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Intellectually, Calipari understands how young his team is. Because of that, he gets that it will take time for it to jell, for players to grasp exactly what it takes to win at the college level.
Then his habits kick in. He sees the talent on the floor and he wants to win.
"I can't get caught up with winning and losing right now and I am," Calipari said. "I want to win every game, but what it's causing me to do is try to make these guys better than they are at this stage."
It's Calipari's job to get the most out of his players, but by March and April, not November and December. For that reason, his mind ultimately trumps his gut.
"But the reality of it is, we are what we are: a bunch of freshmen trying," Calipari said. "I'm trying to figure them out; they're trying to figure each other out. We're still not locked into how we're going to play."
Which makes this stretch of six games before the start of Southeastern Conference play a challenge.
Starting on Sunday vs. Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y., UK will face six straight opponents with at least realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Three games will be at home, two at neutral sites and one on the road at North Carolina.
While fans might allow their attention to drift to that matchup with the Tar Heels or even the showdown with Louisville looming at the end of the month, Providence is plenty for Coach Cal to think about.
With the Friars boasting a 6-1 record and wins over the likes of Boston College, La Salle and Vanderbilt, Calipari sees them as a natural next opponent in UK's path of increasingly more challenging games.
"They run good stuff, they play hard," Calipari said. "It's the next step up for us. It appears as though every game has been like a stepping stone if you take out Michigan State."
Senior guard Bryce Cotton leads four Friars scoring in double figures with 17.7 points per game, but defense is where Providence's strength lies. The Friars are sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com and have held opponents to 40.6-percent shooting from the field.
"We're just now watching film on them, but we know they're a good team," Dakari Johnson said. "Coach Cal told us they're going to be one of the better teams we've played thus far, so I'm just real excited to go back home and get to play a good team."
Home for Johnson -- a Brooklyn native -- is not far from the Barclays Center.
"My whole family's up there," Johnson said. "They're real excited to come watch me play 'cause they haven't really had a chance to see me play, so just happy to get to play in front of them."
Johnson will look to continue his strong play from his last outing on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET. In just 10 minutes against Eastern Michigan, he posted 10 points and seven rebounds.
"I think it's progressing each and every day," Johnson said. "I think I'm getting all the things Coach Cal wants me to do."
With the Wildcats set to leave for New York on Friday afternoon, Johnson will get to spend a little extra time back home. Calipari isn't yet sure of his plans for the team, but he does plan to take advantage of being in the Big Apple.
"On this trip and other trips, I want to take trips for the sole reason of teaching whether we go to the stock exchange and do stuff," Calipari said. "If we'd have left today we would have done that. If we had left earlier today or last night and we didn't, so, but we may go to a theater or we may go down to the district."
A little sightseeing would be a welcome reprieve for the Cats, who have experienced some pre-practice changes over the last week. In an effort to emphasize staying in a defensive stance, Calipari is making players do wall-sits while passing a 50-pound sand bag.
"I don't like it at all, but it helps us stay down and that's how low we have to stay throughout the whole game," Johnson said.
That's just one item on a list of improvements the Cats are making, even if they might happening a little more slowly than Calipari might like. Regardless -- though he didn't say the exact words this time -- Coach Cal likes his team.
"Of all the teams in the country, we have the most upside so deal with that," Calipari said. "If you didn't want to deal with it, either convince kids to stay or recruit bad players, they'll all stay, you won't' have to deal with this."
Don't expect Calipari to do either of those things anytime soon.
You can add another to the list.
Willie Cauley-Stein tied a career with seven blocks, anchoring the UK defense against Eastern Michigan.
Cauley-Stein had five of his blocks after halftime, helping to turn a three-point lead into an 81-63 win -- UK's 500th in Rupp Arena -- in the finale of the Keightley Classic in Rupp Arena on Wednesday. The sophomore -- at least based on his play -- seemed intent to carry his (only slightly) younger teammates, but he said postgame his motivation was primarily internal.
"I was just kind of mad because the first half, I missed some bunnies and I wasn't really rebounding that much and Coach was getting after me for not blocking some shots," Cauley-Stein said. "So then I just decided I'm going after everything."
Whether it was intentional or not, Cauley-Stein's play did serve as an inspiration.
"It doesn't really surprise me anymore," said Julius Randle, who did the bulk of his damage after halftime in posting his seventh straight double-double. "Just seeing how active he is and how much energy he has on the floor, I kind of feed of it too. It's just something that we expect from him every game."
Cauley-Stein's solid play extended well beyond shot-blocking, as he posted 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a steal to go with all those swats. His coach, however, still knows he has areas to improve.
"Willie is playing well," Calipari said. "He still faded away on a couple shots that he didn't need to."
Calipari isn't talking about the free-throw line, where he says Cauley-Stein has built confidence after shooting just 37.2 percent as a freshman.
"I mean, eventually I just in my mind was like, 'If I make it I make it. If I miss it I miss. The game's gonna go on,' " Cauley-Stein said. "And that's kind of how I've been playing now and it's working out. I'm going to keep on playing like that."
It didn't necessarily show in the box score -- Cauley-Stein hit 3-of-7 free throws against EMU -- but the new mentality has completely changed his game.
"That makes a big difference in how you play because now you'll be aggressive and try and score because you're not afraid to get fouled," Calipari said.
Over the last four games, that effort has come off the bench with Marcus Lee inserted into the starting lineup to win the opening tip. That streak was set to end on Wednesday, but a pregame miscommunication undid those plans.
"He was going to start today. John Robic screwed with that," Calipari said, smiling.
Cauley-Stein was aware of the confusion, but doesn't much care whether or not he starts. That makes sense, because he's played no fewer than 24 minutes in any of the games in which he's come off the bench.
"I've been playing good off the bench, but just either way," Cauley-Stein said. "It doesn't really bother me if I don't. If I do, hooray. If I don't, I come off the bench."
Cauley-Stein is averaging 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in a reserve role. But make no mistake: That will end on Sunday when UK takes on Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Willie, he was going to start today," Calipari said. "He'll start from here."
The freshman had four fouls, but with Kentucky trailing 54-44 John Calipari had no choice but to reinsert him. The Wildcats couldn't afford to have their point guard on the bench even though he had struggled to that point.
Much the same, Harrison knew he couldn't afford not to step up.
"I knew I had no choice," Harrison said.
With UK facing the biggest upset of the young college basketball season, Harrison took the only path available to him. He was Kentucky's anchor during a decisive 21-3 run, leading the way as the Cats completed a comeback from as many as 11 points down to win 68-61.
"He really stood out, he directed us a lot," James Young said. "He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."
Harrison scored six of his 12 points -- all on driving and-one layups -- and dished three of his five assists during the spurt. He had a direct hand in 13 of the 21 points scored during the run and only exited after he finally picked up his fifth with 27.6 seconds left and the outcome in hand.
"I thought Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."
Harrison showed as much emotion following his two and-ones as at any point in his six-game UK career, glimpsing some of the fire Calipari wants out of the latest in his line of highly regarded point guards.
"Just having a competitive spirit and wanting to win and making big plays to win really," Harrison said. "It's not about me or anything. I just wanted to win. Those reactions kind of come out a competitor, any competitor really."
Harrison has surely heard some of the talk about his early-season body language, but he wasn't thinking about any outsiders during the Cats' rally. The only opinions he cares about are those of his teammates and coaches.
"I feel like I was letting my teammates down pretty much by getting those fouls in the first half and not being as aggressive as I should be," Harrison said. "Hopefully it's a turning point. Tomorrow we're just going to go to practice and start getting better."
Like a true point guard, Harrison was quick to deflect praise following the win over Cleveland State.
"All of us stepped up," Harrison said. "James Young played great. Julius (Randle) in the paint, nobody was getting a rebound at that point, nobody but him. It wasn't me at all. It was them. I was just getting them the ball. They were just making me look good."
Young struggled with his shot for most of the night and even contended with a box-and-one defense geared toward stopping him at times, but that didn't slow him. He hit just 3 for 11 from the field and scored nine points, but it was his energy that buoyed the Cats and his example that Calipari used to inspire his teammates.
"James Young just fought like crazy and came up with balls when we were dead," Calipari said. "If they got those balls, we would lose. That's why I looked at the other guys and I say, 'Fight like he's fighting.' "
Young had a career-high five rebounds, while Randle posted his sixth straight double with 15 points and 15 rebounds in spite of facing constant double and triple teams from Viking defenders. Randle had five more turnovers on Monday night, bringing his season total to a team-high 22, but Calipari has trouble picking nits when he looks at his star freshman.
"Pass a little bit, stop turning it over, but keep getting those double-doubles," Calipari said. "They're really nice."
With Kentucky's upcoming schedule, Randle will face some challenges in looking to extend his double-double streak, which now sits just one shy of Jim Andrews' UK record of seven to begin a season. The Cats have just one day to prepare for matchup with Eastern Michigan at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to conclude the Keightley Classic.
The Eagles are unbeaten at 5-0, so Calipari sees them as a natural segue into a brutal December schedule that features six opponents ranked 61st or better according to kenpom.com in six games.
"The good news is other than Michigan State, we kind of built them up," Calipari said. "Now Eastern Michigan is the next step. When we go farther, every other team takes us to another level."
Some pundits will sound alarms about Kentucky after a narrow home escape against a heavy underdog, but the Cats believe this is an experience that will benefit them down the road.
"It could have been easy for us to sit back and be like, 'Man, we're not coming back from this,' " Randle said. "But we kept fighting, fighting and we learned that even when we're down we can come together and still win games."