UK Men's Basketball

Calipari pooh-poohs players-only meeting

Vanderbilt's John Jenkins scored over Kentucky's Josh Harrellson, who called a players-only meeting after the game.
Vanderbilt's John Jenkins scored over Kentucky's Josh Harrellson, who called a players-only meeting after the game.

Less than a week after Kentucky Coach John Calipari said team meetings were "a waste of time," Kentucky's players called a — you guessed it — team meeting.

Senior Josh Harrellson texted his teammates once the bus ride from Vanderbilt arrived at Wildcat Lodge on Saturday evening. With coaches not invited, the players met for about 30 minutes and talked about what could be done to prevent any more losses in close games.

Calipari's reaction? Well, he didn't "lol." He didn't say, "r u kidding?" He shrugged.

When asked Monday what he thought of the players-only meeting, Calipari said, "I didn't know they had one. They had a players' meeting?"

After a reporter confirmed the meeting, Calipari said sarcastically, "Oh, I hope it brings about change."

Clearly, Calipari, who preaches demonstrated performance as the action that speaks louder than any words at a meeting, was not impressed.

"I could care less," he said of the meeting.

Calipari likened team meetings to the bands people wear on their wrists to supposedly ease various aches and pains. The bands provide no medical help.

"But you seem to think it's good for you, so do it," he said.

Perhaps Calipari, who used the word "kumbaya" to mock the meeting, would have approved of Jarrod Polson's description of the mood at the meeting.

"We're kind of past the anger point," the freshman from Jessamine County said, "and trying to find ways to get better."

Terrence Jones suggested the problem might be a case of nerves for players who've experienced four losses by a total of 10 points in the last four weeks.

"Being nervous when it's so close and there's ... little time," he said. "It's just something we have to overcome by just playing without looking at the score and being nervous," he said. "Thinking little plays matter more than they need to. And just playing basketball."

Kentucky's 5-5 start to Southeastern Conference play — only the second time that's happened since 1990 — can cloud the mind.

Trying to turn that negativity into a positive, Calipari noted how close losses can sound an alarm. If Brandon Knight makes the last-second jumper at Florida and Darius Miller takes the open shot at Ole Miss and DeAndre Liggins blankets John Jenkins at Vanderbilt, UK wins those games.

"You know what?," Calipari told reporters. "I'm sitting here telling you, 'All is good here in Candyland.' In reality, we'd still have made the mistakes that cost us."

Kentucky next plays on Tuesday against Mississippi State, which has had many more reasons to wear wristbands, call team meetings and search for answers by reading the entrails of chickens this season. State's point guard, Dee Bost, missed the first 14 games because of NCAA and academic suspensions. The NCAA extended the suspension of star recruit Renardo Sidney the first nine games of this season after already ordering him off the court for all of last season. Coach Rick Stansbury suspended shooter Ravern Johnson for tweeting criticisms of game strategy.

When it seemed Sidney's return to game action on Dec. 18 would start State's revival, ESPN cameras caught him fighting with then-teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands on Christmas Week at the Knucklehead, er, Diamondhead Classic. Stansbury ordered both players to go back to Starkville. Bailey subsequently transferred.

If all that wasn't enough, State's psyche got rocked again on Saturday when Auburn rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the Bulldogs.

"It's been different, that's for sure," Stansbury said of the season to date. "Coming off a tough loss at Auburn, there's not much time to recover. The idea of going to Lexington, that's not a real fun place to go to and recover."

Mississippi State won 66-57 in its last game at Lexington. That's one of only two victories at UK since 1967.

And Kentucky players think they have reason to call a team meeting.

Ever cautious, Calipari called for a sense of urgency in every game because UK simply isn't good enough to think it can cruise to victory.

"The scary thing is at home, you think, 'OK, that other team is going away,' " he said. "This will be Mississippi State's breakout party. ...

"If you don't compete, if you don't come with some fight, you'll get beat. That's every game. There's four or five points between us and every team in the league. That's how it is."

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