The No. 3 Wildcats (10-1) have been practicing multiple times each day and spending nearly every waking second around each other, whether on the floor, in the weight room or at meals. The work figures to benefit a young team that John Calipari is demanding to talk more during games.
As important as all that time is, Calipari also believes in allowing his players to spend the holiday with their families. He has always allowed his teams to take time off for the holiday and always will.
"Basketball is important," Calipari said. "I know it's important at this school and this program, but it shouldn't come before their families. I've always felt that way."
The last thing Calipari wants is for his players to reflect back on Christmas and recall two-a-day practices.
"I hope when they look back, they look at their time at Christmas with their own family and being able to see friends and stop in and see relatives," Calipari said. "Not that they were tortured over Christmas while everybody else was enjoying stuff."
Calipari, though, is asking his players to focus for just a couple days more before heading home, because the Greyhounds are going to come into Rupp ready to play. Loyola-Maryland is coached by Jimmy Patsos, who coached under Gary Williams at Maryland from 1991-2004.
"They play a funky zone, they press, they press on (side in-bounds plays)," Calipari said. "They're going to come after us and press. (Patsos) will not back down."
Aggressiveness is a trademark of the Greyhounds as they've attempted 51 more free throws than their opponents through 10 games and average over 15 offensive rebounds per game. Additionally, Loyola-Maryland forced an average of 16.4 turnovers per game.
Calipari expects the Greyhounds to play their best game, like nearly all of UK's opponents do. It's not easy for the Cats to maintain their focus with flights and drives home on their minds, but that kind of challenge is part of playing in Kentucky blue.
"It's hard for guys to get up for every game, but here you bought into that by coming here," Calipari said. "... You're going to get their best shot. Whatever that is per team, you'll get their best shot so they have to be ready."
Harrow impressed with Teague's development
Ryan Harrow is in a unique position.
He is the heir apparent in Calipari's string of star point guards, but he isn't spending his final year before taking the floor at Kentucky playing in high school gyms. Instead, he's sitting out for a mandatory redshirt year following his transfer from North Carolina State. He participates in practice and is going up against his predecessor, Marquis Teague, learning what things will be like when he eventually takes over.
Having already played one season at the Division I level, Harrow knows how difficult playing the point guard position is and he's been nothing but impressed with the way Teague has matured.
"He's been getting better every game and learning how to be more of a point guard and control the team and control himself," Harrow said. "He's been doing great each game I think, progressing a lot."
Harrow is seeing first-hand the way Calipari will coach him when he does take over, so he won't be too surprised when his new coach tears into him for the first time.
"(Calipari) just wants (Teague) to do well," Harrow said. "He has to be hard on him because he's the point guard but he's helping him a lot. He's just trying to teach him how to run a team and how to be a point guard for this level and the next level."
He appreciates being able to get a preview of Calipari's intensity, but he knows he won't fully experience it until he's the one being coached.
"Definitely seeing it now is helping me out, but I still have to be ready for it next year because Coach Cal doesn't play any games," Harrow said. "It's good that I see it now though."
Before the season, Harrow talked at length about how he needed to build strength and toughness over his year off. In his mind, facing Teague is about the best preparation he could ask for.
"I'm definitely getting stronger, especially playing against Marquis because he's so strong," Harrow said. "Learning from him and playing against him is helping me out a lot this year."
With all the learning he's doing this year, Harrow's learning curve could be significantly reduced when he finally does get to suit up in Rupp Arena. That doesn't make sitting on the bench in street clothes any easier right now though.
"It's real difficult for me," Harrow said. "I've had my ups and downs, wanting to play and just being out here not being able to. It's been hard for me. I call my mom and talk to her and it helps me out a lot, talking to her and the coaches. My time is going to come so I'm trying to cheer them on and learn."
He's managing to stay focused though. Harrow doesn't second-guess the decision he made to come to UK. He has watched his former team on television and wants the Wolfpack to do well, but he knows he can't afford to allow his mind to drift.
"I just wish them the best," Harrow said. "I really can't even be focused on them. I have to be more focused on here because if you miss anything here you'll be in trouble."
Unselfish Malone keeps injury in perspective
After a fourth serious knee injury since the start of high school suffered on Saturday, freshman guard Sam Malone would have every excuse if he started feeling sorry for himself.
In spite of all his injuries, he managed to earn his way onto the Kentucky roster and carve out a niche as a fan favorite, scoring six points in just 13 minutes of action this season, but his torn ACL almost certainly ended his first college season before conference play even got going.
Even so, Malone doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's still thankful for where he is and knows his place on the team will remain mostly unchanged. In fact, he went so far as to say he is glad the injury is to him and not one of his star teammates.
"My role on this team hasn't changed. I came here to be a great teammate and that's what I'm going to continue to do," Malone said. "Thank God it was me and not somebody else who plays a lot."
The ACL Malone tore was actually not even his own. The same knee had been previously operated on with a ligament from a cadaver replacing his own previously torn ACL. Incredibly, Malone already has a sense of humor about the situation.
"I guess it wasn't a good cadaver," Malone deadpanned. "I think I'm going to use my own tendon next time."
Surgery to repair the torn ACL has yet to be scheduled as doctors wait for inflammation to subside.
"I'm doing alright," Malone said. "I've been through it before. I know what to expect. I'm not nervous going into it but my main goal is to get my health back to where it was before because, for the first time, I really felt healthy."
Malone's primary goal at this point is to retain his health, but he'll maintain a positive attitude no matter what.
"If having a bad knee is my biggest problem, I'm doing alright for myself," Malone said.
Jones could sit out again
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones (dislocated pinky) missed UK's last game against Samford and was not expected to practice on Wednesday. Calipari said Jones wants to play on Thursday, but he could be held out for precautionary reasons.