Kentucky Takes Needed Break to Reset Minds

The winter holidays are a time to gather with family, reflect on what’s happened and prepare for the upcoming year. The majority of the Kentucky men’s basketball team did just that earlier this week following Saturday’s game in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Where many teams don’t get a break around the holidays, Kentucky head coach John Calipari believes the time away can be beneficial for the kids as they regroup and prepare for the remainder of the season. Juniors Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee seconded that notion.

“It was real nice to see family and friends,” Hawkins said. “I noticed that a lot of other schools don’t do that, is what Coach Cal says. And we appreciate that. We’re just glad to be back and be able to start practicing again, figuring out what we need to do to start winning again.”

“I think it’s good that we did take a little break and get our minds reset,” said Lee, who stayed in Lexington after visiting with family in California earlier in the month. “We do that every year and it always helps us in the end run.”

Coach Cal, who has always given his teams a break around the holidays despite upcoming games, said the time away is good because of the grind and length of the season. He added that the break is needed for him too as it gives him time to reflect on his team and figure out what they must improve on heading into Saturday’s showdown with in-state rival Louisville.

“I think every team I’ve had it’s been a good time to get away,” Calipari said. “You go hard for a couple months and you just get a couple days away from each other, and you come back excited, because it’s a long season.”

The players will all return to Lexington on Wednesday evening after flying out separately from Brooklyn to their respective homes on Saturday. From there, it’s back to the grind as they prepare for the Cardinals.

“It was nice to get away, but you’re always going to think about the loss,” Hawkins said. “When I was flying back here to Lexington, I was thinking about how could we have won that game and stuff like that, but it was good to have those days off because now we’re more focused on the next game and ready to play.”

Freshman guard Jamal Murray, who scored a season-high 33 points in the loss to Ohio State, tweeted around midnight Tuesday morning that he was currently “in the lab” trying to get better.

Hawkins said he would have rather played shortly after the Cats’ loss to Ohio State to get that bad taste out of his mouth and get their confidence back up. But at the same time, he conceded, the break was much-needed.

For some players, the break was an opportunity to help with their bodies as they don’t have the tough, physical practices. For others, it was a time to get away from the clutter that is ever-present being a Kentucky basketball player.

Forward Skal Labissiere has received plenty of criticism for his recent play as he’s gone through his own freshman struggles. Coming into college as one of the most highly touted prospects, those critiques have been louder than they would be for other players.

Calipari said for all the freshmen, not just Labissiere, this is a time to take a step back and start fresh once again.

“There’s a little of that awakening of, ‘Wow, got to come back and really regroup and get this thing right,’ ” Coach Cal said.

Looking back at his own team, Calipari continues to note just how far it has to go. The Cats showed some good stuff in the second half against Ohio State, he said, but they weren’t able to turn it into a win because of their struggles in the opening half.

Calipari tweeted Tuesday that even if they had come out with the win against the Buckeyes it wouldn’t change the fact that they must address their issues.

“We’re a team that applies pressure,” Coach Cal said. “We pressure the ball. We play fast. We have that identity. The question is, exactly how are we playing? It’s not an identity thing. The second thing is, we are still trying to figure out ways of getting to 50-50 balls and beating people to balls. That’s normally what our team is built on and right now we’re not winning that battle and that’s where we’ve got to get to.”

Calipari and Lee also said they must begin games faster after falling into deficits in both their losses to UCLA and Ohio State. Lee called it a lesson that must be fixed “immediately,” while Calipari said the issue isn’t only limited to their two losses.

The team’s first opportunity to get back on the court for a game and put its reflections, lessons and practices to work will be at noon Saturday against a Louisville team that leads the country in margin of victory and is second nationally in rebounding margin.

Each of the Cats know they have a ways to go to get to where they want to be when the calendar flips to March, and now they have their opportunity to start anew.

“It’s early,” Hawkins said. “It’s in December, so we have a long ways to go. We’re not where we want to be right now and that’s why we’re going to start practicing. As Coach tells us, everybody’s gotta figure out how to play their role and once everybody gets their role and starts playing really well we’ll be all right.”