For the second time in 16 months, another blue blood has swooped in to steal one of John Calipari’s top young staffers from Kentucky. Last spring, Duke poached assistant coach Jai Lucas. Now, it’s North Carolina prying away UK director of player development TJ Beisner to oversee the Tar Heels’ name, image and likeness efforts, a source familiar with the hiring but not authorized to speak about it told The Athletic. Here’s what you need to know:
- Beisner isn’t going to work directly for UNC. Coach Hubert Davis and AD Bubba Cunningham first considered the creation of an in-house general manager position — all the rage suddenly in college hoops — but ultimately decided Beisner could take a more active role in NIL initiatives as executive director of an outside firm, Tri-Cord Management, the university endorsed collective for men’s basketball at Carolina.
- When Calipari hired Beisner in August of 2021, Kentucky billed him as “the first college basketball staff member in the country to oversee the program’s name, image and likeness strategy and execution.” Perhaps not unrelated: UK signed the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2023.
- Several Wildcats have earned a financial windfall since the inception of NIL, but Beisner’s biggest success story was helping national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe navigate the considerable red tape of student visa restrictions to eventually capitalize on his stardom and earn seven figures while still in school.
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
What is UNC getting and UK losing?
Consider how Calipari described Beisner in a statement he released Monday announcing his departure. The Hall of Fame Coach called Beisner “my trusted lieutenant” and “jack of all trades,” saying they spoke daily so Beisner could keep him abreast of important developments in and around the program. His actual job at Kentucky looked a lot like that of someone with a general manager title, which Calipari has considered creating but seemingly decided against.
In addition to NIL work, Beisner contributed to transfer portal management, player retention efforts, player welfare initiatives and more. He helped foster a relationship with the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which honors the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi, that led to Kentucky being chosen as one of the first six Nike Schools to be designated a “Mamba Program.”
It’s little wonder, then, that UNC was not the first high-major school to come calling for Beisner.
How much does this hurt Kentucky?
In a number of ways. Losing that kind of NIL expertise is a major blow on its own, but Calipari is also losing yet another person from his inner circle to whom he actually listened. First, he lost deputy AD DeWayne Peevy — his true right-hand man — to the AD job at DePaul. Then he pushed out longtime assistant John Robic.
Media relations director and confidante Eric Lindsey left college athletics altogether last January. Lucas, one of the top young assistants in the country, bolted for Duke last May. And now this.
Calipari brought in a couple of trusted friends this summer — veteran NBA assistant John Welch and former Memphis staffer Chuck Martin — to fill out his staff. Maybe that will provide the kind of good counsel he needs, but there’s no doubt Kentucky’s relative downturn as a program (one NCAA Tournament win since 2019) has coincided with a steady exodus of valued advisers.
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