With school out of session, most of the Wildcats' classmates are home for the holidays, but instead of reuniting with high school friends, watching football or playing video games, the Cats are filling their free time with basketball.
"I told them, between now and January 9, you are playing basketball and you are eating and you're sleeping," Calipari said. "That is it. You are playing basketball or you are eating or you are sleeping."
With fewer priorities to balance, this basketball-heavy time of year is typically when Calipari's teams show the most improvement. Improvement will be exactly what he's looking for as the Cats play their first of two games in three days at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Rupp Arena against the Samford Bulldogs (3-6).
Senior guard Darius Miller has been through two editions of "Camp Cal" and he expects Kentucky fans to see a "different team" on the floor as the focus shifts entirely to basketball. Miller has been consistently impressed by the work ethic and discipline of the team as a whole, which should make the next couple weeks that much more productive.
"We're getting more time to spend with each other, more time to practice and get everything together," Miller said. "All the kinks that need to be worked out, this is our time to do it."
As if the Wildcats aren't already working hard enough and spending enough time around each other, a group of four or five players has founded a "breakfast club" in which they wake up early, lift weights together and eat breakfast before the first practice of the day. Calipari wouldn't name the players who are taking part, saying 'the guys that you expect to be in it are in it.'
It all started when one player adopted the morning routine on his own, causing Calipari to recall the 1996 Chicago Bulls. On a team that many now call the greatest in NBA history, Michael Jordan created something similar to UK's "breakfast club" as the Bulls set out on a quest to win a world title and set the record for most regular season victories.
"They won 72 (games) that year and won a championship," Calipari said. "But, that was Michael saying, 'We are going to do it.' It wasn't the whole team that did it, but it was like six of them. But, it is guys that have totally sold in and bought in. 'I am in. What do I have to do? Let's go.' "
The players participating in the early morning club believe this Kentucky team has the ability to do something similarly special to what that Bulls team did 15 years ago. Calipari is pleased at the development, particularly recognizing the limited amount of time this young team has to come together before conference play and eventually the NCAA Tournament.
The physical preparation UK is going through in those early morning sessions and multiple daily practices is obviously important to reaching the team's ultimate goals, but this period is just as valuable for the simple fact that the Wildcats are spending nearly every waking hour with one another.
"It is as much about getting them together all the time," Calipari said. "Like, you are not on the phone while we are at dinner. Talk to one another. You are not on the phone, you are with these people. If you chose not to be with us, that is OK, now go somewhere else. But if you are going to be with us, we eat dinner and we are at breakfast then we are with each other."
With so many different multimedia outlets at their fingertips, it's not easy for players to keep their phones in their pockets, but Calipari believes that simply being present can make a profound impact. He isn't making any official rules or instituting penalties, but when players are around their teammates, Calipari is asking them to actually be with each other.
"If I see a guy on the phone, I am like, 'What are you doing? You want to talk on the phone more than you want to talk to your teammate? Is that person more important than your teammate? Well, then go sit with them. See ya, bye. You don't need to be here,' " Calipari said.
Fortunately, the holiday break won't be all practices, film studies and weight room sessions. The Cats have three games over the next nine days, which is unquestionably preferable to the weeklong waits they had before each of their last two outings.
"I think playing games is better," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "I'd rather play games than wait and practice. I think this week will be a good week for us."
The week will end with an actual three-day break for Christmas following Thursday's game against Loyola (Maryland). Most players haven't had a chance to go home since the school year started, so the time will be a welcome distraction.
"Now, they are going to go on break," Calipari said. "I always give them Christmas break. I think they need to be with their families and regroup and then they come back and have two tough games and then we start right into league (play)."
Jones uncertain for Tuesday
Calipari said sophomore forward Terrence Jones was held out of practice on Monday with a dislocated finger on his shooting hand suffered on Saturday.
"I don't know yet (if he will play on Tuesday)," Calipari said. "We will see. I don't expect him to start if he doesn't practice (Monday), but I don't know."