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Media Day notebook: Cats adjusting to Calipari's new 'fail fast' directive

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UK men's basketball held its annual Media Day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK men's basketball held its annual Media Day on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson have played a combined seven seasons at Kentucky, so they've gotten to know John Calipari well.

They've watched him mold young teams. They've heard "play fast, think slow" more times than they can count. They know what mistakes will throw Coach Cal into fits of rage. But perhaps more than anything else, the two seniors have come to realize that Calipari is constantly searching for new ways to motivate and teach, even though he's more than two decades into his head-coaching career.

That's why neither was surprised as Coach Cal has trotted out a new catchphrase early in preseason practices: Fail fast.

"That's something that I've never heard him say," Hood said.

"He always has new stuff every year," Polson said.

So, what does the latest Calipari-ism mean? Let the man himself fill you in.

"The thing that we're working on right now is failing fast," Calipari said on UK's annual Media Day. "Fail fast. In other words, try things, go, attack, so I can correct and you can figure out what's not going to work and work. We don't have seven months. We've got a brand-new team. Fail fast so we can work and move on, and they've been doing a pretty good job of that."

With a team featuring eight freshmen and two sophomores among 12 scholarship players, Calipari knows mistakes are inevitable. Based on that knowledge, he doesn't want the Wildcats paralyzed by a fear of failure.

"I definitely think that applies to us this year just because there are so many people and he's asking a lot of the freshmen to do things they've never done before," Polson said. "So obviously you're not going to do something and get it your first time. So he just wants to get all the failures out of the way, try to get them uncomfortable and I think that's going to help them in the long run."

But for a group of newcomers accustomed to success, embracing the notion that miscues are OK is not easy.

"You always want to win," Andrew Harrison said. "Failure's not really a good option."

In many ways, that approach has defined the careers of the UK freshmen to this point. They have won at the highest levels due in large part to their refuse-to-fail mentality. Marcus Lee, however, is the exception.

"When I was younger, I failed a lot," Lee said. "My teachers told me you had to fail to succeed. I actually didn't understand that when I was little and I started to understand it, so I knew that the more I failed the more I got to learn how to do it right, which is what we're all learning right now and what we're trying to figure out together."

Though the "fail fast" mantra may be new to Hood and Polson, they understand its meaning as well as Lee does. They intend to help their younger teammates get there too.

"I went 10-13 my senior year (in high school)," Hood said. "I was used to failure. But these freshmen aren't used to it. I'd be surprised if some of them had lost a game in high school unless they played each other. But we've got a bunch of guys that love to compete and love to win. That's what you want to start every team out with."

Dunk disagreement

Coach Cal, asked whether he's been pleasantly surprised by any of his incoming freshmen, named Lee. With his athleticism and energy, the Antioch, Calif., native has been a revelation, even drawing comparisons to Dennis Rodman from his coach.

The other surprise, Calipari, said, has been Derek Willis. In fact, there was one specific play that caught his eye.

"So Derek Willis dunked on both Julius (Randle) and Dakari (Johnson), like both of them," Calipari said.

The two supposed victims aren't so sure.

"It was not (a dunk)," Johnson said. "It was a layup. A hard layup. He did not dunk on us."

What the parties involved do agree on was that Willis drove on Randle, Johnson came to help and the ball ended up in the basket with the rim rattling. Randle, however, doesn't agree that he or Johnson should have to suffer the humiliation of posing with the helmet that dunked-on players have to pose with at UK practices.

"It was a glorified layup," Randle said. "That's exactly what it was. It was a nice layup, but it was a glorified layup. And I made the basket. I blocked it into the rim."

Sensing defensiveness on the subject, Randle and Johnson's teammates were eager to egg on curious reporters.

"It was really a dunk," Andrew Harrison said. "It was top 10, definitely. SportsCenter."

The one person not interested in perpetuating the story was the man responsible for starting the whole thing.

"It's just a play," Willis said. "I just drove and went up and it was really about it. It's really not like that big of a deal. I'm not trying to act like it's something I do all the time, but it's just another play that happens."

Calipari happy with NCAA officiating changes

This summer, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a change to the way controversial block/charge calls are made.

"Under the revised block/charge call in men's basketball, a defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his upward motion with the ball to attempt a field goal or pass," Greg Johnson wrote on in June. "If the defensive player is not in legal guarding position by this time, it is a blocking foul. "

Coach Cal has been pushing for such a change since before he arrived at Kentucky. He's happy to hear of the news, as well as the NCAA's mandate that hand-check fouls be called more consistently.

"It's going to open the game up," Calipari said. "Here's what a press will be now: If you want to press and hold and bump, you're going to foul out your whole team, but you can track quick and try to steal the ball, but if you don't steal the ball, you've got to run back because, if you bump that driver, it is now a foul."

Calipari is now imparting that to his team.

"You drive the ball and you get your head and shoulders by the guy, and there's contact, where before they could sometimes say, well, the offense created it," Calipari said. "No, the rule states, you get your head and shoulders by the guy and there's contact, that's a foul on the defense. It's the new rules."

Cauley-Stein returns to practice

A little more than two weeks ago, Willie Cauley-Stein suffered a hand injury that kept him out of UK's first few practices. But on Monday, the sophomore 7-footer returned to the floor.

Cauley-Stein is still feeling lingering effects of the laceration -- which required 18 stitches -- but is happy to be back.

"It still hurts quite a bit, but it's not that much of a bother," Cauley-Stein said. "I kind of forget about it when I'm playing until I hit it against something and realize that it still hurts. Other than that, it's not that big of a deal."

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