Dom Lombardi won’t get any face time on TV tonight.
That day will probably come.
Lombardi wants to be a major college basketball coach someday. He learned the ropes and all about the lifestyle while watching his father, Joe, work as an assistant coach at Pitt and as the head coach at IUP, and he got his start three years ago while serving as a student assistant on his father’s staff following a four-year playing career.
Now, the Indiana High School and IUP graduate has taken a step up to big-time basketball. Lombardi is the assistant video coordinator at Kentucky (28-10), which plays Wisconsin (30-7) tonight in the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The winner advances to Monday night’s national championship game opposite the Florida-Connecticut winner.
Lombardi’s job is to collect game film of Kentucky’s opponents, review them with an assistant coach and then compile clips for the coaching staff to watch and use for scouting reports. He even gets to sit in on film sessions with head coach John Calipari.
“I love it,” Lombardi said. “It’s been an unbelievable journey. This team has had more trials and speed bumps than any team at IUP. It’s been such a roller-coaster ride this year, and it’s really taught me to stick with the process. It’s really about sticking to the process throughout the game and the season and not losing faith in the players, which can happen pretty quickly, especially with how young this team is.”
Lombardi is in the second year of a master’s program at Kentucky. He established a relationship with Calipari and the coaching staff by working summer camps while he was in college at IUP. That relationship blossomed into an opportunity to work at one of the NCAA’s most successful basketball programs.
“I’m proud of the effort he’s put into his chosen profession,” his father said. “He started working Kentucky camps a couple years before he graduated, and his senior year between games he drove down to watch practice and tried to build a little bit of a relationship with the coaches, and that was all his initiative.”
Lombardi hopes he can follow the path his father and Calipari took to the Division I coaching ranks. His father has been the coach at IUP for eight seasons following a long career as a Division I assistant, and Calipari grew up near Pittsburgh and played collegiately at Clarion University.
“He got an opportunity and he’s grateful to Coach Cal for giving him the chance,” his father said, “and it’s just another sign of Cal’s loyalty and remembering his roots and where he came from ... and Dom earned the respect over the last two years of all the coaches on the staff by going about his business and taking care of it in a professional way.”
Lombardi estimates he worked 80 hours a week during the regular season and 90 once the Wildcats advanced to the postseason.
“It’s challenging in a good way,” he said. “Cal is very positive. He brings out the best in our players … and he brings out the best in the employees, too, just because of the pressure he puts on us. Kentucky’s system is not for every player and everyone trying to coach because it is 24/7 and very demanding. And if it isn’t what you love down in your bones, it can break you really quickly. Luckily I do love it, and it’s made me a better coach and person, and I’m thankful for the opportunity that’s been given to me.”
Lombardi caught on at Kentucky last year, but he never got out of Lexington. This year he earned his travel papers and made every road trip with the team. Last weekend, after Kentucky beat Michigan to win the Midwest Regional title and advance to the Final Four, Lombardi got an opportunity to climb up the ladder and snip off his own piece of the net.
That capped a nine-day stretch in which Kentucky, a No. 8 seed, dispatched Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan to reach the Final Four.
“It’s really surreal,” Lombardi said, “because three weeks ago we lost to South Carolina, which is probably the worst team in our conference, and then out of nowhere we just turned on the jets. It’s moving fast, and I’m just trying to appreciate every minute of it.”