Brooklyn Nets: Calipari’s 1998 Nets Team That Almost Shocked the Bulls

24 Apr 1998: Head coach John Calipari of the New Jersey Nets talks with his guards Sam Cassell, Kendall Gill and forward Keigh Van Horne during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Nets 96-93.
24 Apr 1998: Head coach John Calipari of the New Jersey Nets talks with his guards Sam Cassell, Kendall Gill and forward Keigh Van Horne during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Nets 96-93. /
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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – JUNE 7: Former University of Massachusetts basketball coach John Calipari tosses a basketball as he meets the media at the Meadowlands Arena for a press conference 08 June to be introduced as the new coach and director of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets. Calipari signed a 5-year, $15.5 million deal as the 15th coach in the team’s 33-year history. (Photo credit should read MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – JUNE 7: Former University of Massachusetts basketball coach John Calipari tosses a basketball as he meets the media at the Meadowlands Arena for a press conference 08 June to be introduced as the new coach and director of basketball operations for the New Jersey Nets. Calipari signed a 5-year, $15.5 million deal as the 15th coach in the team’s 33-year history. (Photo credit should read MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Coach Cal

Coach John Calipari was a wee 37 years of age when he replaced Butch Beard before the 1996-97 season. While he lacked requisite professional experience — on the Graham Bensinger show, Cal admitted that “I had no idea what I was doing” — he was no spring chicken in terms of coaching experience.

After stints in assisting roles at both Kansas and Pittsburgh, Calipari got his first Head Coaching position for the University of Massachusetts in 1988. By 1992, he guided the Minutemen to their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance — they would lose to Kentucky, who later lost to Duke in what would be known as the Christian Laettner game.

In 1993, after defeating defending champions Arkansas, UMass became the first team from New England to slot in at #1 in the AP Poll. For that season, he notably stole Connecticut native and top recruit Marcus Camby away from rival and UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

In 1996, as the Nets stumbled their way to 30 wins, Calipari led the Minutemen to their first-ever Final Four appearance.

During his inaugural Press Conference on June 7th of 1996, Coach Cal announced himself to the New Jersey faithful.

“My goal is to create a love affair between this organization and the fans of New Jersey…. I also want to thank Rick [Pitino] for not taking this job.”

It was the same old Nets in year one under Coach Cal, as the Nets clocked in with 26 wins, but the style of the team was changing.

"“We fronted the post,” Calipari said on ESPN recently, “we ran reverse pick and rolls. We were doing stuff different [sic.] to survive…. We tried to outscore everyone.”"

The outlook for 1997-98 would change.