Having fun is the secret to UK's post-season success, Calipari says

Calipari wants players to relax, enjoy post-season

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2011 

Kentucky head coach John Calipari cracked a rare smile in the second half of the Florida at Kentucky men's basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday Feb. 26, 2011. Kentucky beat Florida 76-68. Miller lead UK with 24 points.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

As his team prepares for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Kentucky Coach John Calipari identified fun as a key component in post-season success.

"I'm going to talk to them today about winning in the post-season," he said Tuesday. "My best teams, what we drove them with and what they thought about ... you've got to have more fun than everybody else. And you really have to stay in the moment."

Calipari defined fun as: "You can't worry about winning. Just worry about playing hard and executing. You've got to recognize each other's good play. You've got to be prepared to practice and really bring it every practice. ... Help each other during games. Chest bumps. Give them layups. You've got to have fun playing, and that's the only way to have fun."

Goal: Improve seed

Calipari said the victories over Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the last three games of the regular season boost his team's NCAA Tournament profile.

"I don't know where we're seeded now," he said. "But where it was 10 days ago, we've gone up a line, maybe two. Had to, with what we did."

Calipari consistently puts an emphasis on improving the seed for the NCAA Tournament. That will be an objective for UK this week.

How might the SEC Tournament affect Kentucky's seeding?

"Depends on how we play," Calipari said. "Depends on what happens around us."

UK favored?

The Web site Bodog.com tabbed Kentucky as the favorite to win this week's SEC Tournament. The site made regular-season champion Florida the second choice at odds of 2-1.

Here are the odds released Tuesday: Kentucky 7-5, Florida 2-1, Vanderbilt 9-2, Tennessee 8-1, Georgia 10-1, Alabama 12-1, Mississippi 35-1, Mississippi State 35-1, Arkansas 50-1, South Carolina 75-1, Auburn 500-1 and Louisiana State 500-1.

Whether or not UK is the favorite, Doron Lamb said the Cats will go to Atlanta as a confident team.

"We have a lot of confidence," he said. "We beat some of the best teams in our league."

Calipari deflected talk of Kentucky as a favorite by noting how Mississippi State has equaled UK's league-best three-game winning streak going to Atlanta.

Like Kentucky — but to a much lesser degree — State has had success in the SEC Tournament. Plus, Calipari said, State also has a first-round bye.

The UK coach also cited regular-season champ Florida and Western Division winner Alabama as obvious teams to watch.

Newton to Samford?

With reports of director of operations Martin Newton being named athletics director at his alma mater, Samford, Calipari noted the power of UK on a résumé.

Calipari said Tuesday that the "greatest blessing" of the Kentucky program is that it can "put young people on a stage and situation no other school can give them."

Without directly mentioning Newton's new job, Calipari said, "That's this program. That's what it does. I hope it continues."

Freshman of the Year

An SEC rule limiting the number of players who can be nominated for individual awards almost dictated that Terrence Jones would be the league's freshman of the year rather than teammate Brandon Knight. Calipari said he'd seek to open up the process to more than one player per team.

The UK coach said he asked spokesman DeWayne Peevy to flip a coin to determine whether Jones or Knight would be UK's nominee for freshman of the year. Peevy said he assigned heads to Knight and tails to Jones. The coin toss produced a tails.

Knight became UK's nominee for player of the year, which, Calipari predicted, would go to another player.

The coaches voted Chandler Parsons of Florida as the top player and Jones as the top freshman.

Calipari said he hoped the media vote conducted by The Associated Press would result in Knight as freshman of the year so each of the first-year players would have an award.

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