Calipari likes how Cats are bonding

Published 1:15 pm Friday, June 29, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — John Calipari is taking his time getting to know his team.

The Kentucky coach thinks he’s “got a good group” one that has about a month to prepare for an overseas trip to the Bahamas in August.

“We just started together yesterday,” Calipari said during the Southeastern Conference summer teleconference Thursday. “We’re going to do today and tomorrow together, and then a couple of days next week and a couple of days the following week. By that time we get ready for the Bahamas and we have a lot of practice time, so I’m not trying to kill them right now. But I’m trying to give them an idea of what – you know, and how we’re going to try and play with this group.”

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Calipari likes the way the team has already started bonding ahead of the team practice sessions and said the Wildcats are already taking the initiative to get to know each other on and off the court.

“I walk in my office one night and it’s about 10:30 and I look out the window and they’re all in there,” he said. “(They’re) not playing — they’re just hanging out in the practice facility. In the morning or evenings, you’ve got different guys working out — some on their own.”

Calipari’s newest addition — Reid Travis — will be counted on to provided leadership this year, especially in the post. The Stanford graduate transfer will have competition for one of the five starting slots, which Calipari says will provide a different experience for the veteran newcomer.

“This thing is different,” Calipari said. “This is about working and having competition every day. It’s about sacrificing. The last thing is you’ve got to trust this process and trust what we’re trying to do. I see him with the ability to lead because he’s a veteran even though he’s not been here.”

The addition of Reid along with Ashton Hagans recently has provided a boost for the Wildcats, who will return four players from last year’s squad. The mixture of veterans and freshmen players could have the Wildcats ranked in as high as No. 1 in some preseason polls, a prediction that doesn’t scare Calipari.

“I have that in me (pressure) every year that I coach,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know this to be a fact that if we are (ranked) No. 1 this will be my 10th year (at Kentucky) and I imagine six or seven of those years we’ve been ranked No. 1. Four of those years we’ve been to Final Fours. Probably eight of those years we’ve been to Elite Eights. It’s what this is here. We won the national title in 2012. Probably could have won a couple of more but didn’t. It is what it is. And these guys know it.”

In addition to team bonding, Calipari wants the Wildcats to keep improving individually and collectively but wants the Wildcats to spread the wealth, especially offensively. He added that ideally, he wants six to seven players averaging double figures.

“There’s no one who is going to average 25 (points) a game,” he said. “You might get 25 in a game, but we don’t play through two guys. Everybody here is treated the same way. The other thing I said is this isn’t communism. If you don’t deserve to play, you won’t play. If you do deserve to play, I’ll figure it out.

“What you’re talking about is more when we get into the process more than anything else of how we do this. The biggest thing I had to talk to them about is here’s what the culture of Kentucky is. It won’t carry you. You have to carry the culture. You have to take it to that next level. If you don’t move this culture, this culture means nothing. But, this is what we built the program on and around.”

It’s also built around success in the SEC and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said the Wildcats will be among the favorites next season.

“Kentucky is loaded again like they’ve always been,” The Auburn coach said. “(Calipari) likes this team and he likes them in June. That’s scary for the rest of us. He usually doesn’t like them until March.”