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Coach Cal yelling now so Cats can win later

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John Calipari led Kentucky to a 93-61 exhibition win over Northwood on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari led Kentucky to a 93-61 exhibition win over Northwood on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Rupp Arena has a reputation as one of the loudest buildings in all of college basketball. Kentucky faithful pack the building named after the legendary coach for each home game ready to cheer on their team and make life as hard as possible on opponents.

But on Thursday night, the loudest person in Rupp may not have been a fan at all, because John Calipari was trying to out-scream every single one of them. It was the Wildcats' first chance to take on a team dressed in something other than Kentucky blue, and Calipari wanted to test his team.

"I had to see who could take me when we're in the heat of battle," Calipari said.

It wasn't that he was trying to tear down his players or even that was consistently displeased with how they were playing. In fact, he was actually pleasantly surprised by UK's performance in a 93-61 win over Northwood in the first of two exhibitions. The fact of the matter is that the Cats have to grow up in a hurry and Calipari knows he has to go after them to help make it happen.

"I will tell you that we were better than I thought we'd be," Calipari said. "We're way away from being where we need to be, but the guys couldn't stop today because I was screaming the whole time. I'm exhausted right now. I can't coach that way."

However, it's not as if his players are completely unaccustomed to a vocal Calipari. He may have turned up the intensity a notch or two from what fans normally see on game day, but practice is a different story. Ryan Harrow, one of the primary subjects of the yelling, can attest to that.

"He yells at me all the time," Harrow said. "I've kind of gotten used to it. Him yelling is his regular talk for me now. It just happens."

And Harrow's not complaining.

Coach Cal called his sophomore point guard's performance in last week's Blue-White Scrimmage "OK," but he demanded more. He spent the days after not so softly communicating that and it actually started to click. Harrow has spent over a year now in Lexington, but is now finally beginning to pay more attention to the message embedded in the volume and not the volume itself.

"I think this week's practice I've just been listening to him more instead of listening to the yelling," Harrow said. "I'm just taking it all in and being able to take his coaching."

His effort in response was far from perfect - Coach Cal said he played well "in spurts - but Harrow made strides. Playing 24 minutes of point guard with Calipari shuffling between more than a dozen different lineup combinations, Harrow posted 15 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds. He missed some shots and Coach Cal sent him to the bench on a few occasions, but the two things had nothing to do with each other.

That's the key distinction between Coach Cal and other, shall we say, noisy coaches: what he views as an unacceptable mistake. Missed open shots or an errant passes draw the ire of some coaches, but not Calipari.

"(Coach Cal) always tells us, 'I want you to play your hardest. Mistakes are going to happen. So don't try to shy away from the mistakes because they're going to happen,' " said Archie Goodwin, UK's leading scorer with 22 points.

His definition of a true mistake is at the same time more forgiving and more demanding.

"If you don't sprint back, you're coming out," Calipari said. "If you're not rough and the guy throws you out of the way, sit down, you're not ready. If you don't dive for a loose ball, if you don't help a helper, if you're standing there watching the play, you're out."

There will come a time when Calipari begins to coach more nuance. Eventually, he wants to become the tactician who needs not worry his team bringing it on every possession. But for now, he's all about effort and he's not afraid to be aggressive about it. His team gets that.

"You've just got to deal with it because he's just trying to get the best out of you," Harrow said.

By setting the tone early, there won't be a player on the roster who doesn't know what the expectations are on every single play. Ideally, the Cats will begin to start taking his cues and policing themselves, but leaders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller have not yet emerged.

"Julius (Mays) did a really good job of talking, Ryan did at times," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "We've still got to find a vocal leader to be honest. At some points, everybody has their moment when they're talking to somebody. We just don't have a person that can do it all the time."

So for now, Calipari is making up for that lack of consistent talking on his own.

"He wants us to get better," said Nerlens Noel, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. "We're young and he has to get on us early, especially so we can really come along and by the time March comes, we're really clicking."

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