While sitting in the observation area of the practice court in the Joe Craft Center, my ears were taking in a variety of sounds. The unmistakable squeak of sneakers on a gym floor. The occasional whistle as Coach Cal stopped a drill the players were executing. An apparent deluge of rain that could be heard over all the interior noises. Most notably, though were the numerous times I could hear Calipari yell, “Good!” when the players executed a drill to his liking.
With a trip to the Bahamas rapidly approaching, the Cats opened their practice to the media today so we could get a peek at what to expect. It’s already been reported that Calipari spent more time with his team this summer than he typically does. He expanded on that a little bit today:
This summer I wasn’t gone that much. I was gone, but not that much. I was going at least three hours a week of the four that we had (for team skill instruction). Three hours was with me. Normally I would say, ‘You guys (assistants) deal with that; I’ll come back.’ I just think this team needed a head start. Especially these young kids. I made that decision.
How about this? A couple days I was there by myself. Old school. I had no assistants. I coached the team with no assistants. It was just me. I can remember my UMass days where there were days like that where the assistants went recruiting and I had the team by myself. I didn’t know back then that was not how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to have a staff with you. Really. I had no idea.”
“I’m not as bouncy as I used to be. I can’t get in the stance the way I used to, where I used to really get low. My butt would almost hit the floor. Now my butt almost hits the floor. Who’s laughing?”
As Calipari continued to run practice, you could feel the love he had for coaching this group of young men. He would start a drill by first telling the players what he wanted them to do, then he would get a couple of players to demonstrate the steps. After that, it was time for the guys to see if they could follow that instruction. When someone failed to do exactly as they were shown, Cal would blow the whistle, stop the play and make them start again. This happened numerous times, but finally, there was success. At that point, Coach Cal would reiterate what they had just done and then ask them if they knew why they had to do things this way.
While one cannot put too much stock in a practice in August, there were several things I thought were worthy of note:
While the BBN is already looking forward to seeing this team when they begin play in the Bahamas next week, they should keep expectations tempered. Calipari said he would likely let his assistants coach during the games so he could watch from the stands (or perhaps operate television cameras again as he did in 2014). They intend to experiment with some things both offensively and defensively that Cal hasn’t done at Kentucky before and he wouldn’t be surprised if the team goes 1-3 on this trip, though PJ Washington strongly disagrees with that prediction. “If he believes that, that’s him. I feel like we have a chance to win every game out there…our goal is to win every game. We’re not going to go out there and try to lose.”
Win or lose, the BBN will be watching the action in the Bahamas closely. After that, the real wait begins and October will never seem further away.
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Coach Cal’s full comments from today’s press conference: