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Posted: Tuesday March 31, 2009 7:08PM; Updated: Wednesday April 1, 2009 12:48PM

Calipari accepts Kentucky job, will become nation's highest-paid coach

Story Highlights

John Calipari has accepted Kentucky's offer to become its next head coach

UK is expected to pay more than $4 million per year in an eight-year deal

As word of his departure from Memphis came, Tyreke Evans said he's going pro

By Luke Winn and Seth Davis, SI.com

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John Calipari went 253-69 in nine seasons at Memphis, making the NCAA tourney six times.
David E. Klutho/SI

John Calipari has accepted a lucrative offer to leave Memphis for Kentucky and become the highest-paid coach in college basketball, sources confirmed to SI.com on Tuesday.

A news conference has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Lexington, Ky., to introduce Calipari.

The deal Calipari, 50, is expected to sign with Kentucky will be for eight years and $31.65 million. Bonuses that could push it closer to $35 million, one source said. UK also must pay Memphis a $200,000 buyout. A Memphis spokesperson said that Calipari was headed to Lexington on Tuesday evening, ending days of deliberation over whether to part ways with the program he coached for the past nine seasons and took to the national title game in 2008. Calipari replaces Billy Gillispie, who was fired from UK after just two seasons. The Memphis Commercial Appeal first reported Calipari's hiring.

The team Calipari leaves behind in Memphis will be without freshman star Tyreke Evans, who plans to enter the NBA Draft.

"Tyreke plans to forego his final three years of eligibility and make an official [draft] announcement in mid-April," one of his older brothers, Julius "Doc" Evans, told SI.com on Tuesday.

With senior starters Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier leaving, junior Shawn Taggart likely to leave, and freshman Wesley Witherspoon reportedly looking to transfer to Kentucky, the Tigers roster will be decimated for whoever takes over. One of the top rumored candidates for the Memphis opening, Mike Anderson, signed a seven-year contract with Missouri on Tuesday night that could keep him there through 2015-16, a school spokesman said. Memphis has scheduled a news conference for noon Wednesday to discuss the future of the program.

In addition to the drama as to who will succeed Calipari at Memphis, there's also intrigue now about the makeup of Calipari's first recruiting class in Lexington, which could include a number of players who were previously committed to the Tigers.

Five-star center DeMarcus Cousins, a late pledge who has not signed an official letter of intent with Memphis, is one of them, as are guards Nolan Dennis and Xavier Henry, who have opt-out clauses in their commitments to Memphis in the event that Calipari is gone.

Unsigned point guard John Wall, considered by many to be the top player in the Class of 2010, had been leaning toward playing for Memphis, and may now consider UK, Duke, Kansas, Miami and Baylor instead. New York prep star Lance Stephenson, who had been expected to commit to Kansas on Tuesday at the McDonald's All-America game, curiously delayed his announcement, although he may only be waiting for one of either Sherron Collins or Cole Aldrich to turn pro and leave Kansas.

If Calipari can persuade sophomore forward Patrick Patterson, who averaged 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season, and junior swingman Jodie Meeks, the nation's fifth-leading scorer at 24.2 points per game, to stay in Lexington, the coach may be able to surround them with enough talent to make a Final Four push in Year 1 on the job.

Kentucky struggled to a 22-14 record in '08-09 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991, largely due to inconsistent play and lack of a dominant point guard. Wall could provide the Wildcats with instant relief at the position. Meanwhile, Daniel Orton, a five-star, 6-10 center from Oklahoma City who had already committed to play for Gillispie at Kentucky, could get immediate minutes in the frontcourt if he opts to play for Calipari.

Calipari met with his Memphis team on Tuesday afternoon, first as a group, and then individually, according to walk-on Preston Laird.

"Nobody really said anything [in the meeting]," Laird told the Associated Press. "[Calipari] started off by telling us it was the hardest day of his life."

The deal Calipari is expected to sign would eclipse the $3.5 million average salary of Florida's Billy Donovan and dwarf those of Calipari's UK predecessors Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Gillispie.

Pitino, now the coach at rival Louisville, never made more than $2 million a season during his remarkably successful eight-year run at Kentucky. Smith's compensation neared $2.1 million at the end of his decade with the program and Gillispie received a base salary of $2.3 million with another $750,000 available in incentives.

The salary nearly triples the $1.6 million salary of Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks, a rarity in a conference where football reigns.

Calipari already was one of the highest-paid coaches in the country, signing an extension with Memphis last year that paid him $2.35 million annually.

Memphis had promised to match whatever Kentucky offered, but the Wildcats have one thing Memphis doesn't: the opportunity to coach in a top-flight conference at the home of college basketball's winningest program. Calipari has been successful throughout his collegiate coaching career: He put together turnarounds at Massachusetts and Memphis, winning over 440 games in 17 seasons and leading both schools to a Final Four. Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart stressed the need to find a coach who can handle all that comes with coaching the Wildcats. Calipari has never met a camera he didn't like and certainly doesn't lack confidence -- two things Gillispie struggled with during his tenure.

Kentucky received permission to speak to Calipari on Monday, less than 72 hours after Gillispie was fired. Sensing the need to make a home- run hire after the Gillispie debacle, Calipari certainly has the resume and the charm to sate a rabid fan base.

But he also has some baggage. He led Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996 only to have the school vacate the honor when star Marcus Camby admitted to receiving gifts from a sports agent.

Though Calipari has never been sanctioned by the NCAA, his hiring could raise some eyebrows from fans still smarting from the recruiting violations during the Eddie Sutton era 20 years ago that nearly wrecked the program.

Pitino swooped in to save Kentucky after Sutton left, taking the Wildcats to three Final Fours and a national title in eight years.

Neither Gillispie nor Smith duplicated that success, but neither had the charisma nor swagger of Calipari, who now finds himself working an hour east of Pitino.

The two have a long history dating back to when Pitino recommended Calipari for the head coaching job at UMass in 1988. Pitino's Kentucky team beat Calipari's UMass squad in the '96 Final Four and the two have had a testy -- at least on the floor -- relationship ever since.

The rivalry really began when Pitino took over at Louisville in 2001 as the Cardinals and the Tigers fought with Cincinnati and Marquette for C-USA supremacy. Those three programs left for the Big East in 2005, and Memphis has since dominated the conference.

Memphis hasn't lost a C-USA game since 2006, and the Tigers are the only program in the country to receive either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament in each of the last four years.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. SI.com's Kevin Armstrong also contributed to this report.

 
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