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The 'other' Cal: Coach changes demeanor, intensity to fire up team

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Thumbnail image for FB 09_10 UK_Camp 26.jpgThis isn't your happy-go-lucky John Calipari anymore. The nurturing, encouraging, "hugging" Calipari the players saw in practice a few weeks ago isn't coming through that door anymore.

"In a lot of my interviews they were asking how Cal was and do we expect another (side of Cal)," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "We got that other one."

The Cats started to see that other side last week when Calipari said he started to finally get "mean" with them. If the players thought he was joking around then, they got a wake-up call Wednesday in more ways than one with a 6:15 a.m. practice, the first of two-a-days.

Cousins, who said he had never practiced at 6 a.m. prior to Wednesday, described the new Calipari as "intense and focused."

"It's a whole new Cal," Cousins said. "The laid-back, chill Cal (is gone)."

The players were informed of the two-a-day practices in a meeting Tuesday night around 10. After that it was straight to bed for a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. Calipari has changed his demeanor because he said the team is not where it needs to be.

"I've gotten their attention," said Calipari, who has also enforced a team curfew. "Coming in, everything was positive, upbeat, (I was) hugging them. OK, now how do we get to the next level? I tried being the same guy to get them to the next level and it didn't work, so now they have the other guy.

"All I'm doing is holding the bar higher."

The change comes in light of UK's 74-38 drubbing of Campbellsville in the first exhibition of the season. The Cats played without freshman sensation John Wall - who will play Friday against Clarion before sitting out the regular-season opener vs. Morehead State - but their play was sloppy (23 turnovers) at times and out of synch.

"(Calipari) finally got to see what we really need to work on as a team," Cousins said. "We played our first game and he sees how we performed against another team, so he sees what we really need to work on. When he found out, he was going to turn it up."

That much was evident when Calipari burst through the door and onto the Joe Craft Center practice floor Thursday to meet with the media just before practice. As Calipari spoke with reporters, sweat poured down his face and soaked through his shirt.

"I'm back into an exercise killer, so you know where my mind is right now," Calipari said. "Either they're going to catch up to it or be dragged through glass."

Calipari said the new demeanor and intensity isn't for a lack of love for the players or understanding of what they have to go through. With the rigors of class, tutoring, study sessions and morning practices, he knows it's hard.

Calipari admitted that he needs to remind himself that it's not March or even December, so he'll have to practice patience. Still, after resting his anxiety and re-evaluating where his team was after the Campbellsville game, he realized he had to take it up a notch to set the tone.

One example he used was junior forward Patrick Patterson, who Calipari got on for falling too much into the flow of the game. Patterson, a leader by example, as Calipari describes it, needs to be more vocal and more aggressive in practices and games, he said.

"Go get the ball, go demand, go get 20 rebounds," Calipari said of Patterson, who took just seven shots in the exhibition opener.

Two-a-day practices and curfews are nothing new with Calipari. He said he enforced such policies on his players at Memphis, even instituting a four-month long curfew with one of his teams. When school is out over winter break, Calipari plans to increase the intenisty and workouts even more, a time they called "Camp Cal" at Memphis. 

The success rate speaks for itself.

"You're eating and sleeping and playing ball. Do you have something else to do?" Calipari said. "Usually that's when my teams step up and get better."

Calipari wasn't at all in panic mode Thursday afternoon. He's just ready to take his team to the next level before the regular season starts in a week from Friday.

"All of it comes back to me," Calipari said. "If a guy is not doing his job and he's on the floor, that's on me. Why did I leave him in? If a guy is not running the offense, well then you obviously did not teach them yet. If they're not in shape, well, you're the head coach. What are they going to do, run on their own? If they're not tough enough, well, you better be tougher on them and you better do tougher things in practice.

"Believe me, I'm excited about what my challenge is."

Class reunion: Friday's game will be a reunion of sorts for Calipari, who will be playing against his alma mater, Clarion, for the first time as a coach.

Calipari, who is originally from the Pittsburgh area, played two seasons with the Golden Eagles under head coach Joe DeGregorio. The point guard played two seasons for Clarion, totaling 192 assists, 202 points and 51 steals in his career.

It's hard to judge how emotional Calipari will be facing his alma mater, as he's hardly spoken a word about it in practice to his players.

"He hasn't talked much about it," senior guard Mark Krebs said. "I didn't know it was his alma mater until a couple of days ago when someone brought it up. He didn't even bring it up."

Calipari received about 20 calls from former coaches and teammates making the trip down from the Northeast on Thursday. He'll attend a function downtown Thursday night with some of them and a few might stay after the game to watch practice over the weekend.

Calipari said he's only focused on his team and the game until then, but even he couldn't help but let a smile shine through when talking about his former school.

"It puts a smile on my face thinking about my friends being here," he said.

The king? Calipari told reporters that not everybody would likely play in Friday's exhibition game.

When asked why, the first-year UK coach delivered an interesting answer.

"It's the greatest thing being the head coach. I can do whatever I want," Calipari said. "I can change practice time. I can have them walk in right now and say, 'I've decided we're not practicing and I'll see you tonight at 8.' "

A reporter then asked if it was nice being the king around campus.

"I'm not the king, believe me," Calipari said.

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Great story Eric. Cal is getting it done.

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  • Booo: Great story Eric. Cal is getting it done. read more