To hear coaches, the answer to every problem is always more time in the gym. Poor shooting? Lack of stamina? Breakup with girlfriend? The gym is the ever-ready trainer, therapist and friend.
But Kentucky’s coaches prescribed less time in the gym Friday. The hope is that there can be a long- and short-term benefit gained from staying off a basketball court during the current exhibition series in the Bahamas.
UK players, Coach John Calipari and invited guests went on a boat cruise to a neighboring island Friday.
Assistant coach Tony Barbee, who said he had gone on several such trips with previous teams, explained.
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“You take it out to a private island not too far away,” he said Thursday. “And they have a cookout for you. And guys are swimming in the water. It’s a pretty neat and fun deal.”
Associate coach Kenny Payne saw the trip as a way for UK players to relax and recharge.
“We’ve been going really hard,” he said. “There’s been a lot of hard practices, so it’s important that they get time away and refresh their bodies. So it’s important.”
However, no pain does not mean no gain. Ideally, the boat ride and cookout help with the team bonding process in a hard-to-duplicate way. In that sense, Friday was not an “off day.”
“That’s part of the whole chemistry, camaraderie with these guys,” Barbee said. “You build it through practice and all those things. But you take advantage of this type of setting and build it in different ways. Taking guys on a catamaran trip is one of those ways. Get them out of their settings, out of other element and let their personalities come out.”
The players get to know each other better. If all goes well, they sense acceptance.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a boat ride can create one-for-all kumbaya.
Jeff Sheppard cited Kentucky’s trip to Italy in 1995 as an example of how the best-laid plans can go awry.
“I remember Coach (Rick) Pitino treating us to this special boat ride on Lake Como,” Sheppard said. “This beautiful place. We go on the ride. We all go to sleep. He was mad at us. ‘You guys went to sleep on the boat ride?!’”
Sheppard said the players’ thinking was, “We don’t care anything about this lake. We’re tired.”
Of course, there was a happy ending. Kentucky won the 1996 national championship. How much credit for that title should go to the trip to Italy the previous summer?
“A lot,” Sheppard said. “Really a lot.”
The extra games. The extra practices. “And we were also mad,” Sheppard said in reference to the Elite Eight loss to North Carolina the previous spring.
On the current trip to the Bahamas, Kentucky has excited the fans here by winning the first two games in convincing fashion. Much talk can be heard about how Saturday’s opponent from Serbia, Mega Bemax, might be the biggest challenge UK will face here.
Barbee all but shrugged. The trip to the Bahamas is important, he said, because of the extra practices and opportunities for players to bond.
“Wins don’t matter,” he said. “They don’t go on anybody’s record. Obviously, we want to win all the games. But it’s the foundation we’re laying with this young, talented group through those early 10 practices that we got. Just the chemistry, the camaraderie. It’s those things you can’t replicate through individual workouts.”
It doesn’t apply to the current trip to the Bahamas, but former UK star Jack Givens noted how a language barrier can bring players closer together. This was the case on Kentucky’s trip to Japan in 1978.
“What you do, you do together,” he said. “You do as a group. It allows you as a team to get closer together. You don’t have any option.”
Derrick Hord, who went to Japan with UK’s team in 1982, said this benefit can extend well beyond the upcoming season.
“We weren’t just there for basketball,” he said. “We were sightseeing and we were gaining new experiences. We still talk about parts of that trip when we get together.
“It was fun. It was interesting. And I think it helped us.”
Saturday: Kentucky vs. Mega Bemax, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Kentucky vs. Team Toronto, 4 p.m.
TV: SEC Network