Calipari mixes the old with the new

Calipari seeking all-for-one attitude

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 16, 2009 

Tuesday night means bowling. Video games, especially NBA 2K10, unite players of varied backgrounds. Meals at the Blazer Hall cafeteria are communal gatherings.

Kentucky players have done everything but sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, it seems. As first-year coach John Calipari noted at UK's Media Day on Thursday, the objective of all this togetherness carries the utmost importance for the 2009-10 season.

Talent alone won't get done what Kentucky wants to get done.

So one of Calipari's first moves was to have the players congregate to watch the movie Remember the Titans. The movie depicted football players from two different schools learning to consolidate. Not so coincidentally, this UK team can be almost perfectly halved: six heralded newcomers and seven veteran holdovers.

In the movie, mutual respect leads to affection. Affection evolves into a kind of love that frees grown men to cry shamelessly.

"When you get to that kind of love, you care about the other person more than yourself," Calipari said. "If we can get to that point with this team, we won't lose many games."

That's as close as Calipari got to embracing the outsized expectations for this Kentucky team.

"We don't have much time to get there," Calipari said in reference to opening night against Morehead State in less than a month (Nov. 13). "We have to go through wars to see who's really with us."

Calipari likened the process to soldiers in a foxhole. "Who do you send for ammo?" he said. "Who's coming back?"

Typically on Media Day, long before the metaphorical bullets fill the air, the players say all the right things. UK's Media Day was no exception.

Senior forward Perry Stevenson said the freshmen were "not arrogant, not egotistical."

Stevenson acknowledged his concern about incoming players hyped as instant stars. "I had a lot of thoughts," he said. "Then I figured that being recruited by a place like Kentucky, you're not only a good player, you're a good person."

John Wall, the most heralded of the UK freshmen, noted his concern with blending in.

"One of my biggest concerns was to try to be a team player and team leader," he said. "Most of the freshmen have high expectations. Would some of the upperclassmen feel bad? 'Oh, he thinks he's all that.'

"But they didn't try to push us to the side. They helped us out."

Wall said he tried to blend in to the point of making sure he turned his practice jersey to the same side — blue or gray — as his teammates so as not to stand out. He acknowledged the complicating factor of being widely projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

"It's pretty tough," he said. "Some people might look at me differently."

Freshman DeMarcus Cousins, whose unabashed exuberance led Calipari to compare him affectionately to a 12-year-old, said a gap between veterans and newcomers does not exist.

"You might as well say everybody here is a freshman," he said. "No one has played for (Calipari) before. So we're all learning. We're all coming from the bottom up."

While labeling junior Patrick Patterson as the main man, Cousins dismissed the appeal of taking on the team's fastest gun.

"It's not about who is the man," Cousins said. "Nothing like that. We came here to win."

Another freshman big man, Daniel Orton, spoke of divine intervention aligning this group of UK stars.

"Everybody here has a good heart," he said. "We're a bunch of good guys. It's kind of funny how things worked out. God has mysterious ways of working everything out. I really think that's what happened. God put this team together."

Of course, Calipari is no stranger to meshing individual talents. His teams at Massachusetts and Memphis epitomized collective effort. He noted the importance of living together. He cited the help of the best player having a one-for-all approach. Like Marcus Camby at UMass, Patterson fits that description, the coach said.

But Calipari noted that those UMass and Memphis teams did not carry the national expectations of this Kentucky team. He said he spoke for an hour with one of his coaching mentors, Larry Brown, earlier Thursday.

"This is a little virgin territory for me as a coach," Calipari said. "I'm going to be learning. ... I don't have all the answers. Some of it will be guessing. And if I'm wrong, I'll change."

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