CRAWFORD | SEC? It stands for Swag Exudes from Calipari at tournament time
John Calipari was loose and confident as he met with reporters before Kentucky's 2016 SEC Tournament opener against Alabama on Friday night.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — I don’t want to say Kentucky coach John Calipari is inordinately loose and confident before his team begins play in the SEC Tournament Friday, but he rolled into the gym at Belmont University Thursday, alone, to work out his son, Brad, a recent walk-on commit to the Wildcats, saw the assembled media standing around and said, “What is this?”
“I forgot I was supposed to do this,” Calipari said. “I was just going to hang out with Brad a little bit, and work him out. . . . Karl Towns’ family called and they were so happy, and I said, ‘I can promise you I will not be as hard on him as I was your son, because I sleep with that kid’s mom.’”
Let the good times roll.
That, for those of you scoring at home, is a sighting of what Kentucky fans like to call “Swaggy Cal.” They can define it better than anyone else. I’m not sure where the term originated, but I’d be willing to bet it was Kentucky Sports Radio, official curator of the Swaggy Cal archive. Whatever it is, fans know it when they see it. Certainly, they can define it better than Calipari. Kyle Tucker asked him about it Thursday, and he pleaded ignorance.
“I don’t know what Swaggy Cal is,” he said. “I try and be the same guy all the time. This isn’t life or death for me. You don’t look at me and say, ‘Oh my God!’ It’s not life or death because if it was I’d die all the time. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy these kids. I take great pride in seeing their growth individually and as a group. I want to win every game I coach, you guys know, you’ve been around me, but I don’t take it home. With my wife, she’s like some of you, she knows nothing about basketball. So we don’t talk basketball. I go home and we watch Alaska stuff. This afternoon when I left, does anybody watch Alaska Bush People?”
That’s at least twice Calipari has mentioned the show. One more time and they’re going to make him an executive producer.
This is Calipari at conference tournament time. He’s not the biggest proponent of conference tournaments. He wins a lot of them. But you get the feeling he’d choose the option to skip them if given the choice. If he played video games, there would be no “conference tournament mode.”
As it happens, there is something the Wildcats have to gain from this year’s event — continued momentum and confidence. They finished the season on a two-game uptick, which coincided with Calipari having his full roster available for the first time since early this season.
“Guys are taking responsibility for their own confidence and — are you ready? Competence, which sounds really close, doesn’t it?” Calipari said. “Competence and confidence. It’s kind of both. If you can’t make a free-throw, it’s hard to be confident.”
The good thing for Kentucky is that with everyone back, it allows everyone to return to roles with which they’re comfortable.
He has Skal Labissiere executing the pick-and-pops and hitting jump shots. Alex Poythress is a physical presence down low. Marcus Lee just needs to deliver energy, put-backs, dunks, blocked shots and rebounds. And Derek Willis simply needs to rebound, defend and make jump shots.
“What we have for the first time, and nobody’s really talking about it, is I’ve got a full team. . . . We haven’t had that all year,” Calipari said. “. . . You’re playing four guys (in the front-court). If two of those other guys have it going, then maybe one guy isn’t playing as much. But if the other team is going to play a lot of zone, Derek is playing, and maybe one of the other guys isn’t playing as much. But I like the fact that now . . . they can settle into who they are.”
When you have a backcourt like Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, it can lead to coaching confidence. Ulis is the SEC player of the year. He’s a first-team USA Today All-American. Murray is a second-team USA Today All-American backcourt. You don’t see an All-American backcourt very often. Ulis and Murray have been playing like it.
The Cats have some reason to be confident in their 7 p.m. opener Friday. They’ll face an Alabama team they’ve already beaten twice, by 16 points in Tuscaloosa and by 25 in Lexington. Even before the Wildcats knew their Friday opponent, Calipari felt good about where his team is.
“Nothing keeps me up at night, I’m comfortable with my team,” Calipari said. “. . . Like this first game, my guess is whoever we play will come out of the gate feeling the dregs of the last game, the momentum, but if you’re a confident team you should know that you should expect it. So this team is empowered. A lot of things they’re doing they’re doing on their own. We don’t run plays we run actions, so they can do that. So they’re playing with confidence.”
It’s like this. Kentucky had a mandatory shootaround Thursday afternoon at the Bridgestone Center. Calipari didn’t need it. The Wildcats were going to practice later at Belmont. But at least they could show up, have fun with the fans, and get out.
One problem. UK got there, and no fans were allowed in.
“I thought it was going to be open gym,” Calipari said. “I thought fans were going to be there. But it wasn’t, so we cut it short.”
No fans, forget it. The Wildcats will show up again Friday night, and this time, they expect to stay a while.
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