UK Men's Basketball

Calipari shows a softer side at practice

The $32 million coach walked into Kentucky's $30 million practice facility looking like "Joe Bag of Donuts," the real John Calipari he suggested he was at his introductory news conference.

A long white sleeved T-shirt. Blue sweat pants. The beginning of a paunch (apparently he wasn't kidding about liking Dunkin' Donuts). Definitely not the persona of a grand pooh-bah of basketball.

Nor did Calipari rule Wednesday's 45-minute workout with an imperial air. Calipari made it clear what he wanted, then watched the 17 players try to execute. (Matt Pilgrim, tweaked hamstring, and walk-on Matt Scherbenske, knee injury, watched from the sideline.) UK invited the media to observe the practice in the Craft Center.

UK spent the time working on driving to the basket with purpose. "Fifty layups a game," the new coach told the players. "If you don't go hard for layups, I can't play you."

Perhaps mindful of talk that his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, beat the players down verbally, Calipari sprinkled his instruction with encouragement.

"Good job."

"It's different. You're doing fine."

"You're doing great."

Early on, Calipari blew a whistle to comment on a drill. The whistle, which he tooted softly, failed to halt several dribbles and side conversations. A coaching eruption seemed impending.

"Please stop," he said. "When the whistle blows, please stop talking, managers and everyone."

Everyone stopped.

Later, when he apparently didn't believe the players were paying enough attention, Calipari said, "Please listen."

When Calipari saw players frown because a manager failed to make a good pass, he said, "Don't be mad at a manager because I got things I can be mad at you about."

The coaches' attire added to the informal atmosphere. Three staff members he's bringing from Memphis — John Robic, Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland — were not uniformly dressed.

(UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy said Robic and Antigua were hired as assistant coaches. Strickland could be an assistant or hold the job he had at Memphis, Director of Basketball Operations. That leaves Calipari needing to fill one spot.)

Early on, the players worked on scoring while being hit with pads wielded by managers or assistant coaches. The players had to absorb two blows while either on the drive or at the basket.

"You have to play through bumps," Calipari said. "If you can't play through bumps, it will be hard for me to play you.

"When you miss, you'll look over at me and say, 'I got fouled.'

"I don't care about you getting fouled. Make the layup."

NCAA rules allow teams to practice for two hours a week until April 15.

When this workout ended, Calipari gathered the players near mid-court and could be heard to say, "That was a great job. Hey, that was great."

A few moments later, the new coach said something that elicited chuckles from the players.