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May 16, 2013Every year since he's been at Kentucky, John Calipari has had to mix together the talented newcomers with returning players, seeking the optimal balance to drive a team deep into the postseason.
With an even bigger group of incoming signees and even more significant returnees, next year's task is set up to be unprecedented in scope, even for a veteran of mixing and matching like Calipari.
"As we move forward now, what we're about to undertake has never been done before," Calipari said in Wednesday's press conference.
He pointed to examples of perceived superteams that took time to gel. The Los Angeles Lakers. The Miami Heat.
"It takes time," Calipari said. "There's a learning curve. There's a galvanizing process that we have to go through."
Going through it together will be imperative for a group consisting of six new players each ranked inside the Rivals.com Top 20 and three returnees who were ranked inside the Rivals.com Top 40 when they entered college.
"More than any team I've had," Calipari said, "shared sacrifice is going to matter in this group, and they knew that coming here."
Calipari and his coaching staff will go on a two-day retreat starting Monday to "primarily" focus on identifying what each player needs to grow as a player.
"Because every one of these kids we're bringing in needs coached," Calipari said. "And they need something from us."
He especially realized that last year when he saw some players struggle to acknowledge the need for change - or, even with that awareness, struggle to make the change.
It's a problem he doesn't want to recur this season, not when there are such high expectations and such enormous potential. It's the usual compressed timeline of getting this team to come together in a year, but the stakes seem higher.
Calipari's already begun thinking about what he can do differently to ensure this year is as smooth a process as possible.
He's been able to work with players from last year's roster for four weeks since the end of the season, time that usually is unavailable because his teams are typically still playing.
He's planning on bringing the team together earlier to watch movies together. He's already cited "42," a biopic about baseball great Jackie Robinson, as one he wants to show the players.
He's ready to test his "alpha males" - he said there will probably be two on the roster - and watch them demonstrate their leadership. Those type-A personalities were missing from last year's team, Calipari said, and he realized success was unattainable without them.
And he's going to push his players. The biggest thing Calipari learned from last year, he said, was that he couldn't try to protect his players by shying away from competition. He wants his group to compete against each other, even if it means some of them won't be assured as much.
He's doing things differently because this is a different team than any he's had yet. It's in the same mold, the familiar mixture of old and new, but on a grand stage and under a bigger spotlight.
"No one's given anything here," Calipari said. "You're going to earn your way. So we're doing some things a little different with this group."