John Calipari has accepted the University of Kentucky's offer to become its men's basketball coach, UK confirmed Tuesday night. With the hire, college basketball's leader in overall victories gained the coaching star power its fan base has craved for more than a decade.
Calipari, whose leadership at Memphis caused that school to mount a determined effort to keep him, gives UK a high-profile coach whose national prominence rivals that of Rick Pitino, who left Lexington 12 years ago.
Calipari also becomes the highest-paid coach in college basketball.
UK called a news conference for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to formally introduce Calipari, a big winner on the court and in recruiting during earlier coaching stops at Massachusetts and Memphis. UK also called an Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting for 9 a.m. to approve Calipari's hiring and contract.
In checking Calipari's background, UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said the school found nothing to kill the widely anticipated deal.
While at UMass, one of Calipari's players, Marcus Camby, admitted to accepting $28,000 from agents. That caused the NCAA to vacate the Minutemen's advancement to the 1996 Final Four. Calipari was not linked to the infraction.
Questions have also been raised about Calipari's association with William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, a behind-the-scenes figure linked to Memphis recruiting efforts.
"We've looked into all those things," Todd said. "That guy works for a whole lot of people. I never had heard of him until we started this process. He doesn't work for just any one coach."
As for the contract, UK confirmed on its Web site that the deal is for eight years and $31.65 million.
Todd said he was unaware of any effort to raise private funds to supplement Calipari's pay.
In terms of players as well as coach, Calipari's move may prove Kentucky's gain and Memphis' setback.
Several players or recruits spoke of leaving Memphis and joining him at Kentucky.
In Miami for Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game, heralded prospect DeMarcus Cousins (who had committed to Memphis) told The Miami Herald on Tuesday afternoon that he spoke with Calipari before the decision was made.
"I'm trying to stay focused right now and have fun," Cousins said. "When I get back home, it's time to get back down to business. I did get a chance to talk to Coach Cal, and he said he was considering the job. Now I'm basically waiting like everybody else to see what he does."
Another McDonald's All-American committed to Memphis, Xavier Henry, said he would reopen the process.
"I could get out of my letter of intent if he wasn't there for any reason," Henry told reporters in Miami. "It reopens my whole recruitment to everybody and anybody."
Meanwhile, point guard Tyreke Evans, who won several national Freshman of the Year honors this past season, told FoxSports.com that he was leaving Memphis for a shot at the NBA.
"If he's leaving, I'm not staying," Evans told FoxSports.com. "Coach leaving did it for me. ...
"I'm shocked he left, especially with the class he had coming in. I know it was tough for him, but it was his dream job. You can't get mad at him for that."
Calipari fits the criteria Kentucky desired after firing Billy Gillispie on Friday: a well-rounded coach who can perform the UK job's varied duties on and off the court.
In terms of coaching, Calipari is one of only 13 coaches to take two schools to a Final Four. He guided Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 to college basketball's grandest stage.
Only Rick Pitino has taken three schools to a Final Four: Providence (1987), Kentucky (1993, 1996 and 1997) and Louisville (2005).
Calipari has compiled a record of 445-140 in 17 seasons as a college head coach. That includes a nine-season record of 252-69 at Memphis.
As for the job's public component, Calipari has been a highly visible presence in Memphis. The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis once called Calipari not only "this city's most beloved sports celebrity but as Citizen Cal, a Memphian as integral as shipping envelopes and barbecue."
When many sports figures avoid taking sides on public issues, Calipari freely addressed non-basketball issues.
"I used to think I had a lot of ideas," Memphis banker Harold Byrd once told the Commercial Appeal. "His mind races a million miles an hour."
Calipari opened his home to fund raisers for local politicians. He also offered opinions on civic problems like crime and poverty. He solicited advice from business leaders and reached out to state legislators.
"If this program or me or my family can bring light to something good in this community, I get involved in it," Calipari told the Commercial Appeal. "Whoever is sitting in that (head coach's) seat, if you're not getting involved in the community, you're cheating this place. ... (If) people recognize you, then use it to bring light to good stuff. It's almost an obligation."
Before making the decision, Calipari spoke with former UK coaches Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton on Tuesday.
Hall noted the difficult decision Calipari faced: lead Kentucky or cement Memphis' standing as a national power.
"I know he hates to leave the players there and the friends he's made," Hall said. "That's a big step."
Sutton said he gave Calipari a balanced appraisal of UK basketball.
"I told him all the good things about Kentucky," Sutton said. "Kentucky has the best things (a coach) would ever want.
"Maybe there are a couple drawbacks.
"I told him it was a great place to coach. ...
"Most of the people there are just great basketball fans. There are a few who probably take it a little serious. It's almost a religion to them."
When asked about drawbacks to the Kentucky job, Sutton said, "You lose some of your privacy. It's hard to go out and take the family to dinner without a lot of people wanting autographs. It's something you live with.
"But it also has some real pluses. I didn't say anything negative."
For many UK fans, Calipari's hiring added a new plus.