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The Wins of the Father

If you’re just tuning in to college basketball, no, you’re not seeing things. The offspring of two of the most famous coaches of all time are playing for their dads. Here’s what you need to know about them and one other coach’s son.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

Three coaches in this year’s March Madness tournament are coaching their own children, and many of the fans watching will discover this Grade A Nepotism for the first time when Kentucky and Syracuse play their first games on Thursday. If you want to know which college basketball stars will end up as NBA lottery picks, check out The Ringer’s 2019 NBA Draft Guide. But if you are more curious how Buddy Boeheim gets crunch-time minutes for Syracuse, or how John Calipari’s son fits in with his teammates, you are in the right place. This is March, and for these three coaches, it’s bring-your-son-to-work month.

Brad Calipari, Kentucky

Son Of: John Calipari
Does He Play? No
Is He Good Enough to Play? No
Are There Videos of Him Playing Horse With Karl-Anthony Towns? Yes.

Brad Calipari, who plays for his dad, John, at the University of Kentucky, has a chest tattoo that reads “Earned, not Given.”

The words earned and given were inked in such flowery font that the words are almost indecipherable. Even if they could be read, they are placed in the exact spot where his jersey covers them, so the only word of his tattoo that is legible is the giant not directly underneath his face. It’s a 21st-century poem if I’ve ever seen one.

This is how Brad described how he ended up playing at Kentucky.

“I told [my dad] that I was thinking about coming to play at Kentucky,” Brad wrote in The Players’ Tribune in 2016. “He asked if I knew what I would be getting myself into, how hard it would be—probably the hardest thing that I’d ever done. ‘The way you work now, you’ll have to take it to a completely different level, whether it’s workouts, watching film, classwork.’ A week later, we made it official: I would be a walk-on at Kentucky.”

John’s version is a little more concise.

“Look, I coach everyone else’s child,” Calipari told Dan Patrick in December 2016. “How about I get a chance to be with my own child?”

Touché. John also gets bonus points because he hated Brad’s tattoo so much that he makes him cover it on game days.

“I called [Brad] in and said, ‘Ho ho, another tattoo and you’re not on this team,’” John Calipari told Patrick. “‘Are we speaking the same language now?’ Because I was hearing it from his mother, she’s killing me!”

Brad was hailed for his shooting as a recruit, but he played sparingly as a freshman in the 2016-17 season and did not see much playing time behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Calipari averaged three minutes per game, took 13 shots, and made two (15.4 percent). All of those numbers went down in the 2017-18 season, when he played 2.3 minutes per game and made one of seven shots (14.3 percent). But he played first-half minutes (!) in SEC play (!!) when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got in foul trouble and the other guards suffered injuries. On his one career highlight, everyone on the team lost their mind—except Coach Cal.

Calipari is redshirting this season, so sadly we won’t have the opportunity to watch John put Brad into a blowout against Abilene Christian. Still, Brad has managed to draw attention to himself at times on the bench this season, including when he dressed like Two-Face.

Best of all, Brad’s parents have also managed to mock his tattoo into oblivion in front of the team and the internet.

This may seem like some good old-fashioned harmless nepotism. Calipari is getting his son a Division I experience before he goes to play in Croatia or wherever, and it only helps his “Team is Family” mantra. But Brad might just be the most important recruit Kentucky has picked up in years.

”First of all, my wife has already told me if he decides to come, ‘You’re not leaving,’ so that would mean I’m here five more years,” Cal told ESPN Radio before Brad made his decision in 2016. “If I’m here five more years, why not stay till 70? Why not sign a new contract, and I’ll be 70 when I leave?”

Calipari staying in Kentucky is more important to the program than any specific player could ever be, especially when he is sporadically linked to NBA gigs. The oleaginous coach has a career 78.1 winning percentage, which is currently 15th all time and good for two spots above Coach K, and he made four Final Fours in his first six years in Lexington. If Brad Calipari is the reason John will stay for at least two more years (and possibly two more decades), Brad is the most important player on the team—and maybe the biggest recruit of Calipari’s tenure.

Aubrey Dawkins, University of Central Florida

Son Of: Johnny Dawkins
Does He Play? Yes
Is He Good Enough to Play? Yes

Aubrey Dawkins was born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1995, when his father, Johnny, was an assistant coach for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Now Johnny is the head coach at Central Florida, and Aubrey is the second-leading scorer for the 9–seed Knights, who take on Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round on Friday.

Dawkins transferred from Michigan in 2016 to play for his father and subsequently sat out the 2016-17 season because of the NCAA’s arcane transfer rules. A shoulder injury ended his 2017-18 season before it began. Finally, in November 2018, 963 days since his last appearance in 2016, Aubrey returned to the floor, and this season has been a massive success. UCF reached its first NCAA tournament since 2005 and earned the first single-digit seed in school history. If UCF beats VCU in Round 1, they’ll almost certainly face Duke in Round 2, which will pit father and son versus dad’s old teacher.

Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

Son Of: Jim Boeheim
Does He Play? Yes
Is He Good Enough to Play? Yes

Jim Boeheim has coached Syracuse since 1976 and led the Orange to five Final Fours, three national championship games, and one NCAA title. But he was supposed to have retired by now. He announced in 2015 he was going to retire as the head coach of Syracuse in 2018, but then his son Jackson (whom everyone calls Buddy) committed to play for the school. Suddenly Jim said he could coach until 2023. Like Brad Calipari, Buddy’s commitment changed the trajectory of the school’s basketball program. And what a commitment it was.

I could not recommend these 78 seconds highly enough.

  • The video opens with “Everyone wants to know, ‘Buddy, where are you going to play basketball?’” Considering it says “Buddy Boeheim” on a video for “Syracuse.com” I don’t think anyone was wondering this.
  • He says 10 teams reached out to him. This sounds pretty insulting to Jim Boeheim, no? The man has coached Syracuse for 43 years and only 10 programs reached out to his son?
  • Are they using the Dark Knight theme music for this video?
  • Buddy says, “My dad told me at a young age that I could be the best basketball player around.” The word around is doing a lot of work there. There are towns in central New York with more cows than people.
  • Why does his pull-up grip switch between cuts here?
  • Do we think Buddy Boeheim was gifted the ball on a recruiting trip or did he just take it out of his garage?
  • Did you notice the special thanks to “The Boeheim Family” in the credits?

Despite this video, Buddy has thrived. The 6-foot-5, 188-pound freshman guard is seventh on the team in minutes this season and fifth in points per game (6.9). He’s tied with Elijah Hughes as the team’s best 3-point shooter (36.2 percent on the season) and second-best free throw shooter (77.4 percent). He’s … kind of good!

He also leads the team in the taunts he gets during games—“Daddy’s Boy” is the most common.

“His dad is the coach. They’re not lying,’’ Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu told Syracuse.com. “But at the same time, he’s a great player. He’s showed that he belongs out there on the court. He’s doing things to help us win games this season.’’

Apparently he takes the chants in stride.

“I was reading an article about John Calipari’s son and how they used to get on him all the time when he was at Kentucky and he never played,” Brendan Paul, a Syracuse walk-on who knew Buddy Boeheim from boarding school, told Syracuse.com. “We knew Buddy would play at Syracuse. He knew what he was getting into.’’

Maybe Brad Calipari is a trailblazer.