Teacher faces former pupil in UK-AU tilt

John Calipari and Tony Barbee have played the role of teacher and pupil many times. Tonight the two are coaching their respective teams in a head-to-head SEC battle as Barbee's Auburn Tigers come to Rupp Arena to take on Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats.

First year Auburn coach Tony Barbee began his college basketball odyssey more than two decades ago when he played for the UMass Minutemen. The Minutemen were then coached by current Kentucky coach John Calipari.

After spending four years playing for Calipari Barbee became a graduate assistant for UMass, where he traveled to the Final Four and had a front row seat for the semifinal game that many felt should have been the national title game that season, Kentucky vs UMass.

After that season Calipari went on to become the head coach of the NBA's New Jersey Nets, after then Kentucky coach Rick Pitino turned down the Nets' offer.

Barbee stayed at UMass as a part of Bruiser Flint's staff.

Calipari returned to college to coach at first Memphis and now Kentucky. Barbee made stops as an assistant at Wyoming, a second stop at UMass. Barbee and Calipari hooked up again at Memphis where Barbee was an assistant to Calipari from 2000 to 2006.

In 2006 Barbee took the head coaching position at UTEP. With the program trending downward under Doc Stadler Barbee was able to right the ship and get the program back on track and lead them into the NCAA tournament last spring. It was the second trip back to the NCAA tournament since the 2004 departure of former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, whom Calipari replaced in 2009.

Calipari encouraged Barbee to pursue the Auburn position last spring. Calipari explained his rationale behind encouraging Barbee to pursue the Auburn job.

"I think that all the jobs in the SEC are good jobs. You have a chance to get your team to a Final Four. You have a chance to win national titles. Teams in this league have done it, and if there are other teams in this league that have done it, you can do it. (They have a) new building, with the SEC and their football program doing well financially you have no restrictions, it's go out and recruit some guys, get them together and let's go. I think he'll do fine and he's done fine. The tapes I've watched he's doing a terrific job of keeping his guys where they have to be for a chance to win. They beat Florida State and they had them from the start of the game to the end of the game," said the Kentucky coach.

There are many head coaches that attempt to dissuade former players and assistants from taking jobs where their teams will face off as conference foes. Calipari did not do that with Barbee when the Auburn position came open last spring.

Calipari discussed his relationship with Barbee in his pre-Auburn media conferences.

Calipari told the media, "Not all of my former players have worked for me. Tony's worked for me. I coached Tony when he was 16 years old. When I recruited Tony he committed to UMass before he even visited the campus. He said, ‘I want to play for you. You're the guy I want to play for.' There's been a bunch of those now, but he was the first one because I was not expecting him to say I'm coming. I was just hoping he was visiting. And he said ‘I'm coming.' I went, ‘What?' And I did a back flip. I was younger then, my hip wasn't yet replaced; I did a back flip and I hugged his mom and dad and I made our staff leave immediately before anything would change. Just, ‘Let's go, hurry up, get your stuff and let's go.' And he ends up being the third or fourth leading scorer. He was a four-year starter. Hard-headed kid now. He's funny, when I used to get on him he'd run down the other side of the floor. If he knew he did something he ran down the other side from me. ‘Tony!' He'd be down on the other end running. He was smart."

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