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Coach Cal switches up practice approach in wake of losses

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John Calipari and his Wildcats will take on Samford on 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and his Wildcats will take on Samford on 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It's just not in John Calipari's nature to hold marathon practices. He has made it known in his Kentucky tenure that he much prefers shorter sessions, leaving his players ample opportunity to work individually and as a group outside of organized team time.

That philosophy, obviously, worked just fine. UK advanced to an Elite Eight and a Final Four before winning the national championship last season.

"You'll have coaches do those four-hour practices, early-morning workouts," Calipari said. "I just think you beat kids down by doing that, but some teams need it."

Having watched his team lose two games in a row and fall out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time during his time in Lexington, Coach Cal is thinking this bunch of Wildcats might fall in that "some teams" category.

"And this team - Alex (Poythress) and really all of them - you gotta understand nothing's given to you," Calipari said. "You gotta earn it. But you gotta fall in love with the gym. Even when you're not in practice, you love wanting to go over there...Last year, they were in the gym all the time. This year, they haven't been in there one day. Well, it's kind of showing."

If the Cats aren't going to do it on their own, Calipari is going to make them.

UK held two practices on Sunday, just a day after the Cats had lost their first home game in more than three years to Baylor on Sunday. Willie Cauley-Stein reported it was the hardest day of practice since arriving on campus this summer.

"It was tough," Cauley-Stein said. "We did a lot of running and a lot of holding each other accountable. If somebody made a mistake, we ran as a whole team."

Archie Goodwin admitted he was a little sore on Monday.

"Practice has been a lot more competitive and intense, but it's something we should have been doing from the beginning," Goodwin said. "I can see it's going to help us out in the long run."

Goodwin can say that with confidence because of how closely he's followed his coach since Calipari was at Memphis. He knows all of Coach Cal's teams have traits in common, traits that his most recent squad haven't yet shown.

"I would just say they're a lot more competitive than we are right now," Goodwin said. "They had a lot more toughness and were more of a team than we are."

If the way Goodwin saw his teammates responded in the gym on Sunday is any indication, those things are merely below the surface waiting to be drawn out.

"It's something that we have," Goodwin said. "That was evident (Sunday) in practice. It's something we have to bring out of ourselves and just continue to do it on a daily basis."

Calipari is taking an extremely active role in that process.

Coach Cal invoked the name of Josh Harrellson in the way he is motivating his team. Harrellson spent most of his first two seasons at UKK on the bench before finding his way into Calipari's doghouse at the beginning of his senior year. After spending more time on the treadmill that he would care to remember, Harrellson became a starter, a consistent contributor and eventually an NBA draft pick. The hope is the current Cats follow the same trajectory.

Of course, the incident that triggered that whole process was an infamous tweet in the wake of Harrellson's 26-rebound performance in the Blue-White Scrimmage. He publically lamented the lack of praise he received from Calipari and was penalized by being forced to delete his Twitter account.

It isn't a disciplinary measure, but a few of this year's Cats are voluntarily following Harrellson's anti-social media lead. Since the loss to Baylor, Julius Mays, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley-Stein have all deleted their Twitter accounts.

Even before a flood of negative comments from fans after the back-to-back losses, Cauley-Stein had been thinking about doing it, offering that "nothing good" came of it. In fact, Cauley-Stein wants to avoid public opinion altogether, even when fans have nice things to say.

"I don't really want to look at the positives anymore either," Cauley-Stein said. "I just want to play out here with my teammates and do what Coach tells us to do every day and get better and get this thing back on track."

The first test of that bunker mentality will come on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET against Samford. For Calipari, it will be another chance to learn about his team and how he needs to coach it.

"Like I told you, I'm still learning about the team and what it needs, what it needs from me, what we've got to instill in it," Calipari said. "It's going to be time. I told Coach (Joe B.) Hall - this was about two weeks ago - I said it may be February until we figure this out."

It may take a while, but Coach Cal is confident he has a team that will stick it out with him.

"I've got a great group of kids," Calipari said. "I really do. They're young and they're not as skilled as you'd like them to be, but they're going to do what we ask them to do."

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