Calipari takes hard stance on 'soft' plays

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 5, 2010 

As part of his effort to get Kentucky players to adopt a tougher approach to basketball, Coach John Calipari said he prepared what he called a "soft tape" for them to watch.

He also issued an order before the opening credits. "We're not laughing," he said. "No laughing."

Calipari did not see this compilation of about 25 "soft" plays against Pikeville College on Monday as a comedy. Nor was it a tragedy, not in the first week of November. It was more of a cautionary tale with the message being that getting pushed around by the Pikeville Bears demands a response when such future opponents as North Carolina (perhaps Michigan State in the Maui Invitational) and the Southeastern Conference teams loom.

"If a NAIA school is going to push us around, how are we going to survive in the SEC on the road?" freshman Jarrod Polson said of Calipari's narration of the film.

"We're going to come up against bigger teams than them," freshman Stacey Poole said. "We are just going to do what he says. We're going to have to be a tough team."

Kentucky gets another chance to show toughness in Friday night's second exhibition against Dillard University.

Since the victory over Pikeville on Monday, Kentucky has concentrated in practices on creating toughness. Or, perhaps more correctly, bringing toughness out of the fuzzy-cheeked kiddie Cats.

"If they are what I think they are, they have fight in them," Calipari said. "You just have to bring it out of them."

The "soft tape" was feature-length, given that Calipari counted only "seven or six" plays where toughness was displayed against Pike-ville.

When asked to define the "soft" plays on the tape, Calipari said, "You get pushed into the cheerleaders (and) you get sparkle on your face. ... That happened about three times."

Calipari acknowledged that the game against Pike-ville was a coming-out party for a freshman-oriented team, therefore not the ideal place to see hard-nosed experience and toughness.

"They were shell-shocked," the UK coach said of many Cats getting their first taste of college competition. "They were also shell-shocked because I got after them. Within 15 seconds of the game. It's on."

Calipari noted that some players did not know where to go or what to do during pre-game introductions. "The second guy went over to shake hands with the officials like in high school," he said.

Of greater importance is how the players show toughness in the games. Do they hold their ground while fighting for rebound position? Do they dive for loose balls? Do they communicate and help each other defensively?

"Pikeville was shooting layups," Calipari said. "You don't shoot layups on us."

Seeking greater toughness is a familiar theme in college basketball. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo occasionally has his players practice in football gear to drive home the point. Former Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith once famously complained about Kelenna Azubuike, "Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane."

To instill toughness, Calipari ordered plenty of competitive drills in practice. The reward-or-punishment instruction called for winners of drills to get a breather while losers did sprints.

"We just competed in practice, just go at each other," Poole said. "Do everything hard. Everybody did what they have to do because Coach Cal, he doesn't play about that."

When asked if any player declined to involve himself in such a display of machismo, Poole looked stunned. "I didn't see anybody do that," he said.

Kentucky doesn't have a lot of time to get familiar with what's expected. After the tuneup against Dillard, the Cats have only a week before the opener against East Tennessee State, a team that made the NCAA Tournament last March.

A week after that, Kentucky plays in Portland, Ore., in a game that breaks up the long trip to the always ultra-competitive Maui Invitational.

Poole's facial expression seemed to concede that asking freshmen to push their weight around is asking a lot. But Kentucky does not have alternatives.

"We're out here," Poole said. "We're here. We're just going to have to play. We have to do what we have to do.

"The other guys are older. But we'll be fine."

With so many freshmen, Calipari said he must be "ultra patient." But the UK coach makes an exception when it comes to the "soft tape" lowlight reel.

"Certain things," he said, "are unacceptable."


Dillard University

Location: New Orleans

History: Founded in 1869 as Straight University and Union Normal School to educate newly freed African-Americans; was chartered as Dillard University in 1930; named after James H. Dillard, an administrator at Tulane University; students were displaced by Hurricane Katrina from August 2005 to September 2006

Affiliation: United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church

Enrollment: 1,011

Mascot: Bleu Devils

Colors: royal blue and white

Conference: Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (NAIA)

Men's basketball coach: Dale Brown (UK alumni)

Notable alumni: Dr. Samuel L. Biggers Jr. (Chief of Neurosurgery, King/Drew medical Center in Los Angeles); Ellis M. Marsalis Jr. (jazz pianist and music educator; father of jazz artists Branford, Wynton and Delfeayo); Garrett Morris (comedian/actor); Brenda Marie Osbey (Poet Laureate for Louisiana)

Web site: www.dillard.edu

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