Calipari sets new tone for team

John Clay
John Clay

Players smiled.

No one received a faceful of an angry coach.

No one had their lockers cleaned out afterward, or no one that we know of, anyway.

It would be naïve to make sweeping judgments after watching new Kentucky coach John Calipari put the Kentucky basketball team through a 45-minute practice Wednesday at the Craft Center, especially considering Calipari knew the media was watching.

But here are a couple of slightly sweeping judgments, anyway.

The tone is different.

Much different.

I used to chuckle when people would excitedly relay news that then-new Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie ran practices in which everyone was always moving. No one stood around. This was said as if this was some sort of breakthrough sure to bring unending championships.

Vince Lombardi beat his Green Bay Packers to death in practice, treated every player the same. "Like dogs," offensive lineman Jerry Kramer used to say.

Bill Walsh never practiced his San Francisco 49ers into the ground. In-season, Walsh's team rarely even put on pads.

Yet both Lombardi and Walsh are considered among the best coaches in the history of the sport.

It's about players. And there are many ways to get the job done. That said, it's not hard to see how Calipari has been able to get some talented Tigers and (the hope is) Cats.

You remember his time building UMass. You know his success at Memphis. But what you might forget is the four years he spent in the pros — three as head coach of the New Jersey Nets, one as an assistant to Larry Brown with the 76ers.

Calipari is a college coach with an NBA bent. You can feel it in his offense, the "dribble-drive motion" with its open-court style. In fact, most of Wednesday's drills were run-the-floor, 2-on-1 drives to the bucket. At one point, Calipari told the team he wanted 50 layups a game.

Here's another thing he told his team: "If you don't go hard, I can't play you."

(While in total control of the 45-minute practice, Calipari never raised his voice, by the way.)

I've heard him use the "I can't play you," before, in press conferences, and at last year's Final Four. He'll stick with you, go to bat for you, but if you're not doing what you're supposed to do, he'll have to go with someone else. And chances are, that someone else is going to be pretty good.

We can see that already. It took less than a week for Mobile, Ala., big man DeMarcus Cousins to change his Memphis commitment to a Kentucky commitment. Rivals ranks Cousins the second best prep player in the country.

No. 1? That would be Raleigh, N.C., guard John Wall, who was listing Memphis as his No. 1 choice. Wall says now he is considering Kentucky, though he's not ready to commit.

And as soon as a Wednesday report had Daniel Orton asking for a release from his letter-of-intent to UK, father Larry Orton quickly issued a denial, saying no decision had yet been made about young Daniel's future.

How would this future look: A front line of Cousins, Orton and Patrick Patterson to go with a backcourt of Jodie Meeks and John Wall?

How about a bench of Darius Miller, Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, DeAndre Liggins, Kevin Galloway, Josh Harrellson, Matt Pilgrim and Jon Hood?

You might be able to do a little something with that.

It's all about timing, of course. Sometimes a players' coach lets things get too loose and a disciplinarian is just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes the unbending general can push matters too far and a more upbeat, flexible approach is warranted.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which scenario best fits the Cats' current situation.

And it isn't hard to figure out the criteria that defines the best coaches.

They're the ones who make you better.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or Read his blog at