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Calipari to Touch Players More (Say What?)

Part of four-step plan in preparation for upcoming tournament run

By Dr. John Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Surely you’ve heard about THE GRIND. Coaches talk all the time about it, and players dread being caught up in it. THE GRIND is when the season drags on—those dog days of February when your mind and body break down under the constant assault of relentless practices, soul-draining road trips, and girlfriend problems.

Many a road to the championship has been derailed by THE GRIND. Whether untimely injuries, boneheaded blunders, or blips in team chemistry, you can always blame THE GRIND.

There are two obvious components to THE GRIND. The first is the physical aspect. Twenty-seven or so games into the season, muscles get sore, joints stiffen, and all your various bumps and bruises become unmercifully magnified. Obviously, the better shape you’re in, the less the physical effects of THE GRIND.

Nick Richards preparing for THE GRIND

“I’m in the training room more, working on my body with the training staff,” said junior center Nick Richards when asked what he was doing to protect himself from THE GRIND. “I’m probably lifting more consistently. Taking care of my body is probably one of the biggest things that I’ve changed. Everything overall has changed, from the way that I sleep to the way I eat.”

Cats not easing up in practice during THE GRIND

You’d think cutting back on practice time would help ease the pain of THE GRIND. Fatigued bodies need time to recover. No sense in going full throttle this late in the year, right?

Not so with this team, says sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley.

“Honestly, I think with a lot of teams, their practices ease up—the competition level eases up,” Quickley responded. “But I think our level of intensity has been really good—as far as guys staying after to get extra shots and get extra work in. Guys are really attacking treatment as well. Just staying in the recovery room and things like that. I think our team’s done a really good job of staying locked in and getting ready for this run in March.”

Like Richards, Quickley also knows the importance of getting in great shape to ward off the punishing effects of THE GRIND.

“Last year I didn’t play as many minutes,” he reflected. “But this year I’ve really had to adjust in taking care of my body. Some games where I play 37 or 38 minutes—after the game you don’t have a choice but to take care of your body because your body hurts.”

Mental Aspects of THE GRIND just as deadly

The second component of THE GRIND—the mental aspect—can be just as deadly.

“When you start in January and you play every other day or every two days, it does wears on your body a little bit,” explained forward Nate Sestina. “It wears on your mind a little bit. If something is bothering you on your body, you think about it all the time, so you might not be as focused in practice.”

Sestina acknowledged that playing for Kentucky can certainly magnify the mental aspects of THE GRIND. When all eyes are focused on you, the emotional pressure can be downright suffocating.

“Everything you do here, there’s a lot of intensity and a lot of pressure,” said the graduate transfer from Bucknell. “Because fans expect you to play well, family expects you to play well, and coaches expect you to play well. There’s some games that you do and some games you don’t.”

Quickley, with his Zen-like approach, emphasized that a big key to overcoming the emotional pressures of THE GRIND is to have singular focus on only one game at a time.

“That’s always been a big thing for me whether it was college or high school,” he said. “Just coming in mentally prepared, ready for whether it’s a ‘big game’ or just a ‘less-big game.’”

Coach Cal coaching for March during THE GRIND

Coach John Calipari has said on many occasions that he’s coaching solely for the NCAA Tournament in March. So, what then is he doing to help minimize the effects of THE GRIND on his players? After all, the last thing he wants to happen is for another one of his teams to hit the proverbial wall too early.

When prompted, Calipari described his four-step plan this year to defeat THE GRIND.

1) “I’m starting to work out with a couple of the players. There are four guys that I’m doing individuals with myself. And the reason is, I want them to understand I am for them, I am invested in them. I love you; I want you to do well. Let’s get some work. So I’m touching them more.”

2) “The second piece of that is you got to do a lot of film work. I’ve given them books that I want them to read. I brought it up again, the Toughness Book, talking about how you can breathe, how you have a mental picture of yourself.”

3) “I like to give them videos of themselves that have them playing the way I want them to play…and put them on their phone…(if) they’re watching themselves, they’ll go four straight hours and won’t go to the bathroom.”

4) “But and then lastly, I’ve got one or two more Thursday (practices) to go. I’ve got to make a decision if I back up off the Thursday (practices), because we’re going hard…Fresh legs and fresh minds in March. That’s what wins.”

Welcome to THE GRIND! For Coach John Calipari and his Wildcat team, March can’t come soon enough.

Portions of this blog posting will appear in the February 26 print editions of Nolan Group Media Publications.

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
http://www.huangswhinings.com

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