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Offensive tweak, physical defense bring 'different feel' to UK practices

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Julius Randle was named SEC Freshman of the Year on Monday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Julius Randle was named SEC Freshman of the Year on Monday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Julius Randle faced a predictable line of questioning on Tuesday.

After John Calipari talked at length on his weekly radio show about a hush-hush offensive "tweak" he implemented, you knew reporters were going to poke and prod players to see if they could get the scoop.

Randle wasn't about to take the bait.

"You're not getting it from me," said Randle.

Searching for a scrap of information, reporters asked Randle whether the practice felt like a breakthrough moment because of the tweak.

"You're not getting it from me," Randle said. "You'll see it on Friday."

Jokingly, another media member asked whether the change was a move for Randle to point forward.

"You're not getting it from me," Randle said. "You'll see it on Friday."

Was a complete departure from what the Wildcats had done before or merely an enhancement?

"You're not getting it from me," Randle said, singing a familiar tune. "You'll see it on Friday."

The tight-lipped Randle was following his coach's lead, as Calipari once again decided to leave everyone guessing about the tweak that "changed everything" at his final press conference before UK departs for the SEC Tournament this week.

What Coach Cal did reveal was that the idea to make the change came to him on Sunday. Once implemented, he was left wondering why it took him so long.

"When you're coaching, your whole mindset is: How do you help individual players improve and how do you help your team improve?" Calipari said. "It's like, 'Oh, my gosh, how do I look as a coach? My ego is bruised! My pride!' You don't. You just: How do I continue to help the team? That's my job. These are 18- and 19-year-olds. What do I do to help them?"

As he's proven more than once over the last week, Calipari isn't afraid to issue a mea culpa when it comes to the way he coaches. His team appreciates that.

"The thing about Cal is he's going to admit when he's wrong," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "If he's wrong about something he's going to say he's wrong and he's going to fix it. That's just being a man. When you get to that point when you know you're wrong and you can admit it, that's powerful. You get a rally from your team after that."

It wasn't borne out of any previous mistake on his part this time, but Calipari matched the change on offense with a defensive one he was willing to discuss in a bit more detail. Adjusting to the progressively more physical play he says has been allowed as the season has worn on, Coach Cal instructed his players to put their hands up when defending but foul with their bodies.

The result was a practice Calipari compared to football.

"For two reasons, one, we can play against it because that's how everybody is playing now and I'm not just talking our league, I'm watching around the country," Calipari said. "The second thing is if we get in a game where we've gotta play that way then we gotta have - we gotta play that way."

Coach Cal anticipates that postseason play -- which begins for UK (22-9) against either seventh-seeded LSU or No. 10 Alabama at 7 p.m. ET in Atlanta -- will feature plenty of games like that.

"We have a couple days to prepare so we've kind of been able to go back to the practices of old, which are longer, more physical," said Randle, Monday's two-and-a-half-hour session fresh in his mind. "It's good for the team because that's how the games are being played and it'll be a good adjustment for us heading into the SEC Tournament."

As good as the preparation could be in a potential matchup with LSU, a team that split two hard-fought regular-season matchups with UK, Calipari appreciates the immediate benefits even more.

"All I can tell you is there was a different feel in the building," Calipari said. "It was not just the tweaking of what we did. It was the physical play brought something out of them that I wanted to see."

Said Cauley-Stein: "It felt like we was back in our groove before we lost the Arkansas game. We kind of had that feel, almost like that swagger was coming back to our team."

Optimistic as he may be about the changes, Coach Cal knows their true impact won't be known until later.

"Again, you gotta carry it over to the court," Calipari said. "And it isn't just that. When adversity hits - you know, teams from here on are fighting for their lives, so adversity will hit. What do you do now? How do you deal with it?"

Tweaks and all, Calipari and the Cats will be doing everything they can to position themselves to respond in the best way possible.

"Let's just keep coming together," Calipari said. "And that's what we're hoping to see. As much as what we did in the physical play and the tweaking and all, it'll still come back to that. My hope is they have a little better bounce in their step and that they know when things don't go right, we're still good."

Randle credits teammates, coaches for Freshman of the Year award


Julius Randle was rewarded for a strong regular season when he was named SEC Freshman of the Year on Monday. Randle appreciates the recognition, but says he's far from the only one who shares in it.

"It's an honor, very humbling. I have great teammates, great coaches," Randle said. "It just goes to show what hard work can get you."

Delivering on the hype that accompanied his arrival in Lexington, Randle averaged 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds, posting double-doubles in seven of his final eight outings in the process.

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Just don't tinker with my Harrison twins.

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