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November 4, 2012
Until now, drills were just drills. There were winners and losers, but there was nothing attached to the winning and the losing in Kentucky coach John Calipari's practices.
Now, losers run.
"It makes it a more competitive kind of feel," freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Winning and losing matters, so you have to play all the time."
Calipari said the increased intensity isn't because of the impending start to the regular-season with two nationally televised games against Maryland and Duke (Kentucky gets its last tune-up in Monday's exhibition game against Transylvania). It's to instill a mindset in his team.
"We have to set a tone of how we play," Calipari said.
Calipari said Saturday's practice went nearly three hours, which he said was one of the longest since he came to UK.
Cauley-Stein said it was also one of the best practices of the year. As usual, that included some of Calipari's vocal constructive criticism. But the players have been more receptive to self-reflection after playing and reviewing their exhibition game against Northwood.
"Our focus is getting better because after playing that game and after watching that film, you see what you have to work on and all the bad habits you have to break," Cauley-Stein said.
Those bad habits include inactivity on the floor. Cauley-Stein said the coaches have set up new rules to mandate more effort, especially when rebounding.
They expect players to chase 80 percent of rebound attempts. If they fall short, full-court sprints are doled out for every rebound opportunity missed.
"That makes you want to go get it," Cauley-Stein said, "because you don't want to run."
Cauley-Stein said Calipari implemented the punishment after last Thursday's 93-61 exhibition win against Northwood, during which Calipari noticed players standing around instead of pursuing rebounds. As a result, Northwood was able to grab 17 of a possible 46 offensive rebounds.
"Kyle (Wiltjer) said something about how they did (extra running) last year for free throws, so I was kind of expecting it to be for free throws," Cauley-Stein said. "But maybe he changed it up this year for effort. That's kind of his big point for this team is giving your all, all the time."
That requires something extra.
"What I'm saying to them: To really improve, you've got to make yourself uncomfortable," Calipari said. "You have to make yourself uncomfortable in practice. If you're not willing to do that, I will."
Some of the players think he already has.
Recently, Calipari asked his players to raise their hand if they thought he had been the "toughest" on them.
Five players raised their hand.
No, Calipari said. He asked them to raise their hand if they thought he had been the "absolute toughest" on them.
Five players raised their hand again.
"See, they only see how you're coaching them," Calipari said. "They don't see how you're coaching anybody else."
He knows how he's coaching them, though, and he's instilling a sense of urgency in his players through the increased practice intensity.
"Where are we right now? We've gotten better," Calipari said. "Where do we need to go? That's when you start losing sleep."