UK Men's Basketball

Calipari on Bahamas: Development, playing together come before winning

Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the  basketball games in the Bahamas will be "hard games for us to win," but that's exactly what the Wildcats want.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the basketball games in the Bahamas will be "hard games for us to win," but that's exactly what the Wildcats want. Herald-Leader

Besides recruiting bonanzas and winning a lot of games, another strand linking John Calipari's five previous seasons as Kentucky coach is his repeated attempts to temper, if not defuse, the fans' desire to not only defeat but dominate all opposition. So no big surprise Wednesday when he downplayed the importance of victories when Kentucky plays exhibition games in the Bahamas Aug. 10-17.

"These young men come here because they want to develop as players," Calipari said. Players also want to enjoy the experience of playing cohesively with other highly skilled teammates.

Ideally, he said, UK players shift attention to winning after those two greater priorities are met.

"That's the order," Calipari said. "There ain't any other way around it."

Sophomore-to-be Andrew Harrison offered a mildly contrarian view. He reminded reporters that winning was a constant priority.

"Because I feel every time we step on the court, we try to win," he said.

A smiling Calipari offered a plausible reason why Kentucky should not assume it will win the six games in the Bahamas. The opponents are professionals: The Dominican Republic National Team, reserves from the Puerto Rican National Team and a team from the highest pro league in France.

Of the presumably savvy vets UK will face, Calipari said, "Some as old as 37 (or) 38."

That sounded pretty long in the tooth for a basketball player, but Calipari made the trip sound like Kentucky will be going to school rather than the Caribbean.

"Which means we probably shouldn't win any games," he said. "I don't want it to be about winning or losing. I want it to be about development. Are we learning to play off one another? When adversity hits, how do we deal with it?"

Calipari suggested that his attempt to arrange professional opponents meant much stronger competition than is usually the case when college teams travel to foreign countries in the summer. For instance, he cited UK's trip to Windsor, Canada, in August 2010, which he said was designed to offer only token resistance.

Calipari described his expectation of opponents on the Canadian trip as "I hope this team stinks because we do."

Usually, the attraction for such trips is the extra 10 days of practice, not high-level competition, he said.

When asked about UK's practices in preparation for the Bahamas trip, Calipari sounded well pleased.

"The levels of practice are high," he said.

Regardless of winning and losing in the Bahamas, Calipari offered a cautionary note about the trip.

"Let's talk about the downside," he said. "It just makes our season really long."

So, Calipari said he would let assistants coach some of the games. "Mainly because I don't think we can win these games," he quipped.

Calipari also talked about making five-man substitutions, playing "platoons" and six-minute segments of playing time.

Calipari suggested that the players might want as much playing time as possible. He said this UK team was unusual in the sense of players who want to play together as much as possible.

Usually, he said, a team will have one or two players "doing their own thing," or a "goofball" who looks to do other things.

"These guys play just about every day they can play," he said.

'Way better'

Calipari said freshman Karl-Anthony Towns is "way better than I thought when I saw him in high school."

Towns, one of UK's "bigs," plays smaller than his listed size of 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds. That means he's more agile than his size might suggest.

"In high school, you saw him and (thought) he's got a ways to go," Calipari said. "Well, what I'm seeing (in early UK practices) is a very active player who's skilled and runs better than I ever thought he'd run."

Size doesn't matter

Calipari said freshman Tyler Ulis has learned that because of his size (5-9), he needs to take the initiative by defending farther up the court and reducing the chances of opponents taking advantage of his size. The UK coach cited how UConn's guards pressured UK in the 2014 national championship game. "Up on us so we didn't get a running start," Calipari said.

Of Ulis, Calipari said, "I don't see his size being a factor, but I imagine it will at some point. But I haven't seen it to this point, and he's playing against huge guards right now."

Not silent Cal

During practices, Calipari has been almost exclusively the only voice heard. The assistants watch from the sideline and only occasionally speak.

"I need to let the freshmen know what I'm like," Calipari said before adding, "to a degree. ...

"At least they get an idea of what they're going to be held accountable for."

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