Calipari uses threat of treadmill to keep Cats in line

Josh Harrellson played hard against Louisville on Dec. 31. He tries to practice hard, too, to avoid the dreaded treadmill.
Josh Harrellson played hard against Louisville on Dec. 31. He tries to practice hard, too, to avoid the dreaded treadmill.

For Kentucky Coach John Calipari, it's my way or a 3-foot-wide strip of endless highway.

"We've got a treadmill," Calipari said Friday of a new way he's trying to motivate the Cats to play more efficient basketball. "Heavy duty. Best treadmill made.

"If a guy doesn't go hard, he goes 16 mph for 30 seconds. Or you can be George Jetson. One of the two. You're either going to run or you're going to be flipping under it."

The 16 mph is the equivalent of a near-world record 3:45 pace for a mile.

Or as Josh Harrellson put it: "That thing is a monster."

Calipari first ordered the treadmill set at 14 mph. If a player did not stay in a defensive stance or grabbed a rebound with one hand or committed some other basketball transgression, the UK coach ordered a 30-second sprint on the treadmill set in the corner of the Craft Center practice court.

Not satisfied, Calipari ordered the treadmill cranked to 16 mph.

"That's a full-out sprint, as fast as you can go, for 30 seconds," Harrellson said. "No breaks. You're going to be flying off of it.

"It just makes everybody do everything right the whole time."

Well, not everybody every time.

Harrellson said he was one of the first players ordered to the treadmill. As he explained, the foreboding begins when a UK minion turns on the treadmill.

"When you hear it, it sounds like an airplane starting up: whooosh," Harrellson said. "I mean, it's terrible. When you hear it, (a player thinks), 'Well, I'm not getting on that thing. Let's do it right.' "

Not grabbing a rebound could have gotten Harrellson sent to the treadmill.

"I get them all now," he said. "Or if I'm not getting them, my man's not getting them. I'm not getting on that treadmill. I know that."

In essence, that is the purpose of the treadmill. "We're just holding them accountable," Calipari said.

What prompted the UK coach to talk about the treadmill was a question about a tweet sent by freshman Terrence Jones on Tuesday.

"In a slump," Jones tweeted, "praying and working hard to get out (of it)."

Calipari prescribed all-out effort in practice. Or the treadmill. Take your pick.

When asked what could send Jones to the treadmill, the UK coach said, "If he's not intense or not playing with any kind of passion. If he's playing soft. If he takes a soft shot or a fade-away. If he's not talking."

Calipari reminded reporters that he's not picking on Jones, who ranks second in scoring (17.1 ppg), rebounds (9.1 rpg) and steals (17). He also leads the Cats in free throws shot (96) and made (58), plus blocks (27).

"At the end of the day, he's doing fine," Calipari said. "He's the least of my worries.

"I've done this a long time. I've had guys like him."

Calipari said his job was to bring the best out of all the players. "Sometimes you hug them," he said. "Other times you say, 'Unacceptable.' "

In addition to the treadmill, Calipari began on Thursday personally working out Jon Hood, Stacey Poole, Jarrod Polson and Eloy Vargas before each practice. "Torture them a little bit," the UK coach said.

There is a dual purpose, he said. Seek individual improvement. "And build a bench," he said. "Find out what guys can help us."

This effort coincides with the start of Southeastern Conference play. The Cats begin at Georgia on Saturday.

Calipari downplayed the significance of winning the SEC championship, something UK has done 44 times.

"We never talk of the league," he said. "We never talk of the league tournament. I hate the league tournament. ...

"Our issue is getting better."

Winning league games serves the greater good of assuring a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, he said. Toward that end, winning the SEC means something.

But, Calipari added, the SEC also brings a competitive level that will be a new experience for Kentucky's freshmen.

"It'll be rougher," the UK coach said. "Higher intensity, and other teams will know us better."

Well, he added, a freshman-oriented team limits how well SEC rivals know UK. And vice versa.

"It comes up a notch," Calipari said. "It did last year. Georgia had us at our place. We came in acting, 'OK. We got this.' Then they had us beat."

UK ultimately won, but it wasn't easy.

"This is the long haul for us," Calipari said. "We've got eight road games. It's going to be hard to win eight games. We didn't win eight road games last year."

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