As John Calipari leads his unbeaten Wildcats through the tourney, he leans on the lessons he learned as a young point guard:

“I was small, but I was also slow,” Calipari told USA TODAY Sports. “I was a very average-at-best player.”

In reality, Calipari was a fringe Division I prospect — but more importantly, a self-professed gym rat. He had a deep affection for the sport of basketball, a natural understanding of the game and a maturity his peers didn’t quite understand at the time.

At Clarion, Calipari blossomed both as a basketball player and a young entrepreneur.

He found two trailers for about $2,500 apiece. His father loaned him the money, and Calipari paid him back within a year thanks to rent received from a group of girls who lived in the second mobile home.

“Right then and there, I knew John was going to be a success,” DeGregorio said. “He was making money while he was going to college, and not too many students do that. Most of ’em get out of college and owe money. But that was him.”

Coach Cal during his stint as the New Jersey Nets Head Coach

Among the memories that remain most vivid to Malis, these 30 years later, were all of Calipari’s handwritten notes. Calipari would jot down motivational phrases he liked and stick them up on his dorm room’s wall. Malis liked one so much, he wrote it down and still carries it with him to this day: “Be careful of the words you speak, make them soft and sweet. You never know from day to day which ones you’ll have to eat.”

“John was far more mature in his thinking than the rest of us,” Malis said. “He was thinking about those things — he bought those trailers and rented them out and made money off of that. The rest of us are trying to figure out how to scrape up two dollars to get into the next party. He was just different in his approach to our team, to his life, to his studies, to his family. He already had a direction.”

The Wildcats celebrate winning the 2012 title

“We didn’t really notice it much at the time, but looking back he was already focused on where he wanted to be.”

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