It seems like an eternity since John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats have been on the basketball court and the team has gone through a series of workouts that has come to be known as “Camp Cal”. Camp Cal is essential as it helps his team to break the bad habits and overcome the bad coaching they have received in high school and AAU.
“This team’s habits, basketball-wise, were far worse than the other teams that I’ve had,” says Cal. “They’re great kids, now. They just have bad basketball habits. And trying to understand and get them to define how we have to play together, and how individuals have to be responsible for each other and to each other, has been the challenge.”
That’s a huge key for Camp Cal: team first. It’s not that the players are selfish, but acting the way Cal wants is something many have never done.
Camp Cal is about eating together, hanging out, practicing multiple times a day because there are no restrictions on how long you can practice with school being out. It’s the best time for any team to improve.
Cal used this extra practice time to totally change the mindset of his players. This can’t be easy to adjust to.
“When you have the ball, you’re a passer. When you don’t have the ball, think score. In other words, don’t pass it the minute you know I absolutely can’t get a shot. When you have the ball, you’re thinking pass. When you don’t have it, you’re down, you’re loaded up and you’re ready to attack. You know what’s open when you catch that ball to score or make a scoring play,” said Cal.
Camp Cal has gone on for so long that Cal says the team is sick of him. They just want to play games and stop all the practices.
Another problem UK was having was closing out games. They overcame that verses Louisville but hopefully closing games better will be a continued benefit of Camp Cal.
“We didn’t know how to finish games,” Calipari said. “We didn’t know how to do it together. Didn’t know how to be a team. … We’re getting closer to where we want to be, but we’re not there yet.”
Calipari qualified the progress he saw in the victory over Louisville, which saw a 10-point lead with 90 seconds dwindle to five and necessitate the making of clutch free throws.
“We played as a team better,” Calipari said. “Now, we still had breakdowns. We gave them a chance to come back and win a game they should not have had a chance to win.”
Hence, the chance to “stretch minds,” as Calipari put it, during the long semester break.
“How we have to play together and how individuals have to be responsible for each other and to each other has been the challenge,” Calipari said. “And that’s why (during) the little break we’ve had, we have really been able to zero in on those areas.”
Creating good shots in a possession-by-possession game. Making such shots difficult for the opponent.
“The players are ready to play,” Calipari said. “Oh my god. They see me coming, and their heads go down. They want to start playing games.”
Kentucky opens SEC play tonight and it is a whole new world when it comes to basketball in the SEC as opposed to last year.
The conference begins league play today with three teams in the top 25 (No. 10 Florida, No. 14 Kentucky, No. 21 Missouri) and another (Arkansas) receiving a vote. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projection had six teams in the field of 68, tied with the ACC for the second-most of any conference.
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, but considering just three teams made it to March last season the SEC has reason to believe it has improved.
“Overall, the league has improved top-to-bottom,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “When Kentucky is good, our league is viewed as a different-type league and Kentucky is good.”
The Wildcats are better, coming off a win against defending national champion Louisville and armed with their usual assortment of NBA lottery picks. Coach John Calipari said this year’s team has been his youngest in terms of basketball-sense, but in the 10-day break between beating the Cards and playing Mississippi State on Wednesday have gone through a boot camp.
“The players are ready to play,” Calipari said. “Oh my gosh. They see me coming and their head goes down.”