New UK coach John Calipari said he wanted to change the culture within the Wildcat basketball program. Already, he's begun the process, installing his dribble drive motion offense, while evaluating the players he inherits from Billy Gillispie. On Wednesday, UK sent a signal that the climate involving news coverage may be changing, too, when the school gave local media members an opportunity to see, first hand, one of Calipari's practices.
To his credit, UK Sports Information guru DeWayne Peevey has tried to give the media more access to practices. Gillispie agreed in principle to change the closed practices with regard to the media, even allowing us to cover one practice during mid-season. But that shift in policy changed and we're still on the outside, looking in.
While at Memphis, Calipari is noted to have allowed media watch the first few minutes of practice. That spirit of cooperation must have followed him to Lexington.
19 players practiced for 45 minutes on the Joe Craft Center court. Michael Porter, who on Tuesday announced he would hang up his sneakers, was the only player from last year's squad to not participate.
For the first 30 minutes, Calipari instructed his players on the basics of the dribble drive: guards driving the ball to the paint, for either a layup or dishing off for an assist. Calipari constantly reminded his team to sprint to the rim. "Do not jump stop. Fly to the basket for a layup."
"Layup. Layup. Layup." Calipari must have shouted that phrase a half-dozen times to his Cats.
During one particular drill, the assistant coaches (Rod Strickland, Orlando Antigua and John Robic) used pads in an attempt to re-create the physical nature of play inside the paint. The Wildcats were instructed to drive for a layup, all along absorbing the padded hits.
"If you miss a layup, go again," Calipari told his players. "I don't care about being fouled. Make the layup."
During another layup drill, in which the Wildcats were instructed to drive down the middle of the lane, Calipari told his team the eventual goal was to get 50 layups a game.
"The minute I know I have a layup... shoot it," Calipari shouted another time.
One full-court drill, called "twenty-one," brought praise from Calipari. Mark Krebs, going two-on-one, drove past a defender and made a layup. "He's not thinking pass. He's thinking layup," the coach said, in reference to Krebs. It was obvious that Calipari would much rather have a player drive in for a layup, instead of dribbling out front or trying to make a pass. "I want you to try to shoot layups, then figure out who's open."
Perry Stevenson, a popular recipient of Gillispie's ire, received encouragement from Calipari. "Even if your mind isn't moving fast, that doesn't mean your feet shouldn't be," Calipari said to Stevenson during one drill.
Other players of note: Darius Miller looked comfortable in Calipari's drills. Miller continuously drove past a defender, either to get to the rim or throw a lob for a teammate; DeAndre Liggins often appeared out of control. On a couple of occasions, Liggins lost control of the dribble, prompting Calipari to stop the drill; Kevin Galloway consistently got by his man, but couldn't finish at the rim. He turned the ball over on several occasions, too; Donald Williams didn't have a particularly good practice. During one two-on-two drill, Williams had three consecutive shots blocked, prompting Calipari to declare that he'd never seen so many blocked shots.
Like Gillispie, Calipari doesn't settle for a player going half-speed. "We've got to get Perry playing at a faster pace," Calipari said, in reference to Stevenson's perceived lack of hustle.
During another drill, Calipari instructed Jodie Meeks to put more air under his layups. In other words, put the ball up higher on the glass. Calipari suggested weak side help would be there to put back any miss. Meeks missed the first time he tried the floater. Calipari asked him to shoot it again. This time, Meeks' shot found its mark. The coach told Meeks to "get used to shooting those for us."
During the final 15 minutes of practice, players worked at driving the ball into the paint, then kicking it out for a perimeter three-point shot.
After several misses, Calipari had more words of encouragement. "If you go oh-for-10, then you know 'I've got some work to do.'"
There was a positive vibe inside the Craft Center. Players seemed upbeat and handled the instructions well. The coaches, especially Coach Cal, were quick to hand out platitudes, when warranted. Granted the media was present, but in general, there were more compliements handed out in this one practice than in the practice we saw under the previous regime.
Orton in? Orton Out?
There has been much Internet chatter over the past 24 hours about whether Gillispie signee Daniel Orton is on-board as a Wildcat. Scout.com is reporting that Orton has asked UK to release him from his Letter-of-Intent. The move would allow the Oklahoma City big man to re-open the recruiting process.
Daniel's father, Larry Orton, told 27 SportsFirst that the reports are inaccurate. "It's a lie," Larry Orton said.
Evan Daniels, writing for the recruiting site, called 27 SportsFirst after seeing Larry Orton's comments on WKYT.com. Daniels says he has the player's voice on an audio recording saying he was asking UK for his release. Daniels then played the recording and Orton clearly could be heard saying he was going to contact UK about the release.
There are reports that Orton had contacted UK immediately following Gillispie's firing. Some suggested Orton should wait to see who would be hired, before asking out of his LOI. No word on WHEN Daniels talked with Orton.
With top-10 recruit DeMarcus Cousins committing to the Cats, it will be interesting to see if Orton "officially" asks for a release or if he'll remain a Wildcat.
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.