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John Calipari: UA basketball coach and devout Catholic

Faith part of how Razorback basketball head coach teaches and approaches job

Published: April 24, 2024   
Coach John Calipari

With the hiring of John Calipari as head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas, the Catholic Church has a higher profile in Arkansas.

Calipari, who formerly led the Kentucky Wildcats for 15 seasons, is taking over for Eric Musselman, who now leads the University of Southern California’s basketball squad.

In his first press conference at UA April 11, Calipari told the story of meeting with a priest after Mass when he was deciding whether to leave Kentucky.

“He told me, go for an hour walk and have it in your mind you’re the Arkansas coach. And then, on the way back, have it in your mind you’re the Kentucky coach, and you’ll see what moves your heart and what you want to do. And I did that. I’ll be honest, when I thought about coming here and building this program and making it something special, it got me excited.”

Calipari famously attends daily Mass.

“My Catholic faith has played a part in how I coach, how I teach and how I approach my job,” he wrote after attending Pope Francis’ speech to Congress in Washington, D.C., in 2015. “And there are a few things that players throughout my career have always been taught while they are with me… I do not force my faith on everybody… I’d rather speak by my actions than by my words.”

In 2009 he told Catholic News Service, "It's important to me that people know I have a strong faith. I couldn't have handled the jobs I've had by myself."

Calipari, 65, a native of Pennsylvania, previously led the University of Massachusetts from 1988 to 1996, the NBA’s New Jersey Nets from 1996 to 1999 and the University of Memphis from 2000 to 2009. 

While raising their children in his wife’s Methodist faith, in Memphis he was pushed toward being more active in his Catholic faith, attending Holy Rosary Church in Memphis.

"They called me a 'Metholic,'" Calipari said in 2009. "I would go to the Methodist church with my family on Sundays and to the Catholic church during the week."

Bishop Taylor wants you to know more about your faith and the Church: Read Arkansas Catholic's free digital edition.

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