Peace on earth and good will toward men? Fine and dandy for Christmas morning. But the intensity with which his team returned to practice later that day cheered Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie this holiday season.
"Probably better than any team that ever came back, as far as intensity," Gillispie said. "... I couldn't be more pleased with the way they came back."
When the Cats returned from a two-day holiday break and practiced Christmas afternoon/evening, the play was intense but the execution poor. By Friday, the execution more or less matched the high intensity.
"It's all about mind-set," Gillispie said of returning to basketball business. "You're still in the Christmas mode." Then there's travel, the warm glow of family, eggnog, etc., etc.
"I haven't seen a team come back really as focused and intense, and (they) seemed very determined and hungry," Gillispie said. "I think they enjoy the way they're playing, and they enjoy the way we've been getting better."
Now is the time to compound this dividend daily.
"For us to go to another level, we have to really carry out responsibilities very intently, and we have to really execute better. I mean, the real season is here."
Actually, the "real season" begins Jan. 4 when Kentucky plays at No. 19 Louisville.
Meanwhile, the Cats have two more tune-ups — against Florida Atlantic on Saturday and Central Michigan on Monday — before reality sets in.
Florida Atlantic Coach Mike Jarvis is under no illusions. Saturday is a guarantee game, with his team guaranteed money and a starring role as "the lamb going to the slaughter," he said with a chuckle.
After a coaching career that includes stops at Boston University, George Washington and St. John's, Jarvis is wise to the ways of these games.
Florida Atlantic, which had a Ratings Percentage Index of 275 as of Dec. 24, has lost seven of its last nine. The Owls have played only three home games, which Gillispie found unthinkable.
"I'm not going to coach at a school that makes you do that," he said.
Jarvis, who didn't get hired until June, spoke of building a program from the ground up. That's especially true for Florida Atlantic players who are adjusting to a third new coach in the last four years.
"At times I really feel they think of themselves as foster children because they've gone from one foster home to another," Jarvis said. "We're trying to, first, provide some semblance of family."
After noting the experience of Jarvis and contributing players (three seniors usually start), Gillispie suggested that Florida Atlantic could be a "very scary team."
Jarvis, who led Boston U. into Rupp Arena almost exactly 22 years ago and lost a competitive game 81-69, did not totally discount his team.
"When they play as hard and as well as they can play, you know, they're like anybody else. They can give a team a really tough battle," he said.
Jarvis stressed how his team played rather than the outcome.
"I hope our guys go in and compete," he said. "That's my main thing. If they compete e_SEmD I mean, really compete e_SEmD then it'll be a victory no matter what the score is."
Of course, how Kentucky plays is important to Gillispie. Presumably, winning will take care of itself if the Cats play hard and execute well.
With an eye toward Louisville and Southeastern Conference play, one-sided games lead to experimentation for Kentucky. Most recently, the Cats looked at point guards Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins playing together.
"Seeing who wants to initiate the offense and who got off the ball without (the coaches) saying a lot," Gillispie said.
Liggins took the initiative.
"DeAndre's so eager to get the ball," said Gillispie, who termed that a good thing because the freshman intends to push the pace.
As he has in the past, Gillispie called for more UK players to push the pace. Ideally, players such as Liggins, Porter and Jodie Meeks could forget about outleting any defensive rebound they got. Rather, each should dribble down court in an effort to push the pace.
"On the best teams, a number of guys initiate" the fast break, Gillispie said. "You put yourself at a major advantage."