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Calipari's ambitious agenda under way

LEXINGTON, Ky. | New Kentucky coach John Calipari has grand plans for the Wildcats basketball program.

— Big Blue Madness at Commonwealth Stadium.

— A Chinese coach at the end of the bench as an assistant.

— A neutral-site series with Texas, or maybe Duke.

Calipari doesn't care if any or all of that is doable. That's not his problem.

"I let everybody else deal with all the hard stuff, I come up with the ideas," Calipari said.

He's got plenty of them to go around.

From having former Kentucky stars Scott Padgett and Tony Delk join the staff as "coaches in training" to 70,000 people at the football stadium for the team's first practice of the season to restarting a dormant rivalry with Notre Dame, Calipari has spent his first six weeks on the job revamping the program at "warp speed."

Has it been a whirlwind? Calipari has been too busy to tell.

"I think I have been here 40 days, it feels like 10," he said.

While stressing college basketball's winningest program can't be remodeled overnight, it hasn't taken long for Calipari to put his stamp on the team.

The Wildcats have already signed a pair of high-profile prep stars — point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward DeMarcus Cousins — since Calipari was hired on March 31 and could add a third if unsigned guard John Wall opts to join the program next fall. Forward Patrick Patterson is so excited about playing for Calipari he pulled his name out of consideration for the NBA draft without so much as going through a workout.

Throw in likely holdover Darius Miller and the possible return of Jodie Meeks — who is testing the NBA waters — and Calipari can understand why some pundits are already calling the Wildcats a national title contender next year.

He's just not buying it.

"Half of the team is going to be new players that have never played college basketball and the other half has never played this style," he said. "So to say that we are going to be one of the best teams in the country" is not fair.

Yet he knows it's part of the territory after Kentucky broke the bank to make him college basketball's highest-paid coach. He's done little to dampen expectations and done his best to embrace all the trappings that come with coaching the Wildcats.

There are already more than 26,000 people following Calipari's posts on Twitter. A new Web site that will feature video of him speaking directly to one of the nation's most ardent fan bases is in the works. He's reached out to former Kentucky players who have not yet graduated and encouraged them to return to school to get their degree. He's even talked about holding a fantasy camp for "over-35 guys" that could be coached by Kentucky legends like Dan Issel and Pat Riley.

It's all a part of restoring some of the luster to a program that hasn't reached the Final Four in more than a decade and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years this spring.

"I want this brand to be back where it was," Calipari said.

Creating buzz and thinking big are part of the process. He's going to spend a week in China next month and says he'd like to eventually bring a young Chinese coach to Lexington and let him spend six months with the program.

Another plan — potentially — include holding the annual season-opening practice at Commonwealth Stadium in October. While he knows the weather could be dicey, he also has little doubt the stadium would be filled.

"I would like to do it on the football stadium and you get 70,000 people there and have the weather be perfect and have Ashley Judd come and Justin Timberlake and other celebrities come and you make it an hour and a half of fun," Calipari said.

In the end, however, Calipari knows it will be about winning games. Even now, six months before he coaches his first game, he's already preaching patience.

"We have a ways to go and this is going to be a step at a time. What you are going to be finding out is that in September and November, balls are going to be playing everywhere and they will be questioning how we are playing," Calipari said. "All of a sudden it will hit January and we will have a couple of breakout games ... then by March you are playing your best basketball. If you asked me how my vision of what it will look like, it will look something like that."

Some of those early season bumps will come against high-profile competition. While the 2009-2010 schedule isn't quite complete, the Wildcats will play games against Louisville, Indiana, North Carolina and Connecticut.

There's also the usual neutral-site game in Louisville against an undisclosed opponent. Calipari hinted that he'd like to start bringing in a national power to give the annual trip to Kentucky's largest city a little sizzle. Kentucky has played UAB and Appalachian State during its last two neutral site games at Freedom Hall.

"I like neutral-site games," he said. "What I like to do is split tickets. You get half the tickets, we get half the tickets. The reason? It's an NCAA venue. That's what the NCAA (tournament) is."