 SEC teams participating in the 2016 games will also play in the 2017 event. The four SEC teams not participating will play each other in conference games the same day.

Game tracker: Mississippi State at Kentucky, Tuesday, 7 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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