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From the Pressbox: Leach on Cal's coaching job

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When Brandon Knight scored 30 points in Kentucky's NCAA Tournament win over West Virginia, he became the third different freshman player to score 30 or more in a game this season. 

UK's research thus far indicates that has not happened anywhere since the 1997 season, and chances are they won't find any instances in college basketball history when that feat occurred.

For the second straight year, Kentucky has achieved a top four seed in the NCAA Tourney while starting three rookies. That certainly speaks to John Calipari's ability to find and procure talented players, but what doesn't get enough credit is what he and his staff do with them once they arrive.

"I think he's probably as good as there is in the college game at (developing players)," ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said in a recent appearance on The Leach Report radio show. "He had to do that at Memphis as well. When I'm around him in practice, he has a great way of communicating with kids, just how he gets his points across to them. Not everyone can take that highly talented player and get them to play hard and I think he does that as well as anyone. That sounds simple, but it isn't."

Dykes says a player thinking only about getting himself to the NBA after one season can screw up a team's chemistry, so he's impressed by how Calipari manages to avoid those kinds of personalities.

"A lot of coaches are scared of them, but there's no reason to be as long as you do your homework," Dykes said. "John has never brought a guy into his program that is going to be a selfish teammate. There have been some guys that have come through the college game recently that haven't (been that way). Cal does a great job in his evaluation, making sure they understand that, 'If you come play for me for one year, it's going to be how I want you to do it,' and he holds them to it. He'll be the first to tell you that the biggest mistake you can make is bring a guy into your program that has a one-year agenda and you can't get him out of it. It can destroy your team."

Said CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony: "I don't think anybody does a better job of bringing what's inside out than John Calipari. The players are going to have to trust Coach Calipari. The one advantage you have with him if he's going to do what's in the best interest of the player. That's why he's been able to do such a good job recruiting, because it's about the players - it's not about him."

Big Blue Sports Network radio analyst Mike Pratt brings a good perspective to this story, too. He played at UK in the late 1960s when freshmen were not allowed to play for the varsity their first season. But as first-year starters as sophomores, Pratt, Dan Issel and Mike Casey led the Wildcats to the brink of the Final Four (they lost in a regional final to Ohio State on a last-second shot).

Pratt later coached in college and scouted and coached in the NBA, so he has kept a keen eye on how the game has evolved. But Pratt also says the Calipari way is reminiscent of an old school coach who often went against conventional wisdom.

"If you have ever been to one of Coach Calipari's practices or really looked closely at how he deals with his players, it reminds me of Al McGuire," Pratt said. "I have said this before: Al would not be up in someone's face but he would certainly do a good chewing job when he had to, but he loved those guys and put his arms around them.

"I talked with Al and had the privilege to talk with him after his coaching days, and he wanted to talk about coaching at Rupp and the Kentucky days. Al would always say, 'I had to do what I had to do with any player I had so I would love on them a little bit, kick their butt and put my arm around them,' and he said, 'sometimes I didn't put my arm around them.' He said, 'I did all sorts of weird things and they knew I cared in my own way,' and that is what Cal does. He is pressing the buttons and doing what he can to get the best out of you and then he can always say, 'Look at my track record of guys getting their degree, guys getting to the NBA.' Those two things are the bottom line. Cal talks about trust, and there is trust between player and coach.  You have to do it with your own personality, and that is how Cal is."

Pratt says while Calipari preaches the message about Kentucky being a program that focuses first on players, the coach also subtly sells them on the idea of the importance of team goals, too.
"As hard as he communicates his care for them individually, he also communicates that the betterment of the team is our number one goal," Pratt said. "It is like one and one-A. I care about you both. Kids are different now as far as their perception of things and what he says is, 'That is not the way we do things here.'  He will say that this place isn't for everybody and this is a special place, so be appreciative."

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Just before UK played West Virginia I heard an interview with Coach Huggins. They were discussing Coach Cal's ability to motivate his players. Coach Huggins was very falttering in his remarks. The interviewer made the comment that Coach Cal could sell ice to the Eskmimos. Coach Huggins added that Coach Cal could buy the ice back at a discount, and sell it again.

I would like to add a little something about this classy basketball team. I've picked nick names for some of the team members. I think they are self-explanatory.

Conductor Knight
Bird Dog Harrleson
Mr. Basketball Miller
All Around Liggens
Roaring Lamb
Comealong Jones

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  • Alice: Just before UK played West Virginia I heard an interview with Coach Huggins. They were discussing Coach Cal's ability to read more