Three letters might best capture Kentucky's feeling about playing in the league tournament this weekend. No, not SEC. More like u-g-h.
Assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for John Calipari at a news conference Tuesday, said the Southeastern Conference Tournament can take a physical and mental toll the week before the all-important NCAA Tournament begins.
"It's just tough when you have three games in three days," he said. "And then turn right back around and most likely play Thursday."
UK expects to begin the NCAA Tournament in Louisville's KFC Yum Center, which will be a site for games Thursday and Saturday of next week.
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"Then you're talking about five games in eight days," Robic said. Actually, UK could play five games in nine days counting three in the SEC Tournament on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this weekend, then Thursday and Saturday of next week.
"That's tough," Robic said. " ... That's pretty much the downfall for me to jam that much into a short period of time."
On the plus side, Kentucky players should be relatively fresh, Robic said. Besides playing fewer minutes because of a nine-man rotation, the players have had two days without team practices for each of about the last six weeks.
Besides the NCAA-mandated day off each week, the UK players have another day each week in which they do individual work, lift weights and watch film.
"So you're not pounding them on the court for two hours that day," Robic said.
Willie Cauley-Stein noted how Calipari would prefer to skip the SEC Tournament.
"If it could be his ideal, he would jump right into the NCAA Tournament," Cauley-Stein said. "This (SEC) tournament is for the fans. Our fans are going to come full force. It's like a getaway weekend for them. That's kind of the way we approach it."
Coach of Year
Cauley-Stein saluted SEC coaches for voting John Calipari as the league's Coach of the Year.
Noting how Calipari meshed eight healthy McDonald's All-Americans and other contributors into an effective unit, Cauley-Stein said, "I don't know a better coach who could do it."
Marcus Lee was UK's representative on the SEC's Community Service Team. He has volunteered to work with God's Pantry and the Samaritan's Feet Project, worked at a National Student-Athlete Day and delivered food to Big Blue Madness campers, the league said in a release.
"One of the best human beings I've met," Karl-Anthony Towns said of Lee. "As a person, he's so caring, so lovable.
"You can see why he's so special to this team."
Lee brings energy and enthusiasm to the UK team, Towns said. "I think he brings that not only to the court, but also to people in the community."
Arkansas forward Bobby Portis acknowledged his surprise at being voted SEC Player of the Year.
"I was kind of shocked," he said. "I thought that the Kentucky players would kind of dominate awards because of their record.
"I think I had a great year. I tried to stay consistent throughout the whole season and tried to be that man for my team and just tried to help my team to more wins this season. I felt like I was honored in like a great way."
Portis became the first Arkansas player to be SEC Player of the Year since Corliss Williamson in 1995. Williamson was Portis' AAU coach and has been a mentor.
"I think it was big because guys don't really win Player of the Year not just at our school, but like any school, really," Portis said. "It's kind of a tough question to answer. I'm just still kind of shocked that I won it. I'm just grateful and happy."
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson was all smiles in reacting to Portis being voted Player of the Year.
"Dreams do happen. Dreams do happen. Dreams do happen," he said. " ...Sometimes you've got to speak it in order to have it."