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John Calipari’s ‘non-negotiables’

As John Calipari gets his team ready for its summer exhibition trip to the Bahamas, the sixth-year UK head coach opened the doors of his practice gym to a couple of national media members, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, for Monday’s practice. It was the first of 10 permitted practices the Cats can have before the Bahamas trip.

You can read both of their practice reports at the links — Rothstein’s Q and A here and DeCourcy’s column here — but the part I found the most interesting after watching practice a week ago is what Coach Cal is calling his “non-negotiables.” There are so many talented pieces on this roster and so many guys who can play and make an impact that, as DeCourcy writes, Calipari is going to have to get creative to manage the entire group.

His first idea is to yank players from the games when they don’t do things that they can control. If they don’t compete on a loose ball or sprint back on defense, there will be no second chances on this team in a game.

“The question is: Who is nine and 10?” Calipari said. “When they all leave early, I have to figure it out. So now some guys decided to stay … How do I deal with that? That’s just as much of a challenge. Now the question is: How are you going to play with 10?”

When Rick Pitino dealt with this sort of overcrowding with Kentucky’s 1995-96 “Untouchables” team, players as gifted as Ron Mercer (the No. 3 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft) and Derek Anderson (the No. 13 pick in ’97 even with a damaged knee) did not average even 20 minutes per game. Only three guys on that team did, and no one played 30. Wing Allen Edwards was at the back end of the rotation, getting 9 minutes per game. The stacked roster led UK to redshirt forward Jared Prickett after five games.

Calipari told these Wildcats there will be similar sacrifices and significant demands. He intends to install a list of several “non-negotiables” – actions that will lead to a player being automatically removed from a game. If a player does not dive for a loose ball, or sprint while changing ends, or slide down into proper help position if defending the weak side …

“Thank you. You’re out. He’s in,” he explained.

He believes that such absolutes will make it easier on him in coaching the squad. It also will lead players to a greater sense of accountability, and thus a higher standard of performance.

“We were practicing last week and this one guy started pouting and being a baby,” Calipari said. “I go, ‘Stop. I just want to tell you guys: If you pout, if you’re a baby, if you think you’re going to win an argument with me, I’m good with that. And why is that? Because you can take him out, play somebody else and make somebody else happy.”

Calipari has pondered whether to open the season with two platoons, essentially subbing out one group of five for the other. The problem with this plan is that his projected top 10 includes three players who fit best as college centers (Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee) and three more who fit best as power forwards (freshmen Karl Towns and Trey Lyles, and junior Alex Poythress).

Read the rest of DeCourcy’s piece here, and check out some of Rothstein’s Twitter observations below.