Merlene Davis: Cal's women's clinic entertained fans, but didn't help my hoops acumen

Herald-Leader columnistOctober 6, 2012 

Brian Long, left, Julius Mays and Archie Goodwin signed autographs at Coach John Calipari's Women's Clinic on Oct. 4.

I am a fan of the University of Kentucky basketball teams, both men's and women's. But I can't be described as a fanatic.

Back in my day I played the game with 12 players on the court, six on each team. But on each team, three players were relegated to one end of the court as the offense and three more at the other end playing defense. No one on either team could cross half-court.

I hated those rules and never really warmed to basketball until my sons and daughter began playing.

I don't think I know enough about the game to be a fanatic so I'm simply a fan.

When the opportunity arose for me to get an "inside look" at the UK men's basketball program, I gleefully grabbed the golden ring. I went to the fourth annual Coach John Calipari Women's Clinic hoping to learn about a couple of plays that I would easily recognize during the season to impress friends and family.

"Attendees will be given exclusive access to the Kentucky basketball team, including demonstrations from the staff, scheduled presentations of the inner workings of the program, a self-guided tour of the Joe Craft Center, and a Q and A with Coach Cal, the current staff and players," the promotion said.

All of that plus free food, drink and a T-shirt for $100 each. (I attended after UK extended an invitation to some female journalists.)

More than 600 women were there. And after standing in line for about an hour, many of them seemed pleased to have the basketballs they had purchased there autographed by the team and coaches. They also seemed giddy about taking photos with the players, too.

I'm not that kind of fan.

Finally, though, when all the women seeking autographs were satisfied, Calipari greeted us and got the clinic under way.

He told us 54 percent of his Facebook and Twitter fans are women and acknowledged the women who had attended all four years.

"Every year, we try to make it a little different and give you some different things," he said.

Maybe he'll give us a peek at his defensive strategy, I thought.

First on the agenda was an introduction to Nancy Lieberman, a celebrated basketball pioneering player and coach. She would later be featured in one of three segments that the coaches used to teach us an aspect of the basketball program.

The first segment was about the drills the athletes will be performing when practice begins. Several women found it fun to dribble hard with both hands, high, low, alternating from side to side.

OK. But it wasn't something I planned to do in my leisure time. Fortunately, assistant coach John Robic said later we would be treated to a brief team exhibition. Great.

Lieberman returned, and it was apparent her job was to motivate the group.

Next, Ray "Rock" Oliver, director of strength and conditioning, had the players demonstrate some impossible moves that helped them stay fit but that would have sent me to the hospital.

Finally, we all gathered again to hear Calipari.

Now, I thought, I will learn basketball rules or strategies or something.

"We were going to do some basketball stuff, but you know what I'm going to do?" he said. "I'm going to take you on a recruiting visit. You want me to take you through a recruiting visit?"

"Yes!" the crowd responded.

"Then we won't do the rest of it," he said.

"No!" I thought. "I want to learn about basketball."

That was not to be.

Calipari told us about the character traits he looks for in potential players and how he tells the young men and their families that signing with Kentucky is committing to life in a fish bowl.

"This is not for everybody," he said.

He said that in recruiting, he "undersells and overdelivers."

After he finished, he showed us a video highlight reel that is shown to recruits.

Then, the women watched a fashion show featuring the players in clothes bearing the UK logo. (I wonder: Do men who attend similar clinics get makeovers?)

The 600 women in attendance clearly enjoyed the show and the clinic.

Unfortunately, I still can't impress anyone with my basketball acumen.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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