Kentucky AD confirms that John Calipari will return as Wildcats' coach

In case there was any lingering doubt, John Calipari will return as Kentucky’s basketball coach.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart posted to social media Tuesday night that Calipari would return for a 16th season in Lexington. The Wildcats lost to Oakland in the first round of the 2024 NCAA tournament last week.

The defeat to the Grizzlies was the second time in three seasons that Kentucky had lost in the first round of the tournament. In 2022, the Wildcats were a No. 2 seed and lost to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. This year, Kentucky was a No. 3 seed and lost to a No. 14 seed.

It seemed on Monday night Calipari would return as Kentucky’s coach after he appeared on his radio show. The longtime coach said he was committed to getting Kentucky back to the top of college basketball.

“That is a commitment that I give to the fans," Calipari said on his radio show. “Now let’s come together and let’s go do something special. We can do it. We’ve done it. Let’s do it again.”

Kentucky is just 1-4 in its past five NCAA tournament games. After reaching the Elite Eight in 2019, the Wildcats failed to make the tournament in 2021 and lost in the second round as a No. 6 seed in 2023.

UK won a national title in 2012 and was back in the Final Four in 2014 and 2015. Since then, the Wildcats haven’t been back to the Final Four, though they’ve lost in two Elite Eight appearances as a No. 2 seed.

If — if — Barnhart wanted to make a change at the top of the Kentucky men’s basketball program, there were two major obstacles to overcome. Calipari’s contract has a buyout of $33 million. If he was fired, the buyout would be the most money ever owed to a basketball coach.

There’s also the question of who would replace him. With Florida Atlantic’s Dusty May now the new coach at Michigan, the crop of coaches ready to move up into bigger jobs is thin. It’s hard to come up with an obvious candidate or three if Kentucky had a vacancy.

At Kentucky, Calipari has relied heavily on highly touted freshmen in the one-and-done era, and this year’s team will likely lose at least two first-year players to the NBA Draft. Guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard could both be lottery picks.

There could be more of the same coming in 2024-25. Kentucky’s class of 2024 currently ranks second in Rivals’ rankings and includes four five-star recruits. Center Jayden Quaintance and guard Boogie Fland have already signed with the Wildcats, while forwards Karter Knox and Billy Richmond are verbally committed.

However, Calipari has signaled that he’s willing to adapt. The leading scorer on this year’s team was senior Antonio Reeves, and Calipari has said he wants to have teams that continue to have a mix of veterans along with highly touted freshmen. Kentucky should be a major player in the transfer portal in the coming weeks and months.