With alliterative flair, Kentucky calls its semester breaks devoted to basketball “Camp Cal.” Presumably, there’s no time nor inclination to write home asking your parents to come rescue you.
“The first three days, I don’t think we saw daylight, really,” Derek Willis said Friday.
The UK players reported to the gym after breakfast and did not return to Wildcat Coal Lodge until about 10 p.m., Willis said.
Teammate Charles Matthews summed up each day’s itinerary with a pithy comment. “It’s all what the boss wants to do,” he said.
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John Calipari, the majordomo of Kentucky basketball, voiced satisfaction with the Camp Cal results this first week.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to play great,” he said of Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against Ole Miss. “It means we are now on the path I want this team on.”
If Kentucky (10-2) stays on this path, the Cats might shoot more three-pointers (although Calipari doused any thoughts of a free-wheeling shooting gallery), stifle the impulse to showboat and – stop reading if you’ve seen this at least 50 times already this season – outhustle/out-compete the opposition.
“We are what we are,” Calipari said. “An energy team. Fight. Play with great enthusiasm. And make easy plays.
“Then,” he added before getting to the punch line, “it will be an eight-point game.”
Not for the first time, Calipari said Kentucky is not capable of domination. Among SEC teams, he nominated Texas A&M and Vanderbilt (if Luke Kornet returns from a knee injury) in that category.
Otherwise, UK fans who enjoy basketball drama are in for a treat.
“Five minutes to go, you’re in a dogfight,” Calipari said. “That’s what I see throughout this league.”
Ole Miss, also 10-2, surprised Kentucky with its competitiveness last season. Calipari recalled UK leading by a big margin early (15-2 three minutes into the game).
“It looked like it would be a runaway,” Calipari said. “All of a sudden, they wouldn’t go away. But every game we play against Mississppi it’s been that way. They’re dogfights. And this one will be the same.”
Staying on the path cleared and prepared in Camp Cal gives Kentucky the best chance to win dogfights, Calipari suggested.
That path is not littered with three-point shots. Or is it?
Kentucky made a season-high 11 three-pointers in 23 attempts against Louisville last weekend. The Cats had averaged 4.9 makes and 16.5 shots from beyond the arc prior to the U of L game.
When asked if the three-pointer would be a bigger part of the offense, Willis said, “Oh yeah. I would say so, yeah.”
Calipari would not say so.
“We had a lot of shooters,” he said. “We just didn’t have any makers till the last game. We are what we are. You give us a three, we’ll take it. We’re not going to win or lose by shooting threes. That’s not how we play.
“But this team should be a good three-point shooting team.”
Calipari did say that Camp Cal drills had loosened up the Cats, implying a greater freedom to shoot threes.
By contrast, Camp Cal instruction included the suppression of what former Marquette coach Al McGuire called French pastry. Fancy plays gain a player only style points, but detract from team objectives, Calipari said. So, the UK coach said, he has stopped practice and offered a correction whenever a player littered Camp Cal with something fancy.
“That’s what they’ve done their whole lives,” Calipari said of this impulse. “Everything is show time. You can’t win that way. My veterans know it because they’ve been coached by me. The young kids are still doing it. They’re trying to make the most difficult plays.”
For an example, Calipari cited Jamal Murray, whose 40 turnovers are 15 more than the UK player with the second-most, fellow freshman Isaiah Briscoe.
“‘I’m going to throw this pass that’s going to go under the guy’s armpit, through his legs and it will skim off the back of his neck to my guy,’” Calipari said as if speaking in Murray’s voice. “He just has to play simple basketball.”
Calipari voiced satisfaction with Camp Cal. Other than sleeping and eating, the Cats are devoting their time to basketball. The players are improving. The team has a better idea of “how we’re trying to play,” the UK coach said.
Of course, the test that counts comes in games. “I don’t know what will happen in this game,” he said.
“Maybe I wore them out. We’ll see.”
Mississippi at No. 10 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Records: Mississippi 10-2; UK 10-2
Series: UK leads 103-13
Last meeting: UK won 89-86 last season.
TV/radio: SEC; WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1