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Accountability getting better, but Coach Cal still wants more talking

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John Calipari, Archie Goodwin and the Wildcats will face Lipscomb on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) John Calipari, Archie Goodwin and the Wildcats will face Lipscomb on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Thursday was an especially busy day for John Calipari on his favorite social medium.

As he often does, Coach Cal took to Twitter to pass along a few thoughts to his 1.2 million followers. He voiced support for Kentucky's Miss America candidate, thanked a local business for providing lunch for staff, wished a friend a happy birthday and encouraged support for his "Cal's Coats for Kids" drive.

UK fans, as they always do, paid attention to what he had to say, but their ears perked up when he tweeted that he was "really encouraged" by the day's practice.

Inevitably, players were going to be asked about the practice when they talked to reporters on Friday. They agreed with Calipari's assessment.

"I think that we're definitely getting a lot better," Archie Goodwin said. "We sense it in just the way that the practices have been going, it's been helping us out as a team and individually with all the work that we've been doing. I feel a lot of confidence in us right now."

A sense of confidence isn't the only change at practice. Calipari also reported that Thursday's session was the most fun the team had had in the Joe Craft Center gym "probably in two months," a claim he based largely on a rarely seen expression on the face of Alex Poythress.

"Alex smiled for the first time this season," Calipari said.

Smiles aren't quite what you'd expect to see at a "Camp Cal" practice.

In the wake of back-to-back defeats and a second half against Samford that left much to be desired, Calipari announced he would be honing in on his team's conditioning. The Wildcats would awake before sunrise for workouts in addition to regular practices, during which they would run sprints as a team for any mistake - individual or otherwise.

It's been almost two weeks since the Calipari press conference at which he harped on conditioning, but in the 13 intervening days, it has become clear his words were about much more than his players' ability to physically exert themselves for long periods of time. Coach Cal was looking for his players to begin taking responsibility for themselves, for his players to hold each other accountable.

By waking up together to run, by running sprints no matter who committed the mistake, the Cats are understanding that they are in this together.

"What we're forcing them to do is be held accountable, we're forcing them to get up early and work out, which is mental toughness, and that they're held responsible for each other," Calipari said. "That's what I'm doing."

Early in the process, some players would speak up when ordered run to run the lines of the basketball court in 34 seconds or less, wondering aloud why they were included when they hadn't done anything wrong. Calipari had a simple answer for those complaints.

"Because we all lose," Calipari said. "When he does that right there, we all lose, including you, so get on the base line and run 34 seconds."

That message is now sinking in.

Calipari reports the team is running around 10 suicides per practice of late - down from 20 a couple weeks ago - and players are responding by talking to each other rather than talking back to their coach.

But there's still plenty of work to do on that front as the Cats prepare for a 12:30 p.m. matchup with Lipscomb in Rupp Arena.

"The reality of it is I had a guy in our gym watch us yesterday and say it's the quietest team he's ever seen," Calipari said. "Why would you be quiet? Why wouldn't you be really talking to your team?"

The fact that this team is the most inexperienced Calipari has coached at UK certainly helps explain that. The young Cats are often too consumed with their own responsibilities to concern themselves with much else. The mistake they are making is that concerning themselves with their teammates is part of each player's own job.

"That's what we're trying to break down," Calipari said. "If a team is a quiet team -- even though those kids are good kids -- they don't understand that's being selfish. They don't know. 'I passed the ball.' It's not about that. You're into your own thing if you're not communicating with your team."

Goodwin is perhaps the best illustration of that.

Effort has never been a problem for the athletic freshman guard. While some Wildcats have struggled to maintain intensity early in the season, Calipari has praised Goodwin for his "will to win" - though he did add Goodwin didn't always know how to channel it. In practice, Goodwin is the same way, finishing first in almost any sprinting drill.

On Friday, Goodwin was asked who is the most competitive player on the team. Without hesitation, he answered, "Me." As a follow-up, he was asked if his teammates would say the same about themselves. His competitiveness was apparent even in the way he fielded the question.

"If they told you that they were they're lying because I'm the most competitive guy on the team," Goodwin said.

Goodwin has typically relied on that zeal to inspire his teammates, but he knows he needs to evolve as a leader. He's not one to linger long on his own flaws, but he concedes that he must do a better job of taking Calipari's message about being vocal to heart.

"I'm vocal, but not as vocal as maybe a senior would be," Goodwin said. "I'm more a guy that leads by example that talks a lot, which is something that I've been working on. I've been talking a lot more (and) people on the team have too, but I've always been really the type to lead by example."

Thursday was proof that accountability can be fun. Keeping that going and taking the talking to another level will be the determining factor in how good the Cats become.

"He just wants us all, like I said, to hold each other accountable for things," Goodwin said. "He can do it, but until we do it we're not going to be a great team."

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