Tough defense earns playing time from Calipari

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 22, 2010 

When Kentucky freshman Stacey Poole took a turn applying single-minded defense on Notre Dame shooter Ben Hansbrough, he earned a promotion. His three-pointer in the same game, the only shot he's made this season, was purely coincidental when Coach John Calipari said Poole would be the second perimeter player off the bench.

Then UK played Indiana, a game that saw Poole nearly match his season's total of four shots by launching three times in seven frantic minutes. Not so coincidentally, he never got off the bench in the next game as the Cats beat Mississippi Valley State last weekend.

"I was just hyped up to play," Poole said of the quick-draw act that earned him a return to the bench.

A wiser Poole noted Tuesday that Calipari did not make an issue of the itchy trigger finger against Indiana. Another play drew the UK coach's attention as a teachable moment.

"I was on the backside and I didn't come help," Poole said. "That's what he was really mad about. It wasn't really the shots I took, but the one play I didn't help my other teammates."

Calipari surely hopes all the kiddie Cats took notice and will keep the less glamorous aspects of basketball in mind when Kentucky resumes play Wednesday against Winthrop.

Of defense, rebounding and loose-ball retrieving, Calipari said, "That's how you stay on the floor.

"We've always been a defensive-oriented team. So it is with this team."

Calipari described his thinking on substituting players as a zero-sum game. If a reserve fails to help on defense or rebound, those failures can lead to points for the opponent. More points for the opposition, fewer points for Kentucky. Not a ticket for more playing time for Poole or any of UK's players.

Poole, who came to UK billed as an all-purpose perimeter player, acknowledged the "very, very big" difference in defense on the high school and college levels.

When asked about his defense for Providence High in Jacksonville, Fla., he said, "In high school, yeah, I defended my man."

Defending your man only begins to define the defense expected by Calipari and any other college coach.

"As far as help defense and all the other stuff that comes with defense, that really wasn't (emphasized)," Poole said before adding, "But I defended my man."Poole smiled. Reporters chuckled.

Calipari made sure that no one got the idea that Poole alone needed to play better defense. The UK coach noted fellow freshmen Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb were "slowly coming through."

"Part of that is a will to win," Calipari said. "Part of that is understanding every possession is important. Most freshmen don't know."

Given Kentucky's 10-man roster, there's a need for freshmen and other reserves to adjust.

Calipari said that during one of Monday's practices he noted the need for Poole and sophomore Jon Hood to blossom as reliable contributors. This echoed earlier comments by assistant John Robic that Kentucky needed an "extra boost" from Poole or Hood as eighth man. Foul trouble or injury will necessitate Poole and/or Hood emerge.

The UK coach put the onus on those players.

"Are you ready?" Calipari said. "It's like life. You get your opportunity. Are you ready for it? If you're not ready for it, you can't blame anybody but yourself. You hold the bar high. You tell them exactly what they have to do. They either do it or they don't do it. It is in their hands."

Then Calipari offered a pointed example of what he's talking about. He used Josh Harrellson as an example.

"Josh is, like, a success story," the UK coach said before adding a qualifier, "in the early season. But he's been a success story."

Harrellson's now famous tweet describing Calipari's impossible-to-please attitude and the subsequent punishment of extra conditioning led the player to become more productive.

While noting that Harrellson backup Eloy Vargas should be doing the extra conditioning, too, Calipari turned his attention to Poole and Hood.

"Why aren't you two out early?" he said. "You two are telling me you want to play. Why aren't you out here early? Why aren't you conditioning? Weight-training?"

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service