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January 26, 2013

Notes: Calipari takes blame for UK's struggles

Coach John Calipari took the blame for his team's performance through 18 games.

In a post on his website following Kentucky's loss at Alabama, Calipari said his team still hasn't bought in to his messages - because of him.

He said he must be accepting mediocrity. He must not be training the players properly. He must not be communicating effectively with them.

"Over the years, we have always taken great pride in getting guys to accept roles, to play for their teammates and to play to win versus playing not to lose," Calipari wrote. "Our teams have always played tough both mentally and physically. This team is doing none of that right now, but that comes back to me."

His players disagree.

"I don't like that he takes the blame, because it's not his fault," guard Julius Mays said. "He's doing his part. It's us not doing our part."

This message isn't a new one. Calipari's taken the blame before.

"For us, we need to take responsibility and really change like he's saying," Kyle Wiltjer said. "He's trying hard, he's giving it all, and we just have to do the same and improve."

Mays said the players have been more critical of themselves in recent practices and workouts. They're tired of having their coach try to deflect responsibility away from them.

"As young men, as individuals, it's time for us to step up and let it be known that he's not the reason," Mays said. "It's our fault for not buying in and doing the things we're supposed to do."

Wiltjer becoming an 'animal'
If Wiltjer continues to improve, as he's done over the last three games, look to the Vanderbilt game as the pivotal moment.

Following that game - Wiltjer scored two points on 1-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes - he was mad at himself. Embarrassed by his play.

And he didn't receive any consolation from his coach. Calipari criticized Wiltjer's play after that game to the media.

"I publicly talked about him after the Vanderbilt game," Calipari said Friday. "Why did I do it? 'Cause I wasn't getting any change just talking to him and the team."

He said he's done it before to give players motivation and clarity.

"I'm not deriding them," Calipari said. "I'm just making it factual that if you look, this is what they're doing, and we need that to change. He changed."

Since scoring two points combined in the first two SEC games, Wiltjer has averaged 16 points in his last three. He's shot 54.5 percent and grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game.

Wiltjer's improved game has manifested itself in games in two ways: defense and shot selection.

His defense is still subpar, but Wiltjer said it's improved, especially guarding screens.

"Just being in the right position is key," Wiltjer said. "I'm not the fastest guy, but if I'm in the right spot I can take people out of it."

He's also transformed his offense on the court by working inside more. In non-conference play, 62.8 percent of his shots came from outside the arc. In SEC play: 42.5 percent.

The more he plays in the post, Wiltjer said, the more comfortable he feels. He was used in the post on four straight possessions with under four minutes to play against Alabama. And if opponents have to play him in the paint now, "it makes everybody else's job a little easier," Calipari said.

Wiltjer said he finally accepted that he had to change after the embarrassment against Vanderbilt -- and the embarrassing aftermath.

"I've been more vocal in practice and just kind of pushing myself harder than I thought I could push myself, if that makes sense," Wiltjer said of his change.

It's shown in practice. Calipari said he's screaming after dunks now. Sprinting up and down the floor. Blocking people out for rebounds. Fighting for loose balls in traffic.

"He is like an animal in practice," Calipari said, "just an animal."

Calipari participating in Coaches vs. Cancer weekend
Calipari will be wearing a different pair of shoes this weekend during Kentucky's game against LSU.

He's participating in the Coaches vs. Cancer suits and sneakers weekend, where more than 4,000 coaches around the country ditch their dress shoes in exchange for sneakers to help fight cancer.

He said that, although "I've got a lot on my plate," he recognizes the position he's in as Kentucky coach and wants to help.

He's also got a personal reason to help. His mother died of cancer in November 2010.

"The Big Blue Nation (is) charitable, compassionate, spiritual," Calipari said. "They are so many good things. I think that's why they asked me to do it, to engage the Big Blue Nation. And I think it's something that is good."

Fans can donate by texting the word "coach" to 20222 or donating online (each text will donate $5). Those who donate will be eligible to win prizes, including a chance to be with Calipari when he addresses his team before the 2013 Big Blue Madness event.


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