By Dr. John Huang
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Kentucky head coach John Calipari has hinted on numerous occasions how difficult it is to play basketball at the University of Kentucky. “This place isn’t for everybody,” we’ve heard him scream repeatedly.
“All this stuff of ‘I’ve got to get out of here in a year,’” he said, referring to the one and done mentality. “I get it, I understand it. We’ve had a lot do it, but that puts so much stuff on these kids—so much. If it’s any clutter from the outside, and not just them—it’s hard. And then, every game is someone’s Super Bowl.”
To counter the distractions, Coach Cal has repeatedly emphasized for each individual player to find the one thing that’s most difficult for them to do—and then focus on that singular task in order to perfect your craft.
So, what is the one thing players can do to remove all the clutter and instill confidence in themselves? I thought I’d pose that question to each of the remaining eight scholarship players on the team. I found their answers interesting.
“Staying out of foul trouble. When I get two fouls in two minutes, I can’t do that even if I were the seventh man coming off the bench. That’s really bad. I gotta stay focused. My team needs me to be on the court.”
“I’m just trying to get in better shape—the tip top shape that I’m in. Just go out there and just play physical.”
“The confidence has always been there I would say. But it’s a lot that I need to work on. My discipline and things like that. It all takes time. It’s going to get there, but other than that, I just try to go out on the court and be physical and just do what I do best.”
“That’s a tough question. I wouldn’t say necessarily hard, but it’s definitely a grind day to day. After a game you play forty minutes, you gotta come back the next day and come in the gym and try to get better. I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but it’s definitely tough, especially when you’re a little bit tired. But you have to come in and try to find a way to get better.
“Playing through contact. There are times where I get bumped and I just pass it. (Coach Cal) just feels that I have a strong body and I can play through contact and get to the lane and get to the free throw line a lot. I agree with him. I’ve been trying to do that in practice, especially when I go against Ashton (Hagans). He tells Ashton to be overly physical, like intentionally foul me so that I can get through that.”
“Rebound and defend. Defend guys who are smaller than me and being the first one to make contact on rebounds. We’ve been working on it in practice. I’ve been trying to move my feet guarding guys. I’ve been playing Immanuel (Quickley) one-on-one later at night, and that’s helped me out a lot. It’s more of a confidence with that, but just playing him and playing against their guards in practice has really been something good for me.”
“The hardest thing for me is just continuing to be physical. Before, growing up, I could just straight outjump everybody. I could get the ball—high point the ball—but now I have to get low, bend my knees, and basically push people out of the way to get what I want. That’s the biggest adjustment for me, and I feel like I’m starting to pick up on it more. I still gotta get better at it, but it’s starting to come for me.”
“It’s just keep pushing and keep pushing and keep the faith. Just waking up every morning, working out, going hard—like keeping the same drive no matter the ups and downs. I’d say, honestly, that’s the hardest thing. I wouldn’t say it’s one thing on the court. Keep the faith and keep pushing through.”
Foul trouble, physical conditioning, discipline, toughness, and the day-to-day grind are all tangible challenges that have plagued this particular team. We’ve all heard Calipari harp on them ad nauseum. But as we all know, it’s one thing to identify what you need to work on, it’s a completely different thing to go out there and do it.
The success of this season depends solely on how committed the players are to doing hard things.
Portions of this post appeared in the February 12 print editions of Nolan Group Media Publications.