John Calipari was yelling at Ryan Harrow so much Saturday for not communicating on the court that Harrow just started yelling anything that popped in his head.
“It might not have nothing to do with the play, but I was just screaming so he wouldn’t say anything to me,” Harrow said.
On defense, even if a man wasn’t about to screen, Harrow wanted to follow his coach’s directions so he just started yelling, “Screen! Screen! Screen!”
“The man wasn’t even screening, so I was like, let me just say, ‘Let’s go!’ from now on,’ ” Harrow said.
Harrow’s comments were in jest, but they illustrate a much bigger problem with this Kentucky basketball team that has irked Coach Cal over the last couple of weeks. This team doesn’t talk nearly enough, so much so that Calipari said he was recently told by someone that it’s the quietest team he’s ever seen.
Harrow said the team’s lack of communication derives from a lack of individual extroverts. This team has a bunch of quiet players, Harrow said, who have always gotten the job done by playing rather than talking.
Calipari has said communicating on the court just isn’t about leadership; it’s about helping each other. When a player doesn’t talk, it’s because he is worried only about doing his job and not helping someone else, Calipari said.
“Don’t talk, you’re selfish, bottom line,” Calipari said.
Instead of coaching situations, Calipari said he’s running up and down the sidelines yelling at his team to talk instead of calling out plays.
“That’s a great strategy,” Calipari said facetiously. “The coaches should not be coaching a game saying, ‘Talk!’ That should not even come out of my mouth, and I’m saying it 410 times in the first half and probably the same in the second half.”
The wrong kind of talk
Perhaps frustrating Calipari even more is the fact that the Cats have demonstrated they can talk more. They did so during a couple of exchanges with Lipscomb’s players on Saturday.
The talking resulted in four technical foul calls between the two teams – two on Kentucky and two on Lipscomb.
Lipscomb’s Deonte Alexander picked up the two technical fouls for Lipscomb. His second technical, a shove to Nerlens Noel, resulted in an automatic ejection.
Harrow was involved in Alexander’s first technical foul. Harrow said Alexander kept bumping in to him and talking to him. The refs came over and warned both players, but Alexander came back for more.
“I was like, alright, I’m going to just chill and then he came up to me again and that’s when he got the technical foul,” Harrow said. “Coach was just like, ‘Clap your hands, hit the floor and do it like that, but don’t say anything to him.’ ”
UK’s technical fouls, which were assessed to Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, were UK’s first two of the season.
Are the Cats resisting Cal’s teaching?
Lipscomb head coach Scott Sanderson doesn’t subscribe to the theory that Coach Cal just rolls the balls out and let’s his guys play. If that was the case, this Kentucky group, which is stockpiled with All-Americans like the previous three teams, wouldn’t be navigating through the current road bumps that it is.
“He’s got a bunch of All-Americans on his team and sometimes those are hard to coach,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson implied that perhaps the Cats aren’t great at listening to their coach quite yet. Like dribbling, shooting and rebounding, Sanderson said the ability to listen is a skill, one they haven’t mastered yet.
“Listening is a skill, and if those guys buy in and not resist what he’s trying to teach them, they’ve got a chance to be as good as they want to be,” Sanderson said. “But if they resist the coaching, that’s on them. … Their ability to listen, in my opinion from where I’m sitting and watching as much film as I’ve seen of them, that’s the key for them.”
Calipari didn’t have any problems with Sanderson’s assessment because he hasn’t seen enough change in the past week to think otherwise. The Cats just went through a full week of “Camp Cal” – 7 a.m. conditioning session, suicide sprints and all – and only changed “a little” by Calipari’s standards.
“They’re hearing, but they’re not listening,” Coach Cal said. “They’re hearing what we say, but they’re not listening to it. Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom, but each individual right now thinks they’re good.”
Calipari isn’t panicking about the small steps because his past teams have done similar things before.
“I’m not cracking at all,” Coach Cal said. “This is part of what I do. Having a young team does not bother me. I’ve had young teams before. Having a team that’s not responding as well as I’d want them to, that’s probably every year that I’ve coached. Maybe this is more so than other teams, but most of the time I’ve had players that held back.”
‘Greatest environment in college basketball’
Sanderson has been to Indiana, North Carolina and Arizona. He grew up in Alabama watching Alabama football.
None of those fan bases have anything on the Big Blue Nation, Sanderson said.
“We’ve been to a lot of places in my career at Lipscomb, but the Kentucky fan base, not even close, is the best fan base in the country because they come to see Kentucky,” Sanderson said. “They don’t care who they’re playing.”