- Tennessee Volunteers - January 24, 2017 - 9:00 PM EST - Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn. - ESPN
John Calipari, always the master of comparisons, dipped into some old pop culture references Monday to describe a team-building exercise his players are undergoing.
Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez aren’t a part of it, but “four or five” Wildcats have started their own “Breakfast Club” over what John Calipari considers one of the most important development periods of the basketball season.
Unlike the Hollywood classic, the Wildcats aren’t serving detention or paying the consequences for something they did (namely their play), rather they’re building on “Camp Cal,” an academics-free period in the year where Calipari has his players focus strictly on basketball.
Without school obligations to worry about for the next few weeks, Kentucky’s players will practice two and sometimes three times a day because, as Calipari says so bluntly, “they don’t have anything to do now.” The basketball emphasis and skill development will be the bulk of the next couple of weeks, but this year’s Camp Cal has a different twist.
Some of the players have taken it a step further by forming the aforementioned “Breakfast Club,” a group that has taken it upon themselves to lift in the morning and then go to breakfast together.
“Michael Jordan did that Breakfast Club,” Calipari said. “They met at 6 a.m., they trained, the stretched, they had a personal trainer and then they ate breakfast and then they went to practice. They did it every day, including game day. So we have four guys doing it right now. Hopefully, a couple more guys will step up and start doing the breakfast club.”
The idea of doing things together seems simple, but it’s a form of team building. (In an odd sort of way, the idea of players coming together is kind of similar to the actual movie’s story of five strangers becoming friends, but we digress.)
A couple of days after Coach Cal said “too much of the stuff is coming” from him and that it needs to become more empowered, he seemed to hint that this year’s group is still learning to become a team.
“We are not bowling, we are not wrestling, we are not playing tennis,” Calipari said. “There is a group of us that started to build a bond that we are not caving in. We are in this together. That is a neat thing that has happened and the next step for us to becoming a better team.”
What: No. 3/3 UK (9-1) vs. Samford (3-6)
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK | Samford
News update: Jones’ status uncertain
Video interviews: Cal, Miller and Lamb
Head coach: Jimmy Tillette (221-206 at Samford)
Conference: Big South
Player to watch: Drew Windler (11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Series history: First meeting
Coach Cal wouldn’t disclose who was a part of the “club” other than to confirm that it indeed includes a freshman or two.
“It is a good group of guys and the guys that you expect to be in it are in it,” Calipari said. “Hopefully, the other guys will join in and do it.”
Part of the team building includes focusing on each other when they are in each other’s company. Calipari acknowledged that spending extra time with each other is hard with all the requirements the players have in addition to personal enjoyments.
“You are not on the phone while we are at dinner,” Calipari said. “Talk to one another. You are not on the phone; you are with these people. If you chose not to be with us, that is OK, now go somewhere else. But if you are going to be with us, we eat dinner and we are at breakfast then we are with each other.”
Coach Cal believes that if the players become a team off the court, they’ll play for each other on it.
“This team doesn’t talk enough right now and that is something that we have to get with,” Calipari said. “You know, bouncing on defense, playing for one another defensively. Not saying, ‘OK, my man doesn’t have it I am stopping.’ That is all stuff that we have to get going with this group.”
The Cats will be allowed to go home after Thursday’s game to spend time with their families, but when they’re on campus over the next couple of weeks, the focus is strictly on this team.
“I told them, between now and January 9 you are playing basketball and you are eating and you’re sleeping. That is it,” Calipari said. “You are playing basketball or you are eating or you are sleeping. We may go four times a day. You may have breakfast, practice, dinner, practice and go watch film at my house. What else?”
Senior Darius Miller, who has been through two years of Camp Cal, embraced this time of the year and said he’s looking forward to it.
“We should benefit a lot from this, especially with how hard the team works, how disciplined we are,” Miller said. “I think we should get a lot out of it. I think we’ll be a way different team once the break is over. All the kinks we need to work out, this is our time to do it.”
Sophomore guard Doron Lamb said this team is already a “family” and a band of “brothers,” but this time period will bring them even closer together.
“Everybody gets better individually and as a team,” Lamb said. “We’re always together.”
Kentucky continues its nonconference slate on Tuesday when it hosts Samford at 7 p.m. at Rupp Arena (televised nationally on ESPN2).
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