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February 21, 2013

Notes: Dodgeball game loosens uptight Cats

John Calipari strapped on a football helmet, knowing he was the target.

Calipari had asked for the designation by organizing a players vs. coaches dodgeball game during Kentucky's pre-game shoot-around leading up to Wednesday's 74-70 win over Vanderbilt.

The game was created with one goal in mind: get his team back to having fun.

Which could include inflicting some good-natured harm on the one person they usually have to take orders from.

"I knew they are down there huddling saying: Let's just all throw at Coach," Calipari said. "And I'm like, you say when you want. There's a couple of you I want to throw at, too, now."

Who hit whom was beside the point, though, once the game started.

"It was a chance to step back from basketball and step back from all the pressures that's been put on us this year," guard Archie Goodwin said, "and just have fun together."

They had it. Calipari put on the helmet. Assistant coach John Robic emerged from the locker room wearing a practice jersey tucked into athletic shorts, blue socks pulled knee-high, and a headband.

But it was the players who beat their dressed-up coaches.

It was, perhaps, exactly what the team needed after two straight crushing defeats at Florida and at Tennessee.

"Everybody's spirits was down (after those two games)," said forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who was described by Calipari as having an "absolute cannon" of an arm. "Even in practice, you was trying to be, like, real peppy, but you still had that feeling and that taste in your mouth. It was just nasty and it was just a bad environment. When he came out with dodgeball, everybody was like, 'Oh! This is kind of like childhood right here.'"

Kentucky isn't trying to go back to childhood on the court. But it's important to "take your mind off things," Cauley-Stein said, in the grind of the season.

"You've got to enjoy what you're doing," Calipari said in explaining how he came up with the idea. "You've got to enjoy this environment. It's a privilege to be here. It's not a burden to be here and trying to get them to do that."

The dodgeball game worked, Goodwin said, at getting the team to have more fun on the court.

So they'll do something similar on Friday. This time, it will be Wiffle Ball.

"I'm cold at that," Goodwin said.

Calipari, however, was quick to make a prediction on how that game will go.

"I promise," Calipari said, "they will lose Friday."

Goodwin: I'm coachable
Goodwin heard the "uncoachable" comments. Heard it from his own coach, during the Tennessee game, and afterwards, too. Heard it from the media. Heard it from the fans.

He didn't take it to heart.

"I don't know if he exactly felt that way," Goodwin said about Calipari's message to him on the bench during last Saturday's 30-point loss that he couldn't be coached. "I just think that it was in the heat of the moment. Because I know that I'm a coachable person. But in the heat of things, a competitor like Coach Cal is, and he wants to win so bad, sometimes he might say things he doesn't mean. That's how I took it."

That's how Calipari wanted him to take it. He wrote the day after the game that he didn't truly believe his players were uncoachable. The very first thing Calipari said upon sitting down for his postgame press conference after Wednesday's win?

"They were very coachable tonight. Anybody hear any comments from the bench that we put on (ESPN's Pardon the Interruption)?"

Goodwin certainly looked more coachable in scoring 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers.

"Archie had a couple bad plays, but, he played better," Calipari said. "A couple bad plays, like, just why would he do that? Well, he's learning. That's why."

It showed against Vanderbilt. He made better decisions when attacking the rim, shooting 6-for-11 on shots around the basket.

"I think I played good," Goodwin said. "It seemed a lot easier to me because I just slowed it down and actually analyzed what was going on and how they were playing me. When I do that, I just feel like a lot of things go easier for me."

At one point in the second half, staring down a one-on-three fast break opportunity, Goodwin instead decided to pull the ball back out and set up the offense.

"I mean, if he didn't think I was coachable, I don't think he would play me," Goodwin said. "There are a lot of other guys on the team that can play. I heard it, but it wasn't something I let affect me."

New pre-game video debuts
Cauley-Stein had just returned from a class and finished a nap.

And he was supposed to deliver lines of dialogue for a new pre-game video to be played for the first time at Rupp Arena before Wednesday's game?

"I was like, 'Man, are you serious? I got to, like, try to do this with emotion? You can't catch me after I wake up?'" Cauley-Stein said. "I felt like I was goofy when I was doing it."

The end product, though, turned out to be well worth it.

"Our video guys, they're good at what they do," Cauley-Stein said. "'Cause, honestly, I got so excited after we seen it, I started tearing up, I was so excited. I was like, 'All right, it's time to go.' I think it got us boosted."

The video is rife with mantras that could be applied to this season and this team. The self-directed symbolism of what they were asked to say wasn't lost on Goodwin.

"We felt like that was another way of us showing we're turning over a new leaf and starting over like it's the beginning of the season for us," Goodwin said. "And you know, it was a great video. I like it better than the last one."




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