UK Men's Basketball

Calipari takes tough-love approach into Transy game

John Calipari said he felt the Wildcats don't talk to one another enough.
John Calipari said he felt the Wildcats don't talk to one another enough.

Kentucky basketball players practiced Saturday for more than 21/2 hours, which John Calipari said might be the longest workout in his three-plus seasons as UK coach. He planned two more practices — of unspecified length — for Sunday.

"We have to set a tone of how we play," Calipari said Sunday morning in a rare church-hour news conference.

Calipari and players noted the introduction of more competitive practices. Lose a drill, run a sprint.

"We have guys you see start to back up," Calipari said before relaying the message he hoped the sprints delivered: "This is what happens to losers."

With UK playing its final pre-season tuneup against Transylvania on Monday night, Calipari spoke of the need for better play and more sustained exertion. He made the longer practice sound like a product of the no-pain, no-gain school of thought.

"To really improve, you have to make yourself uncomfortable," he said. " ... If you're not willing to do it, I will."

A moment later, Calipari observed, "I never leave practice where I'm ticked off by myself. Everybody in the building will be ticked off. If I'm mad, they're all mad."

After Kentucky beat Northwood on Thursday in the first exhibition, point guard Ryan Harrow spoke of how Calipari often screams, yells and yelps.

The UK coach never mentioned any player by name in explaining the high-volume approach.

"If you can't take me — you know I care about you — how in the world are you going to take the people we play?" Calipari said. " ... Why you train like this is you sweat now so you don't bleed later."

That Harrow might be more often the target of verbal blasts is a product of playing point guard, Calipari said.

"You have the ball all the time," said the UK coach, who again did not mention any player by name. "Now, if you don't want to be in that situation, give it to somebody else."

To which, a point guard might say, "Well, I want it, I want to do (fancy moves)," Calipari said. "Well, you're going to get hammered. Either give it up early or you better be making good decisions because it's in your hands."

Calipari noted how he wanted UK players to impress college basketball observers. That did not mean fancy moves, acrobatic shots and other such theatrics, he said.

What he called a "Wow!" factor came from an approach to the game.

"How hard you play," he said. "How you compete. How in control you are. How efficient.

"All the garbage in your game is gone."

The news of UK's get-tougher approach brought a knowing smile to the face of Transy Coach Brian Lane. He noted how Transy benefited from being the opponent in UK's first exhibition last season.

The Pioneers led 11-4 and 19-17 early.

"Not that I remember any of those numbers," Lane said with a wry grin.

If Lane needed a reminder, it's in Transy's media guide.

Kentucky ultimately won 97-53.

Given a choice of being Kentucky's first or second exhibition opponent, Lane said he eagerly took opening night. On Monday, he and Transy presumably will face a UK team with something to prove.

Transy returns four starters from a team that finished with a 23-5 record. The returnees include 6-foot-4 senior forward Ethan Spurlin (16.8 ppg), the Heartland Conference Player of the Year last season, and wing Brandon Rash (15.6 ppg), a first-team all-conference player.

When asked about how competitively Transy played Kentucky last November, Calipari said, "The thing that hit me in the face was that (UK) team won the national championship."

Then Calipari added an oddly defensive comment about how he and his coaching staff improve players. "Man, we must really roll the balls out," he said facetiously.

The UK coach applauded how Transy figures to compete.

"You'd rather it be that way," he said. "You don't want to get beat, obviously, but you want to make sure they give you a game. And they will."

Even before hearing about Calipari's get-tougher approach, Lane shied from the notion that Transy's veteran players might take UK's freshman-dependent team to school.

"I don't think that will happen," the Transy coach said. " ... With the talent level, obviously, there's a big disparity.

"But there's a lot to be said about experience. And so I feel we'll be able to give them some things again this year that can help them down the line."