Howard Herman: Calipari and Flint putting the band together again at Kentucky

Bruiser Flint is back with his old mentor. Flint was hired by John Calipari to be part of the basketball coaching staff at Kentucky. Calipari hired Flint to be on his first staff at UMass.

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When the band comes back together, old war stories get told and retold.

So, when Bruiser Flint joined John Calipari's staff for the second time, Flint was asked how much Calipari had changed from when they were both wet-behind-the-ears coaches at UMass more than three decades ago.

"A lot of things are the same, which is why he's had so much success," Flint said on a Zoom call last week. "One thing about Cal is he's always open to changing and doing things differently, although he does things the same. He stays with his principles, but I think he's not afraid to change some with his basketball, but his principles stay the same. Honestly, he's a lot less crazy than he was in those days at UMass. I know you all think he's crazy at Kentucky now, but that's not even close to his UMass days.

"I think he's calmed down some, to be honest with you."

Flint rejoins his old boss at Kentucky, and will sit on the bench with him as they did from 1988-96 at Massachusetts. The opening on the Kentucky staff became possible when Kenny Payne took a job with the New York Knicks.

Flint comes to Kentucky after spending the previous three seasons working under Archie Miller at Indiana. That job followed a year off after 15 years as the head coach at Drexel. Flint was 245-217 at Drexel after going 86-62 in five years at UMass.

One of those old war stories concerned the aforementioned Drexel, when Flint led his team into Rupp Arena on Dec. 21, 2009, to play Calipari's Wildcats. He joined the Philadelphia school after being let go at UMass.

Talk about walking into the proverbial lion's den. If Kentucky won that game, it would have been the 2,000th victory in school history.

"It wasn't tough to play him, because they gave us a lot of money," Flint said, in response to my question about the game. "I would say that they beat us by about 50."

Close. The final score was 88-44. Kentucky got 18 points each from future NBA players DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Drexel was outrebounded 45-22 in the game, and Kentucky shot 53 percent from the field.

"I must have gotten 30 phone calls. 'I thought that was your boy. He's not supposed to beat you like that.'" Flint said with a laugh. "It was on national television. I knew we were in trouble because it was for the 2,000th win. I'm in the hotel getting dressed at like 5 o'clock. The game was at 7. The building was three-quarters full, and I was like oh brother, it's going to be one of those nights.

"It's not going to be one of those regular guarantee games."

Calipari's original staff at UMass included John Robic, Flint and Bill Bayno. Robic is the special assistant to the head coach at Kentucky while Bayno is an assistant with the NBA's Indiana Pacers.

"As you guys know, I've only done this a few years. But I've had many staffs," Calipari said. "What you do whenever this happens is you're trying to piece them together in a way that your team needs them to be. Time changes. It's different now than it was 10 years ago. Now, as I look at assistants, what is their relationship with players? Are they into that? In this program, it's the most important thing."

In that same Zoom call, Calipari said he was thrilled about putting his band back together.

"With Bruiser, I worked with him, so there's no guessing who he is or what he's about," Calipari said. "He is as good a guy and as good a person — he'll have unbelievable relationships with the players that we have. He's a listener. It was easy for me."

Flint not only worked for Calipari before and worked with Robic, but coached current Kentucky assistant Tony Barbee as a player in Amherst. Barbee also worked under Bruiser for two seasons.

Before Calipari went to the NBA, he had gone 193-71 in his UMass tenure, taking the Minutemen to five NCAA Tournaments. In 1996, the Minutemen made it to the Final Four, ironically, losing in a national semifinal to Kentucky — coached at that time by Rick Pitino.

The college basketball highway, like roads in sports all around, is never a straight one. There are always twists and turns. Bruiser Flint took one of those turns when he became an assistant at Indiana, and took another turn right into Lexington and the University of Kentucky.

"I never thought I'd work for him again," Flint said in an answer to my other question. "I'll be honest with you, I didn't think I'd be an assistant coach again. Things change and I've been fortunate to not only come to Kentucky, but to go to Indiana and then to Kentucky. Two big time programs and two of the better basketball programs in the country. Honestly, it's been a blessing because it's family. It's not just Cal, but Tony, Robes, even Joel Justus. His teams played against my teams at Drexel when he was at [North Carolina-Wilmington]. Everybody says how's the transition going to be. It's going to be easy because these are guys I've been with for a long time."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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