UK Men's Basketball

Eve of Kentucky-Morehead game a day for learning

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talked to his team in the huddle as Duke defeated Kentucky 75-68  in the State Farm Champions classic on Tuesday Nov.13, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talked to his team in the huddle as Duke defeated Kentucky 75-68 in the State Farm Champions classic on Tuesday Nov.13, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Especially in the early season, basketball is more than pick-and-roll or give-and-go. It's about stop-look-and-listen. Not to mention trial-and-error or live-and-learn.

This week the learning process began before Kentucky played Morehead State on Wednesday night when the Eagles' coach, Sean Woods, questioned how well players appreciated playing for UK. He said he didn't like the "vibe" he got from UK players during a recent telethon to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy and lamented a "sense of entitlement" he linked to the so-called one-and-done rule that makes college basketball, even at Kentucky, a mere pause on the way to the pros.

If Woods' unsolicited comments made John Calipari feel like Holly Petraeus — beyond furious — the UK coach didn't let on. He simply cited Woods for a verbal turnover.

"Knowing Sean, I figured he misspoke," Calipari said. "I chalk it up to that, and I move on. I'm not taking it personal."

Before Morehead State practiced in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, Woods apologized profusely and repeatedly.

"I feel horrible that it's come to this right here when it shouldn't have to be," a visibly unnerved Woods said. "And a lot of that is my fault. I do apologize dearly for it."

Woods clarified his Monday comments, saying he intended to criticize players in general. "Kids are different," he said.

"To set the record straight, I love this university. Everybody knows that. John Calipari has been great to me. I'd never do anything to hurt him and his situation. He's been great to me. He's done a heck of a job and I love him dearly. And whoever wears this uniform becomes my instant brother."

Calipari defended his players' attitudes at the telethon. "They were hugging volunteers," he said. He also saluted their ability to handle the fishbowl existence that comes with playing for Kentucky.

"It's hard to deal with all the stuff that goes around, but these guys seem to do it pretty well," he said.

Calipari noted that praise, as well as criticism, can reach hyperbolic proportions with UK basketball.

"I walk on water," he said by way of example. "Guess what? I don't. I'm a regular guy, a sinner like everybody else. ... Say what you want. Fifty years from now, people will evaluate the jobs we've done and where we've been."

Players made available to the media Tuesday voiced appreciation for wearing the UK uniform.

"Everybody's excited to be here," sophomore Kyle Wiltjer said. "We really embrace the atmosphere here, and the rich tradition is a part of it."

Jarrod Polson, a native of Jessamine County, acknowledged that he might be better versed in Kentucky basketball lore than teammates who grew up in other parts of the country. "They probably had their own teams when they were growing up," he said.

Calipari told the players Monday of Woods' comments earlier in the day, Julius Mays said. The UK coach did not share any reaction with the players, Mays said.

As for Woods' appraisal of UK players, Mays said, "I don't think he's been around enough to judge us."

The Cats' oldest, most experienced player took a que sera, sera attitude. "People are going to think what they want to think," he said.

Kentucky's learning process with presumptive point guard Ryan Harrow continues. Harrow, who missed the last two games and lost 7 pounds because of an undisclosed energy-sapping illness, was expected to return to practice Tuesday. His availability for this week's games — against Morehead State on Wednesday or Long Island on Friday — remained clouded.

"I'll see him in the practice setting and start figuring out what we do," Calipari said, "and what's the timetable."

As for learning in the game against Morehead State, Calipari welcomed Woods' promise to throw a pressing, aggressive style at the Cats.

"They'll scramble," the UK coach said. "If the game is allowed to be physical, they'll turn us over a bunch. But it's what we need."

Kentucky has installed a press offense recently, Calipari said.

"We need to be pressed and played physically," he said. "Let's see what we're about."

Calipari said he'll watch to see how strong the Cats are with the ball and how assertively they reach for passes rather than wait passively for the ball to arrive.

"We could have 30 turnovers and they beat our brains in," he said. "It could happen. We're a young team. We don't even know how they're going to respond to stuff."

When asked about Morehead State's pressure defense helping Kentucky, Woods quipped, "I think I've helped Cal a bit much with his team. I don't need to help Cal any more. I got his team fired up."

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