Tucker Max recaps his second year at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp
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Tucker Max recaps his second year at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp

Mrs. Tyler Thompsonabout 8 years

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Tucker Max attended The John Calipari Fantasy Camp for the second year in a row, and has been kind enough to document his experience for KSR. If you don’t know who Tucker is, he authored the very popular book “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” which became a New York Times #1 bestseller and was made into a feature film. His other books include “Assholes Finish First” (2010) and “Hilarity Ensues” (2012) and “Sloppy Seconds: The Tucker Max Leftovers.” If you couldn’t guess by those titles, he mainly chronicles his party-hardy lifestyle and romantic encounters, which he also posts on his website TuckerMax.com. Give him a hearty KSR welcome.

Last year, I attended the inaugural John Calipari Fantasy Camp. You can read my whole post on KSR from last year here, but it’s pretty long, so I’ll sum it up:

1. I had an amazing time.
2. I’m a real UK fan, so I came just for the experience. But there were a ton of people there–about half–who weren’t UK fans, but instead came because they go to a half-dozen fantasy camps every year and only cared about the basketball.
3. I initially assumed those guys would be super losers, because who goes to multiple fantasy camps a year to play pretend basketball, except men who are lamely trying to relive their glory days, right?
4. I realized that the guys were actually really cool and became great friends with most of them, and in the process of painfully losing in the semi-finals, I found out the reason these guys go to the camps: Because the basketball is really just a device for the guys to compete together and form the kind of bonds that can only come from shared sacrifice.
5. As a result of this, I joined what I call “The League of Professional Fantasy Campers” and ended up going to two other fantasy camps this year (the Bill Self/Kansas camp and the Team USA camp in Vegas).

Of course, after loving last year so much, this year I returned to the 2nd Annual John Calipari Fantasy Camp. And of course, it was awesome again. During the camp, Matt Jones asked me to write another post for KSR about my experience this year, especially now after I had other fantasy camps under my belt. I promise I’ll do my best to make this post shorter than the novella I wrote last year:

1. People took my advice: The first thing that shocked me was the huge increase in real UK fans here. Last year, I’d say about 40% of the people at the camp were real UK fans doing their first ever camp like me, and the rest were the Professional Fantasy Campers. This year, that ratio flipped, and like 60% of the campers were real UK fans doing their first camp. A big number of those guys told me that that they did this camp in part based on what I wrote last year on KSR. This kinda blew me away–who listens to me for advice??? In all seriousness, it was really cool having more of the real UK fans there, because so much of what we do at this camp is predicated on the fact that you love UK basketball.

I’ll say this again: The camp is not by any means something you must do at all costs, but if you can afford it, you really should try to make it at least one time. The things you see, the people you talk to, the experiences you get to have are all without precident. To get these sorts of things, you pretty much have to work in the UK Athletics department, be a player, or be a ridiculous donor like Joe Craft (I think Tyler did a good job covering a lot of that in her posts this year).

For example: before the alumni game, I spent 20 minutes hanging out in the new (and amazing) Rupp Arena locker room with the former UK players. Seriously; just sitting around BSing with Anthony Davis, Brandon Knight, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Boogie, Bledsoe, etc. Where or how else could I ever get that chance? Not to mention Cal and the staff are basically friends of mine now (every one who goes to the camp, not just me). Robic likes me so much, he even makes fun of me every time he sees me (he only mocks the people he loves, just ask Matt Jones). Last year, Cal promised all of us who came to the inaugural camp that if we ever came back to a game, he’d give us tickets. I took him up on that last year, and he gave me 2nd row seats from his personal allotment for the Baylor game. Can you believe that? It blew me away.

Like I said, the camp is not cheap, but it’s a true experience and very much worth it for any UK fan.

2. How the UK camp compares to all the other camps: After last year, I said I might start going to camps at other schools. And I have–this year I went to the Bill Self Fantasy Camp in Kansas, and the Team USA Olympic Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas. I had a really good time at both camps, but UK’s camp is way better. Cal really goes out of his way to make sure we have so many cool experiences and things like the Alumni game and the auction and stuff like that. I won’t go on and on here comparing camps because 99% of people don’t care, but if you are really thinking about going to other camps, just email me, I’ll point you in the right direction ([email protected]).

3. They politely told me I suck: This year I won the “Most Improved Camper” Award. Which I very much appreciated, but I also laughed at, because thats the nicest way possible of telling someone they kinda suck at basketball. Which I do. So it was very fair and appropriate.

tucker-max

4. Playing in Rupp got no easier: This year, my team got to the finals (and lost), and though I had played decent when we were in the Craft Center on Saturday and Sunday, I played like a turd AGAIN in Rupp on Monday. That places makes me so nervous, what little skill I do have goes straight out the window. It just makes me all the more appreciative of the guys who can perform with 24,000 there to watch them.

5. John Calipari has fundamentally changed the culture of UK basketball for the better: I talked about this a little in last years post, but I want to discuss this issue more, because its something that I think is very important, and something I think a lot of UK fans need to hear:

John Calipari is not just winning basketball games. He’s not even just changing the lives of his players. I think Calipari is actually changing the culture of basketball at UK (and indirectly, the entire state of Kentucky).

I grew up in Lexington, my grandfather had five lower arena season tickets, I have plenty of experience as a UK Fan. And I say this not because it’s pleasant, but only because it is the truth: Kentucky basketball used to be a culture of exclusion. Whether it was Rupp refusing to coach black players, or the UK boosters refusing to let new people get season tickets, the UK basketball was an exclusive club that permitted very few outsiders and no real change. The culture of UK basketball more often than not didn’t even extend to the former players.

Calipari has completely reversed this. He’s turned Kentucky basketball into a culture of INclusion. Since Calipari came on board, how many UK players have you heard say that he personally reached out to them, made them feel welcome and asked them to come back and get involved in Kentucky basketball again in any capacity that they wanted? Dozens of them, right?

And you know what every single one of them said–no one had EVER done this before. NO ONE at Kentucky had ever expressed one lick of care about them the minute their college basketball careers were over.

I want you to stop and think about that for a second. No one EVER reached out to them for any reason, good or bad. No thank you, no follow-up, no support, no care, nothing.

How terrible is that—that someone like Kenny Walker for example, who gave UK amazing years of incredible effort, who played his heart out for us–when he left, the school acted like he didn’t matter anymore. Like he wasn’t relevant, because he no longer had a Kentucky uniform on, so he couldn’t do anything for them, they dropped him.

How would you feel if that were you? I bet a lot of you have jobs where your bosses or companies make you feel that way. That you don’t don’t matter as a person, that the only thing about you that matters begins and ends with how you benefit them. How does that make you feel? Terrible right?

Well that’s what UK used to do to it’s players, and I know how the former UK players felt about it, because I’ve heard numerous ones say it to me: They felt used, cast away, sad, and resentful. I don’t blame them, because I would have felt the exact same way had it been me.

When you give your effort and sweat and work and love to an institution like UK, all you really want back is recognition and appreciation. Not just from individual fans, but from the institution as a whole. It’s not even about money; this is college sports, so there is no money involved for the players (if this were the NBA, this might be a different discussion). It’s about letting them know that they mean something to us beyond just what they do on the court when they are eligible, that they’re real human beings who matter. That’s not much to ask. You want the same thing at work, don’t you? Players are no different.

UK never did that, and that’s awful and shameful and disturbing, and to be honest, things like that sometimes made made it hard to be a UK fan. How do you root for an institution that doesn’t care about the people who make it up? What matters more than actual PEOPLE? Nothing. To put an institution or an abstract name above actual human beings is terrible on every level, and that’s what the UK basketball apparatus did, from the top down to the bottom. The culture of UK basketball has in the past been ONLY about the success of UK basketball. There was no family. No connection beyond what the player could do for UK right then.

Calipari has completely flipped that around. It’s not just a players first program if you’re his guy. It’s a players first program if you EVER played here. Calipari wants to mend the wounds of the past, to take the guys who felt discarded (you know the names, they are famous) and bring them back into the fold, to include them where they were excluded. He wants to build a community around a shared experience and love of UK basketball. To me, that’s great.

And that’s the way it should be, in basketball and in life. ALL our institutions should give us at least the same amount of respect and consideration back that we give them, should recognize our contributions and appreciate us as people. The UK basketball program now does that for its players, and it’s awesome and envigorating to be around. You can feel it when you’re around the players and the coaches and the support staff and the administrators even; they care about you. You matter–whether you are a player, or a booster, or fantasy camper, or just a normal fan. You know that you matter, that they appreciate you.

Don’t get me wrong–I think most of the fans have cared about the players as people. I am not putting this on the fans; this starts at the top. I think the culture of the UK basketball program itself didn’t care, and so there was only so much fans could do.

But that’s changed. It makes me proud to root for UK, because now we take care of ours. We’re a real family now, a community that cares about each other (in addition to caring about basketball).

6. This cultural shift makes us better at basketball: I hope you didn’t take that last section to be a bit too touchy-feely. Make no mistake, I want to win a lot of basketball games. And national championships. I’m like you–I expect us to go to the Final Four every year.

But as you know, an institution is nothing without great people. And you want to know how to get great people? Treat them well. Care about them as people, work on helping them in their lives, dot just figure out how they can help you.

Calipari was right–the day we had five 1st round NBA picks WAS the most important day in the history of UK basketball. You know why? Not because it cemented UK as the place to go to become a great pro in the minds of all the teenagers in America and ensured us the best talent for the next decade (but yeah, that helped). It signaled to the world that UK was no longer a place that used players as cattle and then discarded them. It told the world that UK is now an institution that cares about developing the human being whose name is on the back of the jersey, not just winning games for the name on the front. Yes, both should matter equally–and that draft proved you can do both.

7. Conclusion: I’m sorry, I really meant to write about the camp, but I sat down and this rant just came out of me. I grew up in Lexington a UK fan, I remember the way it used to be. I left town at 16 and I haven’t been around much since, I’ve only followed from afar, and I think because I watched this change take place from a distance, so I had a different perspective on it. Plus, the last two years I’ve been lucky enough to have direct access to Cal and the current and former players. I got to talk to them and listen to them and hear the 96 team guys last year talk about how great it was to be invited back and I’ve met the parents of so many of the current players and I hear what they say. I’ve seen and been witness to this change, and it excites me so much, both as a fan and as a person.

This is not a small deal. This is not even a big deal. It’s EVERYTHING. All the success we have had over the past four years, and all the success were going to have moving forward, is primarily due to this shift in attitude.

John Calipari is the one who has created this cultural change in UK basketball, and it’s been incredible for UK and for all of us as part of the UK basketball community, and I love him for it. Thank you so much Coach!

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2021-12-05

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