Kentucky coach John Calipari praises ‘blue-collar’ roots in return to Pittsburgh for NCAA Tournament


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John Calipari has served as the head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team for well over a decade. But the Pittsburgh native has never forgotten his roots. 

During a preview of the Wildcats first round matchup against Oakland on Thursday night, Calipari spoke about his “blue-collar” upbringing and what it meant being back in Pittsburgh for the start of March Madness.

Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts after a play during the first half of the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena on February 24, 2024, in Lexington, Kentucky. (Justin Casterline/ Getty Images)

“How many of you are from Pittsburgh,” Calipari asked the media on Wednesday, before making several references to local colloquialisms. “Let me say this about Pittsburgh. When I grew up, it was a blue-collar town. But it’s never changed the roots of what Pittsburgh is and what it’s about.” 

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The veteran coach dove into an explanation of his experience growing up in Pittsburgh and how that contributed to his winning mentality. 

“We were all brought up the same way. Our father’s were laborers, mom raised us and put hopes and dreams and ‘You can be whatever’ – that was mom. But we were all the same. It was a melting pot, and you were taught there’s nothing in this world that’s going to be given to you. You’re gonna have to go take what you want, and you don’t work, you will not eat.”

John Calipari huddle

John Calipari, the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, gives instructions to his team in the first half against the Ole Miss Rebels at Rupp Arena on February 13, 2024, in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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He continued, “That was the famous line. You don’t work, you’re not eating. You work. If you want to be better than somebody, you better work. That’s Pittsburgh, and it was the greatest thing. 

Calipari called it a “special place,” and is no doubt hoping that message will remain with his players as they prepare to take on the No.14 seeded Golden Grizzlies. 

John Calipari speaks to the media

Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats speaks during practice day at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 20, 2024, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Tim Nwachukwu/ Getty Images)

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During Calipari’s 14-season tenure, no program has more tournament wins (32) or appearances in Final Fours (four), Elite Eights (seven) or Sweet 16s (eight) than Kentucky, according to the team website. 

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