Lost in the crisis of surrendering 40 points to Elston Turner in a home conference loss to Texas A&M on Saturday is a news flash from Kentucky coach John Calipari: “We played better.”
Nerlens Noel has emerged as UK's emotional leader (TCP/Darrell Bird)
“That’s what’s scary; we played better,” Calipari said. “The kid got 40 on us but when you look at what we did on the court, look at Nerlens.”
Nerlens Noel had 15 points, 11 rebounds, 7 blocks, 6 assists, 4 steals and 0 turnovers.
“If that kid doesn’t get 40 and we win the game, the country is talking about Nerlens,” Calipari said.
Much-maligned Alex Poythress had 12 points and 6 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Sustain that effort for 40 minutes and it’s a double-double.
“When I watched the tape, Alex played fine. He just didn’t have enough sustained effort,” Calipari said. “He wasn’t in knots playing basketball. It has nothing to do with shooting, dribbling, and doing all of that stuff. It’s a simple sustaining effort, fighting screens, continuing to play, and sprinting the court. That’s what we are trying to work on with him.
“He wants it bad,” Calipari continued. “He is such a great kid and he wants to please us and to please me. It’s all a process.”
Calipari gathered his team at his house on the day after the loss, Kentucky fifth in 15 games.
“I had them in the room and I said ‘Have you ever been better as a player than the way you are now?’ Every one of them said, ‘No this is the best I have been as a player.’ ‘Have you ever played harder in your life, raise your hand.’ ‘No, this is the hardest.’ ‘Alex have you ever been close to this on how hard you have to play.’ ‘No this is the hardest by far.’ And we are all saying, ‘It isn’t enough.’ In their minds they are saying, ‘I have never played harder and this dude wants more.’
“Now, if it was a normal situation and he is a freshman, I’m happy. You will be alright. Just try and play a little harder,” Calipari said. “But we are Kentucky. But you decided to come here, it wasn’t me, I didn’t beg you to come here. You knew coming in. I think they are getting the picture.”
Change begins with the team being willing to abandon individual goals for the good of the team.
“You have to be able to say, ‘How do you want me to play and that’s how I’m going to play. How do we play defense as a team? What is my job when I play defense? Offensively, what are we trying to do,’ and then everybody has to commit to playing that way,” Calipari said. “Now, it may not be the way you want to play and it most likely is not the way you have ever played. But the only way you can really trust each other is you know what everybody is doing. I’m on the basketball court and I know what the other four guys are doing because they’ve bought into how we’re playing as a team.
“Those are the kind of breakdowns we’re having, especially on these runs,” the coach added. “We’ll just have three or four guys like, ‘Why’d you do that? That’s not how we’re going to play, you know that. ‘I know, I thought I was…’ Don’t think that; just do what we’re asking you to do. Those are the kind of things that we are fighting through.”
Calipari, for one, isn’t upset that it is taking longer than expected for this young team to come around.
“It’s a process and that’s why I said I’m not upset with the guys, I know what they’re going through,” Calipari said. “I would have liked to have won more games but this is a process. My issue is, recognize it. Now, let’s begin to change.
“As long as that’s happening, we’re good,” Calipari said. “If it isn’t happening, it you don’t change, if you don’t recognize and then begin to change, there is not going to be a change on the court. You just keep getting beat. Now if there is a change, again, my vision is there is no one late in this season that is going to want to play this team. Right now it appears everyone wants to play this team.”