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Practice report: Cats emphasize defense in Monday session

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John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are in the midst of the first full week of practice of the 2011-12 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are in the midst of the first full week of practice of the 2011-12 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats hit the court hard this weekend with two-a-days on both Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the team had just one afternoon practice, but it was no reprieve. UK went through an intense two-hour, 10-minute practice that focused primarily on defense.

Most of Kentucky's practices before Big Blue Madness were offensively oriented, but Calipari is really beginning to instill the principles that have made his teams among the best in the nation on defense now that he has the full 20 hours of allotted practice time available to him.

Photo Gallery from Tuesday's practice

Here a few observations from Monday's action:

- The session, Calipari said, is shorter than the ones most teams throughout the nation are going through at this point. The reason is that there are so few moments when the players are not running at full speed. If Calipari notices one of his guys loafing, he won't hesitate to send them to the sideline and the most frequent instruction from the coaching staff is "run". Not only are these players learning what it means to play for Calipari, they are also getting in shape.

- One thing that really jumps off the page when watching Calipari run a practice is the overall competitiveness he demands. There isn't a drill the Cats run when they aren't competing with one another and, most of the time, winning and losing has consequences. Whether it's a five-minute shooting drill, a two-on-one fast full court drill or a tip drill, Calipari is demanding his players value winning.

- In that aforementioned five-minute shooting drill, Darius Miller narrowly emerged victorious. He drained 54 3-pointers while Doron Lamb had 52.

- Outside of competitiveness, the thing Calipari probably demands most is enthusiasm. In fact, there was one drill after which he specifically told players to chest bump. "This should be the happiest time in your day," Calipari said of practice. "It's mine." From that point forward, there was a noticeable spike in chatter and clapping amongst the team.

- Early in Monday's session, the team worked on a few individual drills designed to improve footwork, but most of the drills from that point on were all about team defense. One, in particular, stands out. The team split up into units of four and each took turns rotating as the ball was thrown around the perimeter. In it, the Cats had to stay in a defensive stance for 30 seconds. The longest they'll have to stay in a stance in a game is about 20 seconds, but having to do so for longer is solid mental and physical preparation.

- Within that team defensive approach, Calipari is really hammering home the point that every player is defending the ball. In man-to-man defense, players can get caught up in focusing on the man they're assigned, but that's not acceptable to Calipari. He is emphasizing stunting and help defense constantly and the team is learning quickly.

- Throughout practice, my eyes continually drifted to the matchup between Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The two are matched up with one another in nearly everything they do and they clearly relish challenging each other. Outside of playing the same position and being almost exactly the same size, Calipari has a reason for matching them up. As a senior, Miller has a lot to teach Kidd-Gilchrist. Miller has seen most everything throughout his career and has tricks up his sleeve that Kidd-Gilchrist never dealt with in high school. Kidd-Gilchrist, on the other hand, has a reputation for tireless effort and consistency and the fact that Miller has to cope with those things every day will make him a better player.

- There was one exchange in particular that highlighted just how good Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist are for one another. In a full court drill, Kidd-Gilchrist played excellent defense to prevent an easy layup, but Miller backed him down and put in a beautiful bank shot. "That's two ballers right there," Calipari said, praising both. Kidd-Gilchrist's high level of play brought the best out of Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist learned the lesson that great offense beats great defense at times.

- Calipari's quote about Terrence Jones when he said "the light went on" for him has gotten a lot play this pre-season. Seeing Jones on the floor it's clear why Calipari said it. Jones has added bulk while also seeming to actually gain some bounce. He had a couple plays where he looked like he would need to shoot a tough layup, but dunked instead. Jones led the team in plays that made Calipari shake his head in disbelief (in a positive way), including one spin move and dunk on Marquis Teague that could not be properly described in words. Wow.

- As for Teague, he looks the part of a Calipari point guard. Physically, he is more mature than John Wall or Brandon Knight and has the ability to penetrate at will. In fact, Calipari singled out Teague for praise every time he penetrated, even if it resulted in a mistake. He wants Teague to attack at every juncture and Teague appears poised to oblige.

- One thing Teague didn't do so well was hit the deck in hustle drills. For about five minutes, Calipari had the team practice drawing charges and diving to the floor for loose balls. Recalling moments when the UK faithful would erupt at a dive by DeAndre Liggins, Calipari said, "When you dive in Rupp Arena, they go bonkers."  It wasn't that Teague didn't try his hardest, it was just that he couldn't quite figure out Calipari's command to slide on his back to avoid injury. A few awkward moments and laughter ensued.

- In the many defensive drills the Cats went through today, footwork was a major focus. Calipari is simply not willing to accept any laziness or cheating in terms of footwork in any drill.

- Jon Hood may be unable to play at this point due to reconstructive knee surgery, but don't tell him or anyone else he isn't a part of this team. He's dressed in practice gear and is standing next to assistant coach John Robic throughout practice. He constantly shouts encouragement and is involved in any drills he can be, whether as a passer or rebounder.

- Watching Calipari interact and coach this bunch, it's clear just how much he likes this year's team. In one drill, he made the point that almost every player who gets his hands on the ball is a threat, which makes this team very dangerous. Additionally, every guy can beat the opponent in multiple ways. Miller can hit a contested three, make a floater or post up. Anthony Davis is just as likely to score on an alley oop, a three, a put back or on the bounce. Kyle Wiltjer can shoot, post up or run pick and roll. I could go on, but I can already hear opposing coaches groaning.

- On the lighter side, I would very much enjoy hearing a John Calipari soundboard with all the different voices and noises he makes throughout practice. Sometimes he talks in a high-pitched voice, sometimes low-pitched. Sometimes he does imitations and other times he makes his own sound effects. He may not even be trying, but he's quite entertaining.

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1 Comment

thank you for the write up. it's very encouraging hearing the team is having fun while getting after it in practice.

let's get this season on!!

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  • J: thank you for the write up. it's very encouraging hearing the team is having fun while getting after it in read more