Calipari having Pitino speak to UK team ‘would put North Korea on the back burner’
What if Muscle Beach and Rupp Arena got married and had twins? That thought came to mind during the telecast of Kentucky’s Pro Day last weekend.
To show the UK team’s increased level of fitness, the SEC Network showed before and after photographs of PJ Washington and Nick Richards. In each photo, the players were bare-chested. The “before” — taken at the start of their freshman years — revealed less definition. The “after” — taken at the start of their sophomore years — featured defined pectorals and suggested much time at the bench press.
“I probably feel I’m probably in the best shape of my life, right now,” Richards said at UK’s Media Day on Thursday. “It’s probably the best feeling in the world when you know you can go on the court and you’re probably the strongest player on the court. The confidence booster, it just helps you mentally to play the game better.”
Those words made an impression coming from Richards, whose self-confidence faded as a freshman.
When asked if he meant to say he’s a stronger on-court presence than Washington, Richards smiled and threw a good-natured jab. “Definitely,” he said.
But Washington looked buff in his “after” photograph. “That’s all fat,” Richards teased.
Actually, Washington corrected, his family members said they thought he looked skinny in the “after” photograph. “I’ve been working hard,” he said, “and the results have been coming in. And I’m just proud of it.”
Tattoos are the other striking difference in the “before” and “after” photographs. Richards and Washington are tattoo-free in the “before” shots. Their chests are busy with words and images in the “after” photos.
Washington’s tattoos include Jesus on the cross and the Bible verse, Psalm 3:5-6, “I lie down and sleep. I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”
His parents made church-going a regular Sunday-morning outing, he said before adding, “I’m really a Christian guy.”
Richards said he adorned his chest with tattoos of a lion, Zeus, wings and angels.
“And my favorite quote: ‘Be somebody nobody thought you’d be,’” he said. “I saw it on Instagram.”
As part of the process of tracking the progress each player makes in the weight room and conditioning drills, photographs are shot at regular intervals.
Kentucky’s practices include “attitude points.” It’s connected to trash talking. UK Coach John Calipari explained.
“I want a team to talk,” he said. “Like the biggest issue we have: they don’t talk enough. The problem is when they talk at the other team, that’s a problem. That’s an attitude.
“So we have a couple guys that start competing, and then they start jawing at each other. . . . So now we have attitude points. So if they’re competing and the score is 12-9 and Keldon (Johnson) scores and then starts to chest bump, boop, attitude point (for) the other team.”
The consensus among players was that Johnson could set scoring records for game, season and career in attitude points.
When asked which player led in attitude points, fellow freshman Immanuel Quickley said, “Keldon, easy, easy, easily.”
Quade Green agreed. “Keldon gets crazy at times,” he said before adding, “but it’s a good crazy, though.”
Johnson said the attitude points affected his displays of attitude.
“I haven’t toned it down,” he said. “I’ve just gotten sneakier with it. I find different ways.”
Johnson acknowledged that trash talking with an opponent can be detrimental. “Definitely trash talking can get you a technical,” he said. “I can see that.”
Quade Green wore a band around his left wrist. It had the initials WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do?
He said he wore it to remind him to “keep perspective of the people around me. The stuff I do. What would Jesus do? The right stuff all the time. This is the prime example of being Quade.”
Of course, there are limits. For instance, Green did not figure he’d turn the other cheek in a game.
“I want to win,” he said with a smile. “Oh no, I’m trying to win. That’s why I take it off.”
Citing a trip that returned him to Lexington at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, Calipari said he had not paid close attention to the ongoing trial resulting from the FBI investigation of college basketball corruption.
“It’s a black eye,” he said. “It’s not good for basketball. I hope the decisions we’re making out of this are all based on what’s good for the kids, not to change just for change’s sake.
“But I do think it brought the outliers in. That this has brought light to, like, this can’t be done.”