John Calipari isn’t exactly the most secretive basketball coach in the world. I mean the man has allowed everything from ESPN All-Access to televised practices. He makes no bones about the offense he likes to run and defenses he doesn’t care to play. And despite his very friendly basketball sharing, he is the proud owner of an Elite-8, Final Four and National Championship. That’s how good he is at what he does. Perhaps more importantly, that’s the “cred” he brings to a team of players that were largely babied on the hardwood during high school and AAU ball. So when he talks, they listen. The same goes with the staff he employs. What makes him unique, is that he is willing to listen to his staff and players as well and is not afraid to implement change if it will make a positive impact. So when their strength coach, Rock Oliver, floated the idea of an accountability system designed for players to earn everything they expected to be given, Coach Cal was all over it.
When Oliver presented the idea to Calipari, he not only loved it, he told him to immediately put something in place for the offseason workouts the players go through while attending summer school. The system took what some viewed as their basic rights as players — their practice jerseys, their locker room stalls, their spots on road trips — and turned them into privileges.
Want to wear Kentucky gear to practice with your number on it? Accumulate 100 points. Want to earn the right to travel with the team? Get to 160 points. Don’t want to get kicked out of the practice locker room? Earn your right to stay there.
From this was born the…
A points-based system that rewards players for meeting their athletic, academic and leadership responsibilities. At the core of the code is accountability. While playing basketball at the University of Kentucky offers certain opportunities, there are privileges which must be earned.
“We have the best facilities in the country, the greatest fans in all of sports and the most efficient tools to help you reach your dreams,” the Code reads. “But none of that is given. All of it is earned. And starting today, you will be graded on your work ethic, your character and your leadership.”
Under the Wildcat Code, the Wildcats are graded every day on a scale of 0-4 in two different categories: their work ethic in workouts and their academic and leadership responsibilities. Oliver grades the players on their workouts and Stone evaluates the academic side.
At the end of the day, the two tally the points, giving each player as many as eight total points. Those points accumulate over weeks and months and correspond to a tier-based system of rewards and consequences. If the players want to keep their locker room stalls or wear their practice jerseys, they have to accumulate enough points.
“It really helped us this summer,” Oliver said. “Guys need to know where they’re stacking up at, especially in here. This is a work-equity environment down here and you should be graded on it. If you’re a guy that has these grand ideas of leaving here at the time of the draft, you’re going to have to work at it.”
A master chart in the hallway outside the Joe Craft Center practice gym makes it more real for both the players and the staff.
“It’s tangible,” Oliver said. “It keeps us on our toes. We have to know what we’re doing every day: the coaches, the players, the trainers and Mike Stone over in (the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services). The more that we’re all being accountable ourselves, the more things will go the way we need them to go.”
Players like Alex Poythress were graded this offseason for how they performed in the workout room and in the classroom.
Whether you’re a five-star recruit who would start for any team in the country and/or a bookworm who has achieved nothing but A’s and B’s, everyone has to do their jobs, every single day.
The first time one of the veterans who has a reputation for taking care of his business received a “0” underneath his name, the players knew the staff meant business. As Oliver and Stone both said, they’re not playing favorites. The Wildcat Code can’t hide you.
“The tangibility of seeing, sensing and feeling where everyone sees where you are compared to the whole team, whether you’re the star of the team, whether you’re on scholarship or whether you’re a walk-on, everyone sees that,” Stone said. “That’s a great motivating factor because we are the hardest on ourselves. Motivation is intrinsic.