Kentucky Coach John Calipari's message of the day Friday: Even one-and-doners must give the old college try.
UK's star-studded team, which is expected to send multiple freshmen into next year's NBA Draft, must try harder, Calipari said. As he stressed after the Cats beat Texas-Arlington on Tuesday, effort will be key. Or else ...
"A less-talented team that just fights like crazy will beat the talented team," Calipari said.
The UK coach said it was understandable that a team with seven McDonald's All-Americans might expect the opposition to succumb without a fight.
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"They were always bigger and stronger and longer and faster," Calipari said of many of UK's players. "You didn't have to outwork the other guy.
"If a team's effort level is far beyond yours, it will smack a talented team."
In the past, Kentucky had veteran players to show celebrated freshmen how to win on the college level. Or in the case of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, effort was simply the way he played, Calipari said. UK fans may recall Calipari spent much of last season trying to cajole the players to make a greater effort.
Calipari equated effort with fun. "It's coming out and having unbelievable effort by everyone on the floor ... and forcing your will on the other team," he said. "That's fun."
He equated effort with satisfaction, thus making winning or losing incidental.
"You may lose a game and be miserable after the game," Calipari said. "But throughout the game, you had a ball playing because you tried to do it. ...
"Then there are games you win by 30 and you don't feel good. But they don't know all that. This is new to them."
Calipari lamented bad body language, which also was a replay from last season. A player's shoulders slump or his head goes down after some reversal. He peeks around to see if anyone sees his personal setback. "I'm just saying, 'Play!'" Calipari said. "'Just play!'"
Calipari cited lack of sustained effort as a reason UK defenders got beat off the dribble repeatedly against UT-Arlington — although Reger Dowell had a killer cross-over dribble and one-on-one defense against anyone is no easy chore.
"We stopped playing," Calipari said after the game when asked about the smaller, quicker team beating the Cats off the dribble. "Guys stood straight up and down."
UK players said the team spent a large portion of Thursday's practice working on defense.
"It's not fun, but I like doing it," Dominique Hawkins said. "Anything that you do here is probably not going to be fun, but it's going to make you better in the long run and you'll end up loving it."
Calipari singled out Hawkins' go-go energy as an example for teammates to follow. "Dominique is probably the closest to what we're looking for," the UK coach said.
Big man Dakari Johnson noted the importance of keeping his hands up, staying low in a defensive stance, moving his feet and not stopping through the whole possession. "Basically, just play with effort," he said. "We're so used to stopping and not having to play defense in high school."
Calipari spoke of breaking habits.
"It's going to take time," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight."
Cleveland State at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports South
NBA rumors: Calipari dismisses idea of coaching the New York Knicks. Page D3