February 25, 2020
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Calipari: gym rat who hit big time

The subject is “gym rats.” You know the kind. These are the guys who have hung around the gym until they drive the instructor to the point of going home.

First guy in. Last guy out. They literally drive the custodians bonkers.

The ones who grow up to get into coaching have the same modus operandi in their job search, too.

Take former Michigan men’s basketball coach Bill Frieder, for example.

In 1977, our HOOPS Inc. staff — we were called Maine All-American Coaches Clinic guys back then — brought Michigan head men’s hoop coach Johnny Orr to Bangor to speak to a large group of attendees. The colorful Orr delighted his audience of 250 or so coaches with ribald tales of a young Bill Frieder — another gym rat — who chased him around the country one spring, trying to get him to hire young Bill for a vacant opening on his coaching staff. Orr finally acquiesced, and Frieder got the position he wanted.

Basketball fans will remember that Frieder, perhaps the ultimate gym rat, interviewed and accepted a job at Arizona State while he was coaching the Wolverines in 1989. Michigan higher-ups, including athletic director Bo Schembechler, did not take that well. They promptly fired Frieder and promoted assistant Steve Fisher to the head job just before the Final Four. Michigan went on to win the title.

The most notable gym rat these days would be a guy named John Calipari, who has made his way up through the NCAA coaching ranks to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball job, a position he secured last month.

Oh, my, I’m thinking. This guy was a finalist in 1988 for the head men’s hoop position at UMaine. He came to Orono via the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a men’s assistant coach.

Want to know who beat him out for that job?

You’re right if you guessed Rudy Keeling, who at the time of his interview, was an assistant at Marquette.

Remember all of that?

Hmmm, I’m thinking. One would have to wonder, comparatively speaking, how the Black Bears might’ve fared under a Calipari-run team if John had been given the nod in 1988.

Let’s compare some statistical data.

Over the course of the years between 1988 and 1996, Calipari compiled a 193-71 record at UMass, which included an appearance in the men’s Final Four in 1996. During the same period at the University of Maine, Keeling’s clubs were 104-124. Keeling’s club made it all the way to the North Atlantic Conference championship game in 1994, a first for UMaine. Calipari’s Minutemen’s finals trip was nullified after the fact because star player Marcus Camby apparently took $28,000 from two different sports agents.

While at Maine, Keeling turned down a lucrative offer from Seattle of the NBA because he felt an allegiance to his players.

I used to tell my players that in order to really assess the situation out on the floor, they have to get in a helicopter — some of them hated this analogy — and take a look at the big picture down below.

Today, we’ve done that. If it were my decision back in 1988 or now, for that matter, I would have picked Keeling.

From UMass, Calipari had a brief stint in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets as vice president of Basketball Operations, before going to Memphis, a job he left for Kentucky.

Keeling went on to Northeastern as head men’s coach and is currently the commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), after serving as the athletic director at Emerson College in Boston.

30-Second Time Out

Although we missed Red Sox opening day Monday because of rain, Bangor radio station WZON (AM 620) listeners were still treated to the annual Opening Day Cookout held at Hammond Street’s Tires, Batteries, and Accessories. Hosted by Dale Duff and his fine crew and TBA’s “Big Al,” the event was a delightful mix of trivia, Red Sox interviews and, of course, food.

Kudos to Duff for all that he and the station do for local sports fans.

bdnsports@bangordailynews.net


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