Calipari demands passion from Cats

December 3, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

As several players divorced themselves from Twitter accounts because of what Willie Cauley-Stein called “a bunch of negativity” from fans, Kentucky Coach John Calipari encouraged a new love interest: the gym.

Ah, the sweet smell of sweat. The comforting touch of seams on a basketball. The reassuring rippling sound of leather swishing through twine. Oh, to be young and …

“Individual players have to fall in love with that gym,” Calipari said Monday in assessing his team. “They haven’t yet. So do they have to keep falling till they realize that?”

Kentucky lost its last two games — at Notre Dame and against Baylor, the latter snapping UK’s 55-game home winning streak.

With the Cats playing again Tuesday night against visiting Samford (2-7), the strain is showing in the relationship between UK player and fan. Cauley-Stein said that he and teammates Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays had turned off their Twitter accounts. Beating the rush, Ryan Harrow did the same in the pre-season.

“A bunch of negativity” led to the end of his Twitter account, Cauley-Stein said. “I have been thinking about it for awhile. Now, I’m definitely deleting.”

Calipari defended UK fans, who might lash out in anger. But, he said, it’s only because they care so much.

“Our fans cheered this team coming off the court,” Calipari said of the loss to Baylor on Saturday. “I’m not sure if I would have cheered them. … If I was a player, I want to play in front of these kind of fans who care. And it matters.”

Cauley-Stein noted that ending the Twitter account did not exactly turn off a fountain of candid commentary. A player apparently can’t tweet from his heart of hearts.

“You can’t say what you want to because it’s all monitored,” he said. “So why do it?”

A moment later, he added, “It was a lot more fun having Twitter as a high school kid.”

As for UK having more fun on the court (i.e. winning), Calipari conducted a hard practice Sun-day that included a lot of running. “By far the hardest day of practice we’ve had,” Cauley-Stein said.

Calipari said he wanted to inject more accountability in the players. He also spoke of injecting into the players the kind of raw emotion that comes with passion.

“There’s no desperation,” he said. “No sense of urgency (in games). …

“You know what, we’ll have to do it in practice.”

Like anyone truly in love, the players should give more than they get.

In terms of basketball, the players should learn “how hard you have to play,” the coach said. “Playing through comfort levels.”

Samford’s first-year coach, Bennie Seltzer, said Monday that he expected Kentucky players to get the message.

“I expect those guys to come out and play with tremendous intensity,” said Seltzer while riding with his team on a six-hour bus trip from their Birmingham, Ala., campus to Lexington.

After the loss to Baylor, Calipari voiced a potpourri of approaches Kentucky might take. Go big. Go small. Play zone. Press. On Monday, he noted how he placed Jarrod Polson at point guard with a small lineup in practice.

“I want Jarrod to fight and hold that spot,” the UK coach said. “He’s going to spend extra time. I know he’ll be in this gym working.”

Calipari noted that, contrary to the murderers’ row of Derrick Rose-Tyreke Evans-John Wall-Brandon Knight-Marquis Teague, he hasn’t always had a stellar point guard.

“You know, I’ve played with all kinds of different point guards,” he said. “Well, I’ve a point guard not be my best player a lot. The game is a little different.”

Calipari said he did not think he’d play a small lineup against Samford. Then again, he’d played the field with all sort of possible options recently.

Said Seltzer: “I watched the film, and we prepare off that. … I can’t say what he’s going to do. The only thing we can prepare for is what we’ve seen so far. And that’s what we’ve done.

“Coach Calipari is going to do the very best for is team. And no one knows what that is except for him and his staff.”

Paradoxically, for all the talk about love and passion, Calipari was philosophical about the two-game losing streak.

“This is not football,” he said. “We’re not out of the national championship hunt. We’re not out of anything. All we have to do is get right.”

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