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Cats can do nothing but wait to see dividends of Camp Cal work

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UK will take on Marshall at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday in Rupp Arena. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will take on Marshall at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday in Rupp Arena. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Even when their schedules are normal, John Calipari's players spend a lot of time on the basketball court. During the school year, they balance classwork, social lives, practice and games.

But now, classes are out of session for the holiday break and almost all their fellow students back home. Filling the void is Camp Cal, which means basketball, basketball and more basketball.

"It's the life we chose," Willie Cauley-Stein said, "It doesn't get better than that: sleep, eat, play basketball."

As soon as it became clear his team would need to play catch-up to live up to its preseason billing, Coach Cal knew how crucial the period would be. The Wildcats are now two weeks into it, and after week one, Calipari saw "a little change" in a win over Lipscomb last Saturday. It wasn't quite what he wanted or what he thought he would get after a productive week, making the one that followed it that much more important.

The Cats are now in week two of Camp Cal and their coach is singing the same tune. He likes what he's seen on the practice floor, but that's no guarantee of what's going to happen when they take the show downtown to Rupp Arena.

"They've done good, but the follow-through, the carry-over into the game is what we'll all wait for," Calipari said.

With Marshall (7-5) looming for UK (7-3) at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, the Cats are chomping at the bit.

"We're real anxious," Julius Mays said. "We've been practicing, getting a lot better. We're looking forward to implementing the things we've been working on in the game and look for the progression we made over the past week."

The progression Calipari and his players are looking for isn't complex. It's not about zone offense, pick-and-rolls, press attack or anything to do with Xs and Os. It's purely and simply about effort and intensity.

"Everybody's watching for the same thing," Calipari said. "Every fan and everybody else is just (wondering), 'Are they going to compete at a really high level? Are they going to battle? Are they going to talk more? Are they going to play with more energy?' If they do, we're all going to be really happy."

He won't be measuring those things by the final score against a Marshall team he said is "good enough to beat us." Instead, Coach Cal will be relying on his eyes and ears.

"Winning will take care of itself if we get to that point," Calipari said. "Right now, it's not even about that. It's just when you watch, are they competing at a higher level?"

Calipari wants to see a group of players functioning as one, and that can't happen without communication. The Cats have made small strides toward becoming a vocal team, but their coach believes they haven't quite grasped why that's so important.

"It's a form of selfishness when you don't talk," Calipari said. "You're worried about how you feel and you're understanding the impact that that has on your teammates. If you're really into what they are doing and you're there with your whole thought about helping your team, you talk a lot. If you're not into that thought, you're only into how you feel and what you look like, you don't talk."

Perfect communication is a tall order for a team of relative strangers, which is essentially what UK was just a few months ago. Kyle Wiltjer is the only regular returning from last year's national championship team, meaning no two Wildcats had played a meaningful college minute together before this season, save for a few minutes of Twany Beckham spot duty with Wiltjer on the floor.

However, the Cats are new to each other no longer, and the last two weeks have gone a long way toward breaking down any barriers on that front. Not only have players spent almost every waking minute thinking basketball or eating, they've done it together.

Mealtime was a favored point of discussion as players answered questions from the media on Friday. Cauley-Stein believes learning about his teammates off the court is paying off on it.

"It's fun when we go out to eat," Cauley-Stein said. "We get to learn about more guys that you wouldn't have thought they done that. Like last year, they tell stories about last year and it's just fun."

Calipari agrees that it all goes hand-in-hand.

"And now they're eating right, so now all of a sudden they're gaining weight, they're getting energy back," Calipari said. "It's all intertwined together. They're together, they're pushing each other, they're eating their meals together, they're eating all their meals."

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