BOISE, Idaho — John Calipari’s comments about Boise didn’t play so well locally. After it was announced Sunday that Kentucky would begin the 2018 NCAA Tournament 2,000 miles from home, the coach joked, “What state is Boise in?”
The answer, of course, is Idaho. And residents would love to help educate Calipari and the Cats on their fair city. SEC Country spoke to three of them Wednesday at Taco Bell Arena, where Al and Sherri Loya and Bob Payne — all Boise retirees — came to watch Kentucky, Arizona and other NCAA teams practice before the games begin on Thursday.
“I don’t know why [Calipari] would say that,” Payne said. “I thought it was kind of dumb myself.”
But Payne, a former military man who served at Fort Knox in Kentucky, said he liked Calipari and Kentucky’s team. He even had a friend who graduated from UK.
If Payne and the locals have paid much attention to the bombastic Calipari, they know he jokes a lot — and that sometimes it gets him into trouble.
“I think it’s probably somewhat more acceptable from a student perspective as a player,” Al Loya said. “But as a coach you should be very sensitive to being hosted. I think that’s rather uncalled for.”
Calipari was pressed on his comments during a news conference here Wednesday. And after he scouted out the local Catholic churches and a donut shop, it sounds like he’s grown quite fond of the place.
“It’s been great,” Calipari said. “Our guys were talking about the mountains and the views.”
He was asked a hard-hitting question that stopped Kentucky’s coach in his tracks: Is a potato a fruit or a vegetable?
“You can’t ask me those kind of questions,” Calipari said. “People get mad. Vice presidents get killed. They spell the thing wrong. [In 1992 , Vice President Dan Quayle spelled it ‘potatoe’ and was unmercifully mocked for years.] Don’t ask me. I’m here to play basketball.”
Fittingly, potatoes were the only thing Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel knew about Idaho before the trip — and that had not changed after 24 hours in Boise.
“No new facts yet,” Gabriel said Wednesday. “We’ve been locked up.”
Sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones knew the other famous thing about Boise: the blue football field, home of the Boise State Broncos.
“I used to want to play on that field when I was younger and we just drove past the stadium, so that was cool,” he said.
Al and Sherri Loya moved to Boise as retirees six months ago. She’s from Chicago and he’s from San Antonio. Boise and its 223,000 people don’t match up size-wise with those cities, but the snowcapped mountains and small-town charm make it a nice place even from an outsider’s perspective.
Calipari and his team will only be in town through this weekend — or less, if 12th-seeded Davidson lands an upset Thursday night — unfortunately not enough time to absorb the local flavor.
“Unless there’s specific effort to introduce them to Boise, they’re gonna leave thinking the same thing: ‘We played in a rinky-dink arena when we’re used to bigger and better things.’ I think that’s unfortunate,” Al Loya said.
Of note: the 12,644-seat on-campus arena hosting this week’s games is more than 10,000 seats smaller than UK’s home, Rupp Arena, and will be the smallest NCAA Tournament venue the Wildcats have visited since 1986.
However, you don’t have to go far for a Boise resident to tell you that it’s the fastest growing city in the U.S. Sherri Loya said it ranks on all kinds of top-10 lists of places to retire. She and her husband did plenty of research before moving here.
“Everybody’s extremely nice in the community,” Sherri Loya said. “I think when people come here they’re gonna say, ‘Wow, why didn’t we know about this place?'”
It didn’t take long at all to change Calipari’s tune. Two days ago, he acted like he couldn’t find the place on a map. Wednesday, he was recommending local donut shops.
The coach had been to DK Donuts that morning and rattled off a full review of his sampler platter of sweet treats, raving especially about the bacon donut.
“It was unbelievable,” Calipari said. “Here’s what I did: I looked at them and I went, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ So we did the bacon. And I cut it four ways.”
He didn’t eat the whole thing.
“And then I did the bowtie that had the chocolate and maple together dripping off of it,” Calipari said. “Is anybody getting hungry right now? There was so much sugar that I won’t sleep tonight. And then I did the apple fritter, and we cut that up. But I only had a little bit.”
But how’s this for Boise’s revenge? Just a couple of hours after Calipari’s visit, the woman working the cash register at DK Donuts had no clue who Calipari was. Famous basketball coach, just stopped in here, ate everything in sight? She simply shook her head.
There was a middle-aged man there, too, and his daughter sipping chocolate milk through a straw. They’d never heard of this John Calipari, who’d never heard of this Boise, Idaho.
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