Calipari and Sharpe to Walk-On as Cats and Cards

As a foreshadowing of a soon-to-be rivalry, Brad Calipari, son of Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari, and Bullitt East senior Tyler Sharpe guarded each other before a crowd of 4,017 last Friday night in the 44th Annual Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic at Freedom Hall.

Calipari, a 6-foot, 190-pound guard, will be playing next season for his dad at the University of Kentucky. Calipari played his final two seasons of high school basketball at MacDuffie School in Massachusetts. Prior to that, he began his career at Lexington Christian Academy.

Sharpe, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound lefty, will be walking on at Louisville next season to play under Rick Pitino. Sharpe – who was also the sixth region player of the year this season as well as a Mr. Basketball finalist – led Bullitt East to a 27-6 season while averaging 19.5 points and 4.3 rebounds a game.

They had the chance to display their talents before UofL and UK fans alike in an All-Star game event that featured the Top 100 players ranked nationally.

Tyler Sharpe prepares for a practice free throw.

Tyler Sharpe prepares for a practice free throw.

“It meant a lot definitely,” says Sharpe. “I grew up watching the event. It was a great chance to play with some of the top players in the nation.”

Calipari echoes the sentiment: “It was an honor to be able to play here. It was a great experience all around.”

It was perhaps the biggest platform the two have played on throughout their respective basketball journeys. Sharpe, who is normally a marksman shooter, unfortunately was not able to find the mark in the contest. He took six shots, three of them 3-pointers, but didn’t put the ball in the basket. Nonetheless, he enjoyed the weekend saying, “It was a lot of fun. The guys were great, and it was a lot of fun to get to know some of them. It will be exciting to keep up with some of them the next couple of years.”

Now joining the list of other UofL walk-ons, Sharpe has watched the careers of Tim Henderson and David Levitch, particularly in regards to how they have made an impact on the Louisville program. His primary concern at this point is to find his spot and write his own chapter for the school for which he always dreamed of playing.

“Work ethic and [being] a consistent 3-point shooter,” Sharpe said when asked what he thinks  he can bring to Louisville. “I am always going to play my hardest so I can contribute with any opportunity they give me.”

Brad Calipari.

Brad Calipari.

Sharpe met all his future teammates when he went on his visit. He looks forward to joining forces with Quentin Snider and Raymond Spalding, guys he played against in high school. But until he touches down on campus, he says he is focused on finishing up high school.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have a guy who some would say is in over his head. Calipari sought to use the All-Star game as a platform to “show the fans that I am able to play basketball at a high level with other kids who can also play at the next level and even the NBA.”

Calipari certainly was offered a glimpse of the  talent he will be going up against in practice once he becomes a Wildcat in the KDF Basketball Classic. He admits that the size of the gym created some anxiety, but once the game started, he was able to settle in. He took seven shots, three of which were 3-pointers, and finished with 9 points.

He knows shooting will be his primary role for Kentucky if he sees the floor: “There are only a few guys who can shoot the ball like me, so there would be a spot for me anywhere really.”

In his college decision-making, there weren’t any Division I schools showing interest in Calipari, which left him only with options in Division II or III. But for him, the competition at UK is what drew him. Oh, and when your dad is the coach, anything is possible right?

“It was the opportunity,” Brad said when asked what appealed to him about going to UK. “Kentucky had better opportunities. It was me playing against better competition. Because you got to think in practice, every day you’re going against ridiculous athletes who are the best players in the nation. So every day, you are getting better regardless.”

By being a coach’s son, Brad says he will still have to work diligently and persistently on a Coach Cal team that lands the biggest recruits nationally each year.

He believes by playing in the Nike EYBL, where he averaged 3.0 points in 10.2 minutes last summer, along with playing a couple of pick-up games with former UK players and Coach Cal products in John and Brandon Knight, both whom are now in the NBA, he will help prepare himself for the next level.

“I am going to come in every day to work hard and to show that I can play at that level,” he says. “I’ve got to earn my minutes.”

Many would argue that John Calipari has exhibited, perhaps, some nepotism toward his son and soon-to-be player. Brad, though, expects to be treated just like his other teammates.

“People have their doubts,” he adds. “A lot of people think things are handed to me because of my dad. But he doesn’t treat me like that. He makes me earn everything. Things he has given me I’ve had to earn from him.”

It will be interesting to see how well the two do in the next coming years. Who knows? Four years from now, Sharpe and Calipari just may guard each other once again, only this time it will be as Cards and Cats. VT