John Clay: 'Camp Cal' is a workout for Kentucky's coach, too

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 8, 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

After a sluggish second half against Samford on Tuesday night, per coach's orders, the Kentucky basketball team began a daily 7 a.m. conditioning program on Thursday morning.

Its coach apparently began his conditioning program at high noon on Saturday.

Throughout Kentucky's 74-46 win over Portland at Rupp Arena, John Calipari was on his feet, a man in motion.

Well, not all the way throughout. A time or two the UK coach took a seat, only to spot a mass of mistakes so egregious he popped right to his feet again to yell out an instruction or scream a substitution.

Why even in the rare moments when Calipari was seated, he couldn't sit still.

As captured on TV, and now preserved on YouTube, there was a moment when assistant coach Orlando Antigua appeared to be making a point with his outstretched arm only to have Cal swat the arm away and tell Coach O to shush, or words to that effect.

Chalk it up to the heat of the moment. Only in this case, it's more the heat Calipari is putting on his team as he tries to drag it from where he thinks it should be to where he wants it to be.

It's exhausting work, squeezing out sparks, even for the coach.

"We got better," Calipari said, "but we're still a ways away, folks."

Here's the way Calipari sees it: At the close of college basketball's business, there will be eight to 10 teams with a legitimate chance to win the national title. His team is not even close to being crown-worthy. It's probably somewhere between 50 and 100, by his estimation, probably 25-50 by most everyone else's. It has rocky ground to cover.

It could get there, however. That's what Calipari thinks. Better yet, he knows. He's navigated the curves before. It takes more than physical ability, or AAU titles, or glowing write-ups from a scouting service.

"My question to my team: There's eight or 10 teams that are better than all the rest of the teams in the country," Calipari said. "Do you want to be one of those eight or 10 teams? What are you willing to do to be one of those eight or 10 teams?"

Did he give his team a chance to answer?

"(I told them) 'That meeting you had, have another one,'" he said. "'Try to figure this out.'"

Here's what Calipari is willing to do: push and push and push and push some more.

"I'm not backing down," he said.

Oh no he's not. He showed that Saturday, "jerking" (as he put it) players out for mistakes, throwing other players in just as quickly. A mistake was followed by a Calipari finger point followed by a seat on the bench.

"He doesn't take you out after every mistake," freshman forward Nerlens Noel said.

It just seems that way. Why at one point, the crowd was loudly cheering a nice and-one basket by Kyle Wiltjer, but Calipari didn't even seem to notice. He was too busy yelling at Noel for not moving his feet.

"It's an adjustment," admitted Noel.

It's reality. Other teams have older players to show leadership and drag the younger players along. This one has none of that. There's not a Darius Miller or a Josh Harrellson or a Patrick Patterson. There are growing pains. And running. And yelling.

"I told them, 'I'm working more on you mentally than physically in the morning,' " Calipari said.

The out-of-shape thing from Tuesday night, it was a trumped-up means toward a true end. This Kentucky basketball team isn't out of shape. Not physically. Camp Cal isn't fat camp. It's brain camp. And Cal's brain tells him his team is soft and green and in need of a friendly shove and a loving scream, or two.

"It's hard playing here and it's hard playing for me," Calipari said afterward, his daily workout completed. "You don't come here unless you want to be special. Don't torture you or me."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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