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September 12, 2012
Kentucky basketball's new-look locker room will feature a nod to the Wildcats' most recent championship past.
On Wednesday, part of the court on which the Wildcats won last season's NCAA championship - purchased by Northwestern Mutual - arrived via truck at Rupp Arena, where it will serve as flooring for part of an expanded locker room area.
The court will serve as flooring in multiple parts of what John Calipari described as "more of a suite than just a locker room."
The center circle with the Final Four logo will in the main room where players' lockers are located. Part of the floor will be used in the entryway to the new locker room area.
Murals on the wall will depict the NCAA title game, Calipari said, to give the locker room an almost interactive feel.
"When you walk on the floor, this is it," Calipari said. "This is the floor we won the national title (on) in 2012, and that was the free throw that Doron Lamb made to ice the game, and this is the free-throw line he shot it on. So it'll be neat."
Northwestern Mutual agreed to buy the floor as part of its partnership with the NCAA, said Dan Rivers, the company's managing partner in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
In addition to donating part of the floor for Kentucky's use in the locker room, Rivers said, Northwestern Mutual will auction off souvenir pieces of the court autographed by Calipari.
All proceeds from the online auction - the details of which will be announced in the coming weeks - will go to pediatric cancer charities in Kentucky, Rivers said. Rivers declined to say how much Northwestern Mutual paid for the court, but said the company plans "to raise many, many, many times what was paid for the floor" for charity.
There will be "several hundred" pieces of the floor available for auction, Rivers said.
But the large section of the floor that arrived at Rupp on Wednesday will remain there as part of the new locker room complex. Calipari said the court and the renovated locker room will serve as recruiting tools and "a motivating factor in us continuing to get the best and brightest players here."
"I'm not sure I've ever heard of any other locker room doing anything like this," Calipari said. "But then again, it seems like here at Kentucky we do a lot of things that have never been done, so it's good stuff."
Ring in the new year
As Calipari fielded a question during Wednesday's news conference, he adjusted a microphone with a clunk and a loud echo, the sound of metal striking metal, and he smiled.
"Championship rings get in the way all the time," he joked.
It seemed like a staged gag, but the ring bit was the sort of callback to the Wildcats' championship season that Calipari insists will be fewer and further between as the start of the 2012-13 season approaches.
Calipari said he was told "Happy New Year" on Wednesday, the implication being that the championship season - and the ensuing offseason - are things of the past.
"Last year is done," Calipari said later, when he was asked if seeing the court at their feet might motivate players in the Kentucky locker room this season and beyond.
Still, Calipari likes the early look he's had at his current roster.
"We'll be fine," he said. "We're not going to be as good as we were a year ago, but I'm happy with how the players are working. We have a different team."
That includes a pair of towering freshmen - Nerlens Noel and and Willie Cauley-Stein - whom Calipari would like to see on the court together this season.
To that end, Calipari said he'll chat with former UK coach Joe B. Hall to discuss a two-big-man lineup. Hall, who routinely played Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin together, said he has "some great ideas," Calipari said.
"So I'll look forward to meeting with him some and talking about playing two big guys at the same time, yet being fast," Calipari said. "I don't want to give away our speed and what we do, but I'd like to be able to play two bigs at one time."
Asked how many states he's visited this week during his recruiting travels, Calipari replied, "So far? A lot. A lot."
With the open recruiting period underway, Calipari is crisscrossing the country to visit with top prospects at their high schools, or - in the case of seniors - their homes.
"I was in six states in one day. And I got in early, early this morning, and (Executive Associate Athletics Director) DeWayne (Peevy) called me thinking I wouldn't be up. Come on, DeWayne. I'm 35 years old. I got a lot of energy."