Barnhart: Calipari has embraced Kentucky fans

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart could say he knew basketball coach John Calipari would embrace the UK fans the way he has. He could say that's one demand put on Calipari when he took the job.

However, Barnhart knows no one would believe that because he's even been amazed by the way Calipari has embraced the Kentucky basketball program in his five months at UK.

"I knew he how to manage that side of it, but he has certainly embraced it. It is amazing. He has been border to border (in Kentucky) a couple of different times. His enthusiasm and energy for the job has been off the charts," Barnhart said. "He wants Kentucky to be as great as all the Kentucky fans want it to be. He wants them to feel a part of it, and I really appreciate that.

"Obviously as some point he has to get down to his work where he is practicing and coaching games. I am sure he is anxious for that. Up to this spot, he has been remarkable in his efforts for this job and he'll never know how much I appreciate that or how much Kentucky needed that."

Barnhart normally would ask the men's basketball coach to make some public appearances. Even Billy Gillispie did some — even if it was obvious he usually didn't enjoy them. But Calipari thrives on public appearances and has done everything from clinics to charitable speeches to book signing tours.

"You want to find balance in how much you have him out. Kentucky basketball doesn't need a lot of great promotion because of the interest in it, but people need to know the coach cares. Finding that balance between being in your office, doing recruiting and coaching your team and then going out and being part of the Big Blue Nation is a fine balance," Barnhart said.

"John knows that and how to strike that right chord. He embraces it. He is not afraid of the spotlight. I think when you have been in New Jersey and been in Philly and been in some of these places — he was at Kansas — that you understand what all this looks like and what it feels like. It is not unusual for him. He is very comfortable with it and enjoys it."

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