UK Basketball Notebook

'D' is the key to Calipari's success

Vitale: 'These kids have been Dribbling and driving all their lives'

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2009 

Despite the hubbub about Kentucky players needing to adjust to the dribble-drive offense, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says there's a bigger — and more important — adjustment the Wildcats must make for new coach John Calipari this season.

"I think that biggest adjustment will be on defense," Bilas said on an ESPN teleconference last week. "Cal's teams won over the years not because of offense."

Statistics support Bilas' contention.

None of Calipari's last four teams at Memphis ranked among the nation's top 100 in three-point accuracy. Memphis famously did not shoot a high percentage from the free-throw line, either.

Yet the Tigers won and won.

"The reason Memphis won, and won at such a high level, was because they defended so well, collectively and individually," Bilas said. "That's where they laid a foundation."

Calipari's last four Memphis teams ranked second, 12th, 12th and first nationally in field-goal defense. Opponents made less than 40 percent of their shots in each of those four seasons.

Bilas explained why defense — and not the dribble-drive — is the bigger adjustment.

Defense is "one of the hardest things to get freshmen to understand," the ESPN analyst said. The difficulty lies in getting players to understand how hard they must play defensively and how the defense must be a collective effort.

Another ESPN analyst, Dick Vitale, agreed with Bilas and predicted Kentucky will play well defensively.

"Because Cal will not have it any other way," Vitale said on the teleconference.

After Kentucky beat Morehead State in Friday's opener, Calipari repeatedly emphasized the need to improve defensively. Morehead State made only 38.5 percent of its shots (16.7 percent from three-point range). Yet Calipari said, "When I watch the tape, I'll be sick."

He lamented lack of defensive discipline: not staying in a stance, not taking enough pride in defense.

In an earlier interview, the inventor of the dribble-drive, Vance Walberg, suggested the offense will take time to master but should not be a foreign concept to players.

"Most kids can drive the basketball," Walberg said. "What happens is, we coaches don't open gaps for them to drive."

Vitale all but scoffed at the notion of a difficult adjustment to the dribble-drive.

"So much has been made of getting acclimated to the dribble-drive," he said. "These kids have been dribbling and driving all their lives."

But playing defense the way Calipari wants will take, in his words, a change of culture.

"Surrender to how you have to play for us," the UK coach said he told players. "Don't argue. Don't fight it."

Meeks' record falls

Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke's 51-point performance Friday night broke several records, including Jodie Meeks' record for points in Bud Walton Arena. Meeks set the record with 45 points at Arkansas last season.

Clarke set an Arkansas record for points and the school and Southeastern Conference records for three-point baskets in a game with 13.

"He threw us on his back tonight and just had an unbelievable performance," Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said after the game. "I haven't seen a better shooting performance than that. That was really, really remarkable."

Also noteworthy was the attendance. Only 7,713 attended.

"I had no idea about the records," Clarke said. "It was just fun being able to get a win.

"To be honest with you, I don't even care about any records that I broke. It was just being able to come out here and play well as a team and seeing guys' unselfishness, celebrating with me."

Clarke's performance lifted a basketball program that has endured a tumultuous off-season that included five players being suspended to start this season. Foot injuries sidelined a sixth player, forward Michael Sanchez.

Then All-SEC senior forward Michael Washington went to the bench 36 seconds into the game after picking up two fouls.

Clarke made his first seven three-point shots to spark a one-sided victory.

"Phenomenal, that's unbelievable," Pelphrey said of Clarke's game. "But, in a way, I'm not surprised because we see him shoot so much, work so hard, understand the type of human being he is.

"He's capable of making shots like that if he gets them."

License to shoot

Davidson Coach Bob McKillop used to say that his players had "shooting licenses," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas wrote in an e-mail message. "If they had proven that they can hit certain shots, they had license to shoot them. If they fell below an acceptable percentage, they would have their license for that shot suspended until they proved it again in practice and workouts."

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams wants his players to make a minimum percentage before being allowed to shoot three-point shots in games.

Future coach?

Joe DeGregorio, who coached John Calipari at Clarion, said he gets asked a question all the time.

"He was like a coach on the floor," DeGregorio said of Calipari, the player. "People ask me all the time, 'Did you know he was going to be such a good coach and all that (BS).' Of course, I didn't know that. But I'll tell you what. I knew, no matter what he'd do, he would be very successful because he was that kind of guy."

'Gift of gab'

Bill Sacco, who coached John Calipari for Moon High in the Pittsburgh area, also did not envision him as a coaching star. But Sacco noticed Calipari's persuasive personality.

"He's a pretty good guy with the gift of gab," Sacco said. "He could sell you something you didn't want."

Teaching moments

John Calipari's college coach, Joe DeGregorio, noted:

 A teaching moment. When Calipari was late for the bus going to a game, DeGregorio punished him by bringing him off the bench. Clarion lost the game.

In his coaching career, Calipari handles tardiness a different way. When the top five players board the bus, the team leaves.

"I was an ex-Marine," DeGregorio said. "I wanted to give him a lesson. He gave me a lesson."

 Opponents should make UK play in the half-court. "If I was coaching and they didn't have the shot clock, I'd hold that ball forever," he said.

Go big brew

Jeff Szumigale, a teammate at Clarion, recalled a trick John Calipari would play on him.

"We'd go out to a local watering hole," Szumigale said.

Then Calipari would take charge. He'd get everyone's order and tell the bartender to set them up.

"Then he'd take his Coke and leave," Szumigale said. "And I was stuck paying the bill."

And how often did this happen?

"More than once," Szumigale said. "Shows you how quick I was."

Help wanted

The Clarion-Ledger, the daily newspaper of Jackson, Miss., reported on Nov. 4 that Bill Saum, an NCAA Eligibility Center director, was no longer working for the NCAA.

Presumably, one of his department's last cases involved clearing any amateurism question on UK freshman John Wall. Saum's department continues to work on the eligibility of Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams confirmed to The Clarion-Ledger that Saum was no longer working for the NCAA. Williams would not elaborate on what he called a personnel matter.

Saum joined the NCAA staff in 1988. He's been involved in such issues as rules enforcement, agents, gambling and amateurism.

The Clarion-Ledger noted that Saum had been a frequent target of criticism from Sidney's attorney, Don Jackson, who has voiced objections to how the NCAA handles amateurism cases.

Why?

Why did Vance Walberg invent the dribble-drive offense?

"I wanted to find a way to win when we didn't shoot well," he said. "How many times do you hear a coach say, 'Well, we didn't shoot well. That's why we lost.' "

Walberg took that thinking to Massachusetts, where he works as an assistant coach. He tracked every shot the Minutemen took last season. The review confirmed his analysis of good and bad shots. The most accurate shooting came on foul shots. Next best were dunks, layups and other shots around the basket. Then came three-point shooting and finally mid-range shots.

Therefore, Walberg all but gags on the thought of a mid-range jumper.

The attacking nature of the dribble-drive should produce the highest percentage shots with the first priority being getting to the basket for scores or fouls (or both). Ideally, the dribble-drive would yield a bonanza of three-point plays

"In a way, we want to be greedy," Walberg said. "We want an extra point every time we shoot the ball. Either with the new three or the old-fashioned and-one three."

Cast of thousands

Dribble-drive inventor Vance Walberg said there was somebody on the UK staff who knew the offense better than John Calipari.

No. 1 assistant John Robic? Nope.

Uh, Rod Strickland? Nope.

Oh yeah, Walberg's son. Counting high school, Jason Walberg played in the dribble-drive eight seasons.

And what exactly is Jason Walberg's position at UK?

"Hell," the elder Walberg said, "with John, you don't know."

According to UK's media guide, Jason Walberg is director of camps and clinics.

During this fall's Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches convention, Indiana Coach Tom Crean preceded Calipari as a speaker.

Feigning the need to wrap up his talk, Crean said, "I know Coach Cal and his 87 assistants will be here any minute."

Pelphrey perseveres

Former UK standout John Pelphrey continues to bring discipline to the Arkansas program.

With five players suspended, the Hogs opened the season against Alcorn State on Friday with eight players in uniform.

Arkansas will have the same eight players available for a game against Louisville on Tuesday.

The eight players in uniform include only six who have basketball scholarships. Filling out the team are football quarterback Brandon Marshall, who was good enough as a high school sophomore in Amite, La., to commit to Louisiana State, and a member of the Arkansas golf team, Stephen Cox, who also played basketball the previous two seasons.

Of course, Pelphrey has experience in such a short-handed situation. In noting the team's predicament, he reminded reporters that he played on the 1989-90 UK team that had eight scholarship players.

Happy Birthday

To A.J. Stewart. He turned 21 on Saturday.

The former UK forward transferred to Texas State, where he's sitting out this season. Stewart is not practicing with the team. He's using this year to get acclimated to life in San Marcos, Texas, and attending class.

The school's notable alumni include former president Lyndon B. Johnson and country singer George Strait.


Kentucky schedule

All times p.m.; home games in all caps

Date Opponent Result

Nov. 13 MOREHEAD STATE W, 75-59

Date Opponent Time TV

Nov. 16 MIAMI (Ohio) 7 FS South

Nov. 19 a-SAM HOUSTON STATE 7 FS South

Nov. 21 a-RIDER 1 FS South

Nov. 24 b-Cleveland State 4:30 CBS CS

Nov. 25 b-Stanford/Virginia 7/9:30 CBS CS

Nov. 30 c-UNC Asheville 7 FS South

Dec. 5 NORTH CAROLINA 12:30 CBS-27

Dec. 9 d-Connecticut 9:30 ESPN

Dec. 12 at Indiana noon CBS-27

Dec. 19 AUSTIN PEAY 4 TBA

Dec. 21 DREXEL 7 ESPNU

Dec. 23 LONG BEACH STATE 1 FS South

Dec. 29 HARTFORD 7 ESPN2

Jan. 2 LOUISVILLE 3:30 CBS-27

Jan. 9 GEORGIA 4 SEC Net

Jan. 12 at Florida 9 ESPN

Jan. 16 at Auburn 4 SEC Net

Jan. 23 ARKANSAS 4 SEC Net

Jan. 26 at South Carolina 9 ESPN

Jan. 30 VANDERBILT 4 ESPN

Feb. 2 MISSISSIPPI 7 ESPN

Feb. 6 at LSU 4 SEC Net

Feb. 9 ALABAMA 9 ESPNU

Feb. 13 TENNESSEE 9 ESPN

Feb. 16 at Mississippi State 9 ESPN

Feb. 20 at Vanderbilt 6 ESPN

Feb. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA 9 TBA

Feb. 27 at Tennessee noon CBS-27

Mar. 3 at Georgia 8 SEC Net

Mar. 7 FLORIDA noon CBS-27

Mar. 11-14 SEC Tournament, Nashville TBA

a-Cancun Challenge; b-Cancun Challenge at Cancun, Mexico; c-at Louisville; d-SEC/Big East Invitational at New York.

CBS CS is the CBS College Sports Network; SEC Net games air on the SEC Network, which will be picked up by a local station (WKYT-27 in Lexington).

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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