John Calipari had a pretty stern message for his impressionable cluster of youth in practice Tuesday following his team's 31-point struggle over Pikeville. The message: If you get pushed around by an NAIA team, how are you going to survive in the Southeastern Conference?
Calipari did his best to toughen up his team before its final exhibition game against Dillard on Friday and prior to the start of the regular season with a more direct, in-your-face practice Tuesday. The second-year UK coach says he doesn't like to yell, but there was more of it in practice and in the film room a day after his team played with what he termed a lack of fire.
"It comes down to how do we get them to play harder?" Calipari said. "How do we get them to compete at a higher level? How do we get them to play rougher? How do we get them to go after every ball? It's almost like changing a culture. You've got to come in and make them think differently."
To show them what he's talking about, Calipari said he showed the players film of what he called "soft plays." He said there were about 25 of those and only six or so borderline hustle plays.
"Instead of blocking out you just stood there and he throws you into the cheerleaders and you slide all over the floor and - boom - into her, there's sparkles on your face," Calipari said of some of his team's play. "That happened about three times. We had towels over there wiping sparkles off their faces."
In practice Tuesday (Calipari gave his team the day off Wednesday), there were tougher rebounding drills, physical 3-on-3 sets and intense defensive exercises.
"He is just making us compete in practice with competitive drills," freshman guard Stacey Poole said. "We are going after each other in practice and making sure that we do everything hard. Everybody did what they had to do because Coach Calipari doesn't play about that. We just have to compete and have fun in practice while doing it."
It has been quite the eye opener for a freshman-dominated group that is still adjusting to the talent level and change of pace of the college game.
Calipari described some of his players as "shell shocked" in their first exhibition game, so much so that some of the players didn't even know what to do in pregame introductions.
"They didn't know where to go," Calipari said. "The first guy who got introduced started walking and was like 'Where do I go?' The second guy came out and went over to shake hands with the official like it was a high school game."
Asked Thursday if he was worried about his team's youth-driven lack of intensity in the Pikeville game, Calipari said no because of his players' respect for the staff and understanding of the program's tradition.
"I'm going to have to be ultra patient, and I have been that way to this point," Calipari said. "That's why I needed to go crazy in the game to let them know how I'm going to be. I'm trying to be patient, but there are certain things that are unacceptable."
Some of those things Calipari cited as unacceptable: not playing hard, not running hard, not sprinting back, on defense, not making cuts and not grabbing balls with two hands.
Calipari said his staff and the fans, to a lesser degree, have been spoiled by some of his recent teams' toughness over the past few years, including last season's.
"We went through some of this last year," Calipari said. "The only difference is when we were able to practice, I didn't have to do what I do now, which is manufacture the environment of toughness. We had it. We just threw the ball up and beat the crap out of each other. Here I'm going to have to manufacture it a little bit. If they're what I thought they were, they have fight in them. I just have to bring it out in them."