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From the Pressbox: Coach Cal looking for right buttons

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In 1975, the Kentucky football team won only two games. By 1977, the Cats were 10-1. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a member of that team - strong safety Dallas Owens - and he said the team began to transform when players were accountable to each other, that you didn't want to let down the guy beside you, and the coaches no longer had to manage that accountability component.

I recalled that story in the past couple of weeks as I listened to John Calipari talk about the challenge he was facing with his latest group of Wildcats.

"If I need to be all over them, I'm not doing that just to do it," Calipari said on the pregame radio interview before last Saturday's win over Portland. "Last year's team, I can't remember a bad practice. That's why we won 38 games. This team stops all the time but I've had teams in the past that do that. They cannot sustain any kind of effort because they've never had to. 

"This team needs us hold them accountable. Why? Because they're not holding each other accountable - because they don't know. There's no veterans to hold the other guys accountable to what they're supposed to be doing," he continued. "Every player on this court is important to us but no one is indispensible."

Calipari is not the kind of coach who fits every group of players into his "system." Rather, his coaching style is one in which he lets his team tell him, with their actions, how they need to be coached. It means some teams can take longer to jell than others. But this staff's track record suggests it will happen, sooner or later.

Two years ago, it took until mid-February.  After an overtime loss at Arkansas, it looked like that UK team was just never going to win a close game that season. But something finally clicked. After the game shootaround practice before the team's next game, a friend of Cal's told me it was that team's best such workout of the season. Next time out, ESPN's Jimmy Dykes made the same observation after the gameday practice. The Cats won both of those games and then followed it up with a come-from-behind victory at Tennessee to close out the regular season and suddenly that Kentucky team couldn't lose a close game. The changed mindset carried those Cats all the way to the Final Four.

For Calipari, the focus now is all about getting his team to compete at the level it takes to achieve their goals. Once that happens, then he'll spend more time on Xs and Os, game situations, etc.

"It's going to be a process, day-to-day," he noted. "I just want to see us fight. We want to win every game but truly, we want to see these guys compete. That's what we want to see. If you're competing your brains out, you're diving on the ball and you have a bad shooting night, that's going to happen. We're not happy but at least they're competing.  What we've been seeing is no sense of urgency. The toughness - we just get bulldozed, giving up on plays, not attacking on offense, being tentative. All that stuff, none of us want to see."

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