UK notebook: Calipari restoring players' swagger

Calipari gives 'beat-down' players jolt of confidence

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 30, 2009 

After two seasons of boot camps, bleeding feet, broken noses, concussions and a bullheaded emphasis on toughness, Kentucky basketball enjoys a renaissance.

New coach John Calipari intentionally limited last week's first four-at-a-time workouts so as not to overtax the players physically or mentally.

"I'm not trying to beat these guys down," Calipari said Saturday after what he called an "ad-lib talk" to kick off a tour to promote his new book, Bounce Back. "What I'm trying to do is build them up. I'm trying to get them to dream. I want them to think outside of where they thought the last couple years, that they can do special things if they choose to do it."

Calipari never mentioned his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, who employed an unrelenting — to be kind, let's call it — tough love. But the new coach's message seemed clear: The holdover players lacked a kind of ambition born of confidence.

An audience of about 300 alumni at UK's Student Center heard Calipari use one of his favorite lines: The heralded freshmen think they "poop ice cream."

Then the new UK coach added, "They think they're going to win every game. We have to get the returning players to dream big again and dream like Kentucky players have always dreamed.

"They seem a little beat down."

Not that Calipari is all sweetness and light. He noted how he made changes to the team weight room in the Craft Center. He set an all-business tone by moving the wimpy treadmills across the hall to what had been a player's lounge.

"The weight room is the weight room," Calipari said. "It's not a cardio room. When you're in that weight room, I want you to lift like you're a football player."

Speaking of overcoming adversity and discouragement, Calipari's book, Bounce Back, advises and encourages readers in dealing with life's setbacks. Calipari made it sound like a mid-life crisis inspired the book.

"It's a real chance to say, 'Can you make a real difference in people's lives?'" he said. "I feel it when I'm coaching basketball. That's why I love what I do. But that's 100 players in my lifetime. I'm 50. What if it becomes 100,000 because of the book? ... Hopefully a lot of good can come from this."

Calipari started the process by handwriting 200 pages. "That's your coach," he told the audience. "I'm a little nuts."

Given the boundless enthusiasm surrounding the new coach, it sounded cuckoo to hear him predict plenty of problems this upcoming season: player jealousy, outside influences, injuries ...

"All of a sudden, they write we got the wrong guy for the job," Calipari said of the media.

But having learned to handle past adversities, he said he's ready to follow his book's advice.

"Bounce backs never end," he said.

But Calipari acknowledged a limit to his ability to handle criticism.

"If people crush this book, it will crush me," he said. "It really was a book to give back. I just hope it helps."

Tough to swallow

Before the season, the NCAA ruled Derrick Rose eligible to play. After the season, the NCAA changed its mind and punished Memphis for playing an ineligible player.

How can the NCAA punish Memphis for its own mistake? That's a reasonable question.

As NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne explained it, the Memphis case was unusual only in the attention it drew even though the penalty — removing or "vacating" the Tigers' record 38 victories in the 2007-08 season and a Final Four appearance — caused critics to cry foul.

The NCAA orders programs to vacate victories "from time to time," Wynne said, particularly in sports that use foreign-born players. For instance, after being ruled eligible, a player is subsequently found to have played in a professional league in a foreign country, he said.

Eligibility depends on two factors: academic standards and amateur status.

If a players fails in either area, the NCAA can act retroactively.

"One of the remedies is you vacate the games," Wynne said. "So it's not unheard of. It's not unprecedented."

In making the ruling in the case against John Calipari's Memphis team, the NCAA's judicial body, its Committee on Infractions, cited "strict liability" as the basis for the penalty. That seemed to mean zero tolerance in a case of a player's ACT or SAT score being belatedly invalidated, as was the case with Rose.

Sheri Lipman, a legal counsel for Memphis, said she never heard that term. "I'm not going to comment on that," said Wynne, who added that he had heard the term.

When asked if the Memphis case caused the Committee on Infractions embarrassment, Wynne didn't yield an inch. "They're certainly not embarrassed," he said. "They view it as 'We did the right thing.' ... We felt we made the right decision at the time, then made the right decision when presented new information."

In the Rose case, that new information was the test score being invalidated after the 2007-08 season.

Wynne understood the outcry surrounding the judgment. "That would be a hard pill to swallow," he said.

Memphis plans to appeal the ruling, a process that figures to take months. Wynne noted that the possible outcomes include upholding the penalties, removing the penalties or a reduction of the penalties.

So Memphis could hope to have the 38 victories and Final Four appearance restored, while still having to return money gained from the tournament appearance.

By the way, the Iowa-based "Clearinghouse" no longer exists. In November, 2007, the NCAA Eligibility Center opened in Indianapolis. Its 50 or so staffers make judgments on the eligibility of about 65,000 athletes each year.

Robert Novak, RIP

Robert Novak, who died earlier this month at age 78, made his mark as a political columnist and television pundit. His self-appointed nickname — Prince of Darkness — reflected a passion for political combat. But he also had a lifelong love affair with basketball, which included his attendance at more than one UK-Maryland game.

Upon Novak's death, another political commentator, Fred Barnes, wrote in a blog about how he and his colleague regularly bought season tickets for the Washington Bullets (now Wizards).

" ... When Maryland won the NCAA basketball championship in 2002, Novak and his son Alex attended every game, home and away," Barnes wrote. "Meanwhile, he kept up a heavy schedule of TV appearances, speeches, reporting trips, and heavily reported columns.

"Novak mixed basketball and reporting. He went to China in 1978 and made a huge splash when he visited Democracy Wall in Beijing and interviewed Chinese leader Teng Hsaio-ping. On the way home, he stopped in L.A. to see a Maryland basketball game, flying home to Washington on the team plane. He told me later that only one person on the plane opened a book during the flight and it wasn't one of the 'student athletes.' It was Novak."

Charity auction

The McKenna Foundation will hold its annual auction on Sept. 11 at RE/MAX Creative Realty (corner of Palumbo Drive and Man O' War Boulevard).

The art of making miracles is what organizers call the affair, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. and run through 11 p.m.

With former Cincinnati Red Doug Flynn as the master of ceremonies, the auction will include such items as UK basketball tickets, baseball jerseys autographed by Stan Musial and Yogi Berra, a basketball autographed by John Calipari and a tour of Maker's Mark.

Proceeds go to the McKenna David Pediatric Emergency Services Center at the Kentucky Children's Hospital.

Tickets can be bought by calling (859) 422-2010 or via the Internet at www.mckennafoundation.org.

Corrections

An article about UK freshman John Wall last week contained one error for sure and another perceived by a reader.

The no-doubter involved a Biblical quotation: "To whom much is given, much is expected." That line should have been attributed to Jesus (Luke 12:48). The story involved the expectations Wall carries into the season.

To explain how he got so good, Wall credited God. A reader called to object to the term "supernatural" as a synonym for the almighty.

To find out if God should be considered supernatural, we consulted the Herald-Leader's unofficial imam/rabbi/minister, Paul Prather.

"Well, if God's not supernatural, I don't know who or what is," Prather wrote in an e-mail. "Maybe the reader was associating the supernatural with the occult."

Happy birthday

To Morakinyo Williams. The former UK big man, who is about to play his first season for Duquesne, turned 21 on Saturday.

At 6-foot-11, Williams hopes to provide his new team badly needed production near the basket. The Dukes started no one taller than 6-7 last season.

Williams, a Tubby Smith recruit, knew one semester into the Billy Gillispie era that he would leave Kentucky.

"I don't think Coach (Gillispie) and I had a great relationship," Williams said. "I couldn't really get answers. It didn't seem like he was out to help me."

Not that Williams was miserable at UK. He credited his improvement as a player to the time he spent here. "Because of the intensity," he said. "I had a great time."

Williams, who stays in touch with former UK teammates like Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson, planned to buy a computer on his birthday.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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