Wildcat fans got a glimpse behind the Big Blue curtain Monday night with coach Calipari's Christmas gift of the chance to go online and watch a practice session.
A fan sent me a question via Twitter, asking if this was a true reflection of what a normal practice session is like and the answer is most definitely "yes." Late last season, during a visit with CBS' Kevin Harlan, he told me about his observations from watching his first UK game-eve practice session and how he was taken by how sometimes brutally honest Calipari was in his critiques of players. The Kentucky coach most certainly "keeps it real" with his players but he is also their most ardent defenders against criticism from outside the team and that's why the player-coach bond is so strong under Calipari.
So now that you've seen a practice, do wonder what a gameplanning session for the coaching staff might look like? New York Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss gave us a glimpse of that setting during an interview on "The Leach Report" radio show after his visit to Lexington earlier this month.
"I love the way they brainstorm about the game planning. John Calipari takes it all in. I truly believe I think he thinks he is never going to lose a game. And if he doesn't turn it personal the way he has done it in the past against maybe a John Calhoun or a Bruce Pearl, he is a hard guy to beat because he has an exceptional vision of how he wants his teams to play and I admire that," Weiss said, noting that Calipari encourages his staff--and not just the assistant coaches--to weigh in.
"There is a lot of give and take and he does a great job at listening to everyone and not cutting anyone off," Weiss observed while sitting in on the session at Calipari's home after the win over St. John's. "He thinks everybody has ideas that can help. Brandon (Weems), I think he is going to be exceptional because he understands the game already and you would think he would be the last guy to chime in but had a lot to offer and John is a really good listener--a really good listener who sits there and takes it all in and that really left an impression on me.
"He could have said I have guys on my staff like Orlando (Antigua), John (Robic) and Kenny (Payne) - but he listens to everybody. He is a very big tape guy and breaking down what people do," Weiss added. "He is a big believer in 'we worry about ourselves first'. I think they put the Carolina tape in a few days before they were supposed to. You usually go one game at a time but I think he wanted them to be ready for that secondary break and he didn't tell them it was Carolina's break but he put it in and nobody said anything after the St. John's game. He did a great job at giving them a head start because it was only one day between St. John's and North Carolina."
Weiss said he will do his best to return to Lexington for this Saturday's UK-UofL clash because he loves the big game atmosphere at Rupp Arena.
"I've been to every venue in the country. Kansas has great (sight) lines and Duke has great passion but I have never been to a place where the entire fan base is so passionately involved in every instant in the game. When the Cats take the floor you can feel the electricity and it doesn't leave until the game is over and they leave the building," Weiss said. "I think Rupp is special and particularly when they have a good team."
Weiss has been watching Calipari coach since his days of raising the UMass program up from the dead.
"I think he has become a better bench coach. He doesn't get as cranky and a lot of people remember the 'three' (Memphis) gave up to Chalmers in the championship game, but they seemed to forget about Georgetown in the 1996 Regional Finals, the way he coached against (Texas)A&M down in San Antonio with Memphis," Weiss said. "They (pundits) are starting to remember how good he was against Ohio State and North Carolina (last season). You are dealing with one of the premier coaches in America and I think that he is better bench coach. He was always a tremendous recruiter. He was always had huge amounts of energy and was able to relate to kids with broken families or deadend backgrounds.
"He came from a lower middle class background outside Pittsburgh and guys can appreciate it because he comes across 'real' with them. You rarely hear players who played for his say anything negative against him. I mean, he wins them over psychologically," Weiss continued. "Look at DeMarcus Cousins. I thought that would be hard but the time he spent at Kentucky, he got close to that kid, brought him close to the family and was close with John's youngest son, Bradley. I just see that a lot of kids come in and understand that the best way to get to the pros, the best way to market themselves is to do what he says. He has a track record. Look at who he has sent to the pros from Kentucky and there will probably be another three or four at the end of this year."