Basketball / Leadership / Sports / World Magazine / March 31, 2015

Leadership the John Calipari Way

From my most recent article at

Kentucky is now in the Final Four after defeating Notre Dame in close contest that came down to the last few seconds.

After last night’s drubbing of the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Kentucky Wildcats are just three wins away from being the first undefeated men’s NCAA basketball champion since 1976. The Wildcats have been a college basketball powerhouse since the days of Adolph Rupp, back when players wore short shorts and Chuck Taylors. But after Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years in 2008, a proud basketball tradition hung in the balance.

The game was changing. The best players were using college as a stepping-stone to the pros, leaving after one season. Coaches dependent on building teams over three or four years were behind the times. So Kentucky found a way to get back on top with a new coach and a new philosophy.

Since 2009, John Calipari has led the Wildcats to three Southeastern Conference tournament championships, an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament, a Final Four appearance, a championship game loss, and a national championship. And now they’re poised to win another title with what many say is his best team yet.

How does Calipari do it in an era when even the best coaches—Billy Donovan, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Mike Krzyzewski—struggle to maintain championship-level teams? A unique brand of leadership, that’s how.

Calipari is no choir boy, having left two previous schools in the midst of rules violations, even vacating two Final Four appearances. There is no defending his ethics, but you can certainly appreciate his abilities. To date his tenure at Kentucky has been unmarred, and there is simply no denying the traits that make him a strong leader.

Effective leaders are ahead of their time.

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