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November 7, 2013
Calipari has time (and will need it) to get Cats ready
John Calipari was a man with a plan.
And then he scrapped it.
The Kentucky coach was headed to work on Thursday -- a day before his top-ranked Wildcats open the season against UNC Asheville -- and realized that what he had in store wasn't sufficient. So that practice plan was out.
"Tore that one up and did another one," Calipari said. I don't know if I've ever done that before."
He can afford to hit the reset button in November.
Calipari's team will play three games in the next five days, beginning with the Bulldogs on Friday and culminating in a date with No. 2 Michigan State next Tuesday in Chicago. But as he typically does, he's building for games further down the road.
"Look, I was thinking about it today, I was driving over here and I starting doing 'November, December, January, February -- I've got four months to get this thing right,'" Calipari said. "Four months. And if I try to do it in two weeks, I'm going to cheat the kids and drive myself crazy."
He has enough work to keep him busy for those four months.
In the short term, his to-do list includes broadening his team's defensive capability and narrowing its rotation.
"Long way," senior Jon Hood said of how close Kentucky is to Calipari's vision defensively. "We've got the main stuff in. We've got the stuff that we have to get in -- rotations, pick-and-roll. We don't have any zone in, don't have any press in. That's stuff that you can put in, but with three games in five days, you really can't prepare and can't put stuff in the day before a game, as far as defensively."
The Wildcats still are determining their roles defensively, still are seeking perimeter stoppers and shot blockers. They're still working to master the concept of team defense.
"Once we get to the part where everybody trusts everybody and you know you can gamble and somebody's going to have your back, that's where our defense is going to sky rocket," forward Willie Cauley-Stein said.
Kentucky's not there yet.
The Cats need "more effort, more intensity, more fight, more concentration" on defense, Calipari said.
But it might need fewer players. At least in the teeth of the game.
Point guard Andrew Harrison returned to practice Wednesday and is likely to play Friday after missing both of Kentucky's exhibition wins. He hasn't played since the first half of the Blue-White Scrimmage. Twin brother Aaron Harrison split the point guard duties with Jarrod Polson in Andrew's absence.
"It's like you're playing your football game and your wide receiver is your quarterback," Calipari said. "Now your quarterback comes back and you're like, 'OK, now guys are in the right spots.'"
But Andrew's return likely means someone else will lose minutes.
Calipari reiterated on Thursday that he likely won't play double-digit players in significant parts of the game, citing a conversation he had with former UCLA coach John Wooden about the perils of trying to play too many.
"You can't try to play 10 guys," Calipari said. "Now, you can try to get 12 in the game, but in the heat of a game, you can't play that many guys."
So Calipari said he wants "maybe eight, but more likely seven" players in his main rotation. The Harrison twins, Julius Randle, James Young,Dakari Johnson and Cauley-Stein seem like locks for those spots, and Alex Poythress -- whom Calipari said has played well in recent practices -- also is a probable rotation player.
Even with a narrowed rotation, Calipari said, "it may be two months" before his players become a unit, and he's comfortable with that timetable.
"So what?" Calipari said. "I drove in today and smiled and said, 'I've got four months; don't be panicking' -- as I had both feet on the panic button."
He likely won't have reason to panic on Friday against Asheville, nor on Sunday when Northern Kentucky visits. Next week's Champions Classic clash with Michigan State is another matter.
Still, Calipari is taking the long view.
"I've got four months," Calipari said. "I've got four months. To help this team put them in a position of how they're going to play offensively and defensively to do something special. It's just we are what we are right now."