Calipari trying to lasso Cats with lessons on life, love

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 8, 2013 

  • Auburn at Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m. Saturday

    TV: WKYT-27

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

    Records: Kentucky 16-6 (7-2 SEC), Auburn 9-13 (3-6)

    Series: Kentucky leads 87-17

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 75-53 on Jan. 19, 2013, at Auburn, Ala.

For the first time in his career, Kentucky Coach John Calipari does not watch game tape with his players.

"None," he said Friday. "I don't want them to see me in the basketball sense, right now. I'm just teaching life skills. ... That's what this team needs."

UK assistant coaches do the rewind/fast forward thing.

Dr. Ruthless (aka the ultra-competitive Calipari) continues to talk about doing the right thing as a person being a key to playing more effectively for Kentucky. Unity. Effort. Trust. Accountability. Selflessness.

In earlier adventures on this theme, Calipari got a bit mushy. Men like being around men, he declared. (Translation: Players should stay in the gym more and relish the manly pursuit of basketball improvement. Honey, you shrink the kids, I'll be with the boys.) Point guards should touch teammates a lot (Translation: Be a hands-on leader.)

Once again, the UK coach waxed warm and fuzzy.

As if inspired by the upcoming Valentine's Day, the same Calipari who demands unflinching toughness of body and spirit seemed to venture toward becoming all verklempt Friday as he spoke of, sniff, love as the answer.

"See, if you love, and truly love, it's more about the other guy than you," he said. "Then you have discipline."

You see, a couple UK players are too self-absorbed, said Calipari, coincidentally, no shrinking violet himself as founder of the website and unabashed frozen yogurt pitchman.

"Players on this team are trying to establish who they are versus, 'I know what I am and I'm going to give this to the team,'" he said.

The UK coach spoke of players (he didn't name names) who live in an egocentric "4-foot circle."

"They know all about that stuff in there," he said. "Outside of that, it becomes a little dicey."

Calipari cautioned against any attempt to interpret his observation as criticism.

"It's a natural thing," he said of his largely freshmen rotation. "It's not a selfishness. It's natural. We have to get by that."

As if to will Kentucky to greater basketball glory, Calipari said he's reading noted performance consultant Bob Rotella. He's also reading management expert Ken Blanchard (author of The One Minute Manager). He's also touching base with an entity who operates on a larger time frame.

"Praying in the morning, hard," he said. "Just for the strength to keep going for these kids because they deserve to feel the joy of doing something unique."

Julius Mays, whose 8-for-11 three-point shooting in the last two games helped steady Kentucky, spoke of how the 2012 national championship team served as a tough act to follow.

"I felt everybody felt we had so much to live up to," he said. "... Players set expectations so high, it set us back.

"It's like, How can you beat that? How can we be better than that? So I felt like guys were thinking, 'I've got to do this. I've got to live up to this. I've got to play like this guy.' It's really not possible."

A 12-6 start to the season brought about a re-orientation. "Everybody started to think we're not as good as we could be," Mays said.

That sense of vulnerability can be a good thing, Calipari said. "We're better when we think, 'Uh-oh, we may get beat. We better play.'"

In his efforts to bring a greater sense of urgency, Calipari can count on an unavoidable ally: the calendar.

The Cats know it's almost now or never to get into the best position for post-season play. UK plays Auburn on Saturday afternoon, exactly one month before the regular-season finale against Florida on March 9.

"Coming down to crunch time," Mays said. "We couldn't keep (losing). There's not that much season left. Obviously, we're coming on."

Willie Cauley-Stein, whose return last weekend from minor knee surgery gave Kentucky an emotional boost, also spoke of the 2012-13 season's clock ticking.

"Time is running out," he said. "We only have nine more league games."

While noting a season winding down, Cauley-Stein added, "So it's really time to step on the gas, and start doing what we have to do."


Auburn at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m.


Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Kentucky 16-6 (7-2 SEC), Auburn 9-13 (3-6)

Series: Kentucky leads 87-17

Last meeting: Kentucky won 75-53 on Jan. 19, 2013, at Auburn, Ala.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog:

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