BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said he “can’t stand” the color orange.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said the road to the SEC championship goes through Knoxville — again.
It was obvious by the conclusion of the SEC Media Day on Thursday that rivalries between Tennessee and Kentucky as well as Pearl and Calipari are alive and well.
Calipari was the opening act and said as much when the curtain went up on the event.
“How is the rivalry different than when I was at Memphis?’’ said Calipari, who left Memphis following last season to join the Wildcats. “It will be just as crazy. It will be their biggest game. It will be crazy. ESPN put it on GameDay.’’
As for the animosity between him and Pearl, Calipari said it stems from prior recruiting battles and competition.
“He was trying to take over the state, and I wasn’t going to let him,’’ said Calipari. “I conceded the rest of the state other than Memphis.
“I’m not recruiting Knoxville, you’re recruiting Memphis; that’s why I didn’t want to play him in a home-and-home (series),’’ Calipari said, his audience swelling as he spoke. “What good does it do for me to go to Knoxville, other than to play in front of 22,000 people in orange ... I can’t stand the color.’’
Pearl, who opened the afternoon media session, seemed to enjoy Calipari’s remarks.
“Why would he like orange? I think that’s great,’’ Pearl said. “I said when I took this job I wanted Kentucky to be my rival. If we’re not competitive, it’s not a rivalry.’’
Pearl said he’s proud to be the first coach in SEC history to finish ahead of Kentucky four consecutive years, but in the next breath he added, “unless you’re winning more than you’re losing, you’re not happy with the rivalry.’’
Kentucky is the only SEC school with a winning record against Pearl. The Wildcats are 5-3 versus the Vols since Pearl took over, including two double-digit wins last season.
Kentucky center Patrick Patterson, this year’s preseason SEC Player of the Year, said playing Tennessee presents a challenge.
“If you can get past their full-court defense, you’ll be fine,’’ Patterson said. “It’s about finishing and keeping your composure.’’
Calipari, 2-2 against Pearl while at Memphis, said his teams haven’t needed to scheme outside of their normal preparation for Pearl’s “Controlled Chaos” press.
“Most cases, we’re not even messing with it,’’ Calipari said. “We just dribble through it.’’
Tennessee senior forward Tyler Smith said he was asked by more than one reporter about the Calipari-Pearl feud.
“They asked me if Coach Pearl and Coach Cal like each other,’’ Smith said. “I said, ‘I don’t think it’s about that. It’s about the teams, because we’ll be the ones who will win or lose the games.’”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said he’s not necessarily a fan of either coach’s style.
“I don’t agree with all the things Bruce does, or John will do ...’’ Stallings said. “I don’t want to be out there publicly feuding with other coaches.
“If John and Bruce want to square off and have a 12-rounder, I’m sure people will pay attention to it. A little bit of that is probably good for the league.’’
Calipari summed up his thoughts on Pearl near the end of his presentation.
“We’re competitors,’’ he said. “I’m never going to paint my body.’’
But it was Pearl who got the last laugh. When told of Calipari’s body paint comment, Pearl was asked if there was anything Calipari does that he wouldn’t do.
Pearl paused for effect, smirking at the media before answering and drawing raucous laughter: “I don’t know all the things that he’s doing.’’