“I’m asked all the time, ‘How in the world are you pulling this off? How in the world do you get such talented kids – not just one or two, but an entire team of elite talent – to come together and play for one another?’  Well, this is that story. I wanted to tell our story of how we get the most out of elite talent, how we create a culture of brotherhood and form a team with such talented individuals. It’s not an exact science and there are all kinds of ways of doing this, but this is our story. My hope is it might resonate with other leaders in similar positions.”—John Calipari

About the Book: 

New York Times bestselling author John Calipari, the charismatic Naismith Hall of Fame coach who has returned Kentucky to college basketball prominence, reveals the secrets behind his unparalleled ability to transform a group of former high school superstars into a selfless, cohesive team in his new book SUCCESS IS THE ONLY OPTION: The Art of Coaching Extreme Talent.

Calipari is highly regarded for his ability to recruit the country’s top high school talent without making outlandish promises. Instead, he believes, “Commit to each other, be about each other without sacrificing your own goals, and by doing this you can achieve all YOUR dreams and more.”

With that philosophy, Calipari led Kentucky to four Final Fours in a five-year period from 2011-2015. “One and done” players like John Wall, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are all currently NBA All-Stars. And Calipari continues to mold these individual superstars into a cohesive whole, playing for each other with selfless commitment and fierce intensity. 

Expanding on his 2014 New York Times bestselling book Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out, SUCCESS IS THE ONLY OPTION digs deeper as Calipari for the first time distills his methods and philosophies in a way that will resonate with not just athletes and coaches but business leaders who are trying to get maximum performance out of their own top talent. Coaching a successful basketball team is much like building a successful business. For teams to succeed, even the most talented performers must sacrifice some of their own glory while still feeling that they are reaching for individual goals. 

A basketball team is an intimate workplace. The blend is everything and character matters.

For Calipari, each season is a series of discoveries as he learns how to unleash the extreme talent in each of his players and mold them into championship material as college basketball comes to a crescendo every spring. Calipari can’t control everything, yet he is responsible for everything—which is something any CEO can understand. 

SUCCESS IS THE ONLY OPTION offers real life lessons into leadership, team building and creating a culture of achievement that are applicable far beyond the basketball court. These are the lessons for anyone seeking to inspire talented individuals to reach for their best selves and contribute to a greater good.

But this study showed that most successful teams—those that put the best products into the marketplace and made money for the shareholders—were the ones where people spoke in equal amounts. Everyone listened, even the brightest light. Team members took turns taking the lead.

That all makes sense to me. To have one smart person dominating one of these small groups would be no more productive than if my most gifted kid hogged the ball and took more than his share of the shots. What happens in that case is you shut down everyone else. You get 100 percent of the top dog’s output but about 30 per- cent of what everyone else has to offer. It’s a bad trade-off.

From the Book: 

Basketball is unique among sports in that we ask our most gifted players (our own “smart creatives”) to do less than they are capable of—take fewer shots, score fewer points, don’t keep the basketball in your possession too long even if you’re the one most capable of making a play with it. We don’t limit our players’ creativity, put them in boxes, or, in business-speak, wrap them in layers of management. They are their own managers while the game clock is running. I think that’s one reason why basketball coaches are sometimes listened to on matters of leadership. The people we lead are empowered—a frequent goal in the corporate world...

College coaches are often said to be in the “recruiting business,” and fair enough—it’s essential to our success. The same is true of anyone who runs a business of any size, right down to the guy who owns the local hardware store. He might be really smart about what he does—picked a great location, knows the right inventory and how to price it—but it’s the people he’s got in the aisles who make him or break him. That’s his team.

… Character always matters, but especially when you are dealing with young people who are counting on each other and can be influenced by their peers. I look very closely when I recruit to observe how players are to their teammates, coaches, and family members. A kid does not have to be a straight-A student (I wasn’t) but does he do the best he can? Is he honest or is he always looking for a way out? (I’ll write a little later about excuse-makers and blame-shifters.) The other essential thing I am seeking is passion. I would tell anyone, “Chase something that you love.” I would think this goes for any kind of business recruiting. If you’re the senior partner in a law firm, you’re not going to sit there and quiz the applicant about Supreme Court cases. He knows that stuff and so do all the other top applicants that get sent your way…. I’d want to probe and see if he has the capacity to find real joy in this work, even as hard as it’s going to be.

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