Dakari Johnson will return to his native Brooklyn, N.Y., for a game on Sunday against Providence. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari fights his instincts every day.
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.