UK Men's Basketball

UK notebook: Calipari keeps players fresh

New Kentucky Coach John Calipari does not believe in tough practices on the day of games. Nor does he think much of criticism directed at his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, for conducting tough practices the day of games.

"Rick (Pitino) would do the same thing," Calipari said last week. "But he won. So it was great stuff."

When asked about Gillispie's tough day-of-game practices and the subsequent complaining about the players having tired legs, Calipari emphasized that there's no one correct approach. (If there was, all coaches would do the same thing.) In addition to Pitino, he noted that former UK star Pat Riley was famous for conducting tough practices as a pro coach.

"There are so many ways of doing this," Calipari said. "If (Gillispie) had won, they'd have said he's a genius and that's how you should do it. He's making sure they're prepared.

"If we don't win the way I do it, they'll say he doesn't spend enough time on game day. He needs to do more."

So how does Calipari do it?

He places the highest priority on the players being lively and vigorous at game time.

"I want them fresh," he said. "I want them mentally fresh. I want them physically fresh. And they'll be at their best. If we can't win at our best, then we're not winning."

Any workout the day of a game would last no more than an hour, Calipari said. And if there is a noon tip-off, his teams might not conduct a shootaround or could be ordered to come to the arena an hour early to get in extra shooting.

Earlier on game day, his teams break a sweat and try mightily not to break anything else, the UK coach said.

"We go through our stuff," Calipari said. "We go through (the opponent's) stuff. Everything is scripted.

"Then we shoot half-court shots. We do fun shooting stuff to get the blood flowing. And that's it."

Calipari even extends his wish to keep the players fresh to the practice the day before a game.

Of practices that day, he said, "I've got one job: Getting no one hurt."

As the season unfolds, Calipari wants to gradually reduce practice times. Less than two-hour workouts in February, no more than an hour in March.

"My thing is less is better as the year goes on," he said. "I'm not going to get them in any more shape in March. They're not going to fall out of shape in March. And I'm not having any basketball genius stuff in March."

While Kentucky fans probably will welcome the end of tough practices on game day, Calipari kept stressing his way is not the only valid way to prepare.

Criticism of tactics can be directly linked to losing, he said.

Calipari noted how critics pounced when his Memphis team lost to Kansas in the 2008 national championship game after leading by nine points with 2:12 to go.

"If we had won, every move I made was right," he said. "If you lose, every move you make is wrong. It's the same with preparation. Everybody does this stuff differently."

Tickets disappear quickly

UK officials said all of the tickets for Big Blue Madness were distributed in 45 minutes Saturday morning.

Thousands of fans were at UK's Memorial Coliseum ticket office when the distribution of the free tickets began at 6 a.m. Others obtained tickets online.

Big Blue Madness, the first practice opportunity for Kentucky's men's and women's basketball teams, is Oct.16 at 7:30 p.m.

Fans criticize, UK adjusts

While waiting in line for Big Blue Madness tickets last week, fan Jeff Miller overheard a first-time camper capture the atmosphere of confusion, anxiety and annoyance with UK's perceived indifference.

"I know why they called this madness the other day," Miller heard the fan say. "Because almost everyone was mad!"

Fans were unhappy because UK prohibited tents from being erected before 8 a.m. on Wednesday. They were unhappy with having to practically stampede to the front of Memorial Coliseum when a security official let them set up an hour or so early. They were unhappy that UK officials gave no advanced notice that vouchers for tickets would be distributed that morning. They were unhappy that UK officials gave no advanced notice that armbands would be distributed Thursday (without an armband, the vouchers were worthless). They were unhappy that UK distributed the vouchers and armbands during the day when children attended school and at least some parents had to work. Fewer people present meant fewer vouchers, which were good for two tickets each. So families could not sit together.

Maybe most important, the fans were mad about UK officials' indifference, if not hostility, to their concerns.

"The fans are not children," Fred Malone wrote via e-mail, "and do not deserve to be treated as such."Miller, whose family camped out for Madness tickets for an 11th straight year, called the scene "more unorganized than I've ever seen it."

Miller also sent an e-mail message that called UK's effort "about as family unfriendly ... as it could possibly be."

Belatedly, UK heard the fans and adjusted. UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. responded to an e-mail message from Miller by asking for patience as the school learned to deal with the large crowd.

Then the school gave fans an hour's notice of another distribution of vouchers on Friday.

"I don't think they want us out there," said Miller, a native of Harlan who is now facility staffing director for Nr Inc. in Lexington. "But there were enough concerns and complaints, they probably said, 'We need to do something.'"

Miller and Malone acknowledged the difficulty UK officials faced in dealing with the large crowd. And Malone expressed gratitude for UK letting fans enter the Coliseum when it rained Friday morning.

But communication from UK prior to Friday? "Non-existent," said Malone, a 1998 UK graduate who lives in Georgetown.

Miller described the tent community as "a big rumor mill for three days."

This fueled a feeling of not being wanted, an ironic sensation because UK officials try annually to showcase the campers as a sign of the program's popularity. For instance, Coach John Calipari sent tweets marveling at the number of tents.

"It seems that they want to use the fan support when it benefits them," Miller said. "There were so many hints that they really were just aggravated by all this."

Hints?

"Facial expressions," he said. "You can just tell aggravation. ... A sense of unfriendliness."

UK turned away repeated requests to speak with someone in the athletic department about the campers' complaints.

Malone got a reply from Mark Coyle, senior associate director of athletics/external affairs. Malone described the reply as "Sorry you're disappointed. We're trying to make things fair. Thank you for being a loyal fan."

To which, Malone said, "A canned response. Didn't help too much."

Cal, players wow fans

UK's first-year coach, John Calipari, and the players warmed the fans' hearts outside Memorial Coliseum last week. Calipari and his wife, Ellen, handed out hot chocolate Thursday night. The players' interaction with fans included participation in a cornhole tournament Friday.

"You couldn't ask the guys to be more cordial," Jeff Miller said.

Former UK coach Tubby Smith was known to hand out doughnuts to fans waiting in line for Madness tickets.

But Billy Gillispie distanced himself from the Madness fans.

"I had to chase Billy Gillispie down twice to get him to come out and take a picture," fan Ray Thompson said.

Thompson, 46, lives in Lebanon.

Upon arriving at the Coliseum, Gillispie said he had to go to practice and couldn't pose for a picture, Thompson said.

"An hour later, I saw him leaving the building" and heading for his car parked by Wildcat Lodge, Thompson added. "I hustled back up there and with a marker and a ball."

At first, Gillispie said he did not have time to sign the ball.

"Man, we've been here two nights," Thompson said he told Gillispie. "Give us some love."

Patterson update

When he spoke to the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches on Sept. 25, John Calipari flatly declared that big man Patrick Patterson will not return to UK for his senior season. The implication was Patterson will enter the 2010 NBA Draft.

But Calipari gave himself some wiggle room last week when asked to elaborate on Patterson's junior season being his last for Kentucky.

"My whole thing is, if all goes as planned, I believe he'll be a top-10 pick (in 2010)," the UK coach said, "and maybe better.

"And if that's the case, he should leave. That's what I would recommend. But you never know with him. He may say, 'I want to come back to graduate school.'"

Patterson, a communications major, is on schedule to graduate this school year.

Patterson is "just different," Calipari said, meaning not solely driven to play in the NBA.

"If you ask me, do I believe he'll be back next year? I'd say, no," Calipari said. "But that's based on all of us doing our jobs and him doing his thing, we win ball games, and he's where he should be."

Fashion statement

After John Calipari spoke to the Kiwanis Club of the Bluegrass last week, fan Greg Stone left happy.

Stone, a native of Mount Sterling, opened up his sport coat to show why he had a smile on his face. Calipari had signed the man's white dress shirt with a black felt pen.

"I'm going to frame it," Stone said.

Hold the doughnuts

Since acknowledging his weakness for Dunkin' Donuts, John Calipari has had fans bring him doughnuts.

To say thanks for his appearance at the Kiwanis Club of the Bluegrass, Calipari received several gifts, including doughnuts.

To which the UK coach said he really went to Dunkin' Donuts for the coffee.

Happy birthday

To Kevin Stallings. The Vanderbilt coach turned 49 on Thursday.

In his 10 seasons in Nashville, Stallings has led the Commodores to two Sweet 16 appearances. That's a first for Vandy since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Every one of the first 25 seniors to play for Stallings got their degrees.

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