What time is it?
Check your wrist watch. Or your cell phone. Or the lower right hand corner of your computer – whatever it is you use to tell time these days. If it’s sometime between 7 and 8 a.m., you know what the basketball Cats are doing.
Running. Sweating. Gasping. John Calipari has seen to that.
The UK coach watched his team take Samford apart for a total of 20 minutes Tuesday night in Rupp Arena. All 20 of those came in the first half, when the Cats outscored the Bulldogs 45-14 by hitting 53 percent and holding the visitors to 4-of-20 shooting.
The second half, Kentucky won by a single point.
It added up to an 88-56 victory but the UK coach wasn’t happy. At all. Mind you, he wasn’t angry.
“No. This is matter of factly me,” he said in the media room after the game. “If I was mad, you'd know I was mad. I'm fine. This is what they need.”
“This” to which the coach referred, was running. The only logical conclusion he could form after watching his team sleepwalk through the second half was a lack of conditioning, which will change over the next three weeks, thanks to a series of 7 a.m. workout sessions Calipari has scheduled.
“We're going to condition in the morning for the next three weeks and then practice, because I can't think of any other reason why you wouldn't come out in the second half and play,” he said. “I just don't understand that. Especially what we've been going through.”
During the first half, the Wildcats looked like a team that had lost two straight games and was sick of it. Kentucky blocked shots, stole passes, hit jumpers, talked on defense – all the good stuff Calipari was hoping to see after the road loss to Notre Dame and the homecourt, streak-snapping setback to Baylor.
“I like what they did defensively,” he said. “I liked their effort. I liked how they talked to one another. Second half, we didn't talk. No talking. We were back into what we were the last two games.”
And so, they must run.
“I told them I'm holding them accountable. I'm doing it in practice right now. If they break down, we run. Just trying to hold them accountable.”
And there it is. Not so much about conditioning, but about a mindset. And that makes sense to Willie Cauley-Stein. More than the conditioning stuff.
“It’s all mental,” the freshman forward said. “He is trying to get us more mental toughness. There is no way we can’t be in shape. Going through the offseason and even how practices are now, there is no way we are not in shape. It’s all mental.”
Cauley-Stein was the only Wildcat with a productive line in the second half, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. All that meant, according to his coach, was that his first-half effort was weak.
“He's 0-for-3 at the half, 0-for-2 at the free throw line, and like, two rebounds. Should I have played him at all?” Calipari asked. “Is there a stat sheet here? No, it's embedded in my mind. Second half, he played better.”
Perhaps, a reporter suggested to the player, that Cauley-Stein’s conditioning was superior, thus explaining his outstanding effort in the second half. With the moxie of a veteran, he didn’t even attempt an answer.
He’ll also approach the grind of the impending morning workouts like a former high school football player who’s gone through two-a-days in Kansas heat, which he has.
“If you dread them, then they are going to be worse,” Cauley-Stein said. “You have to approach it like it’s going to help you. A lot of guys don’t do that. You approach it like it’s going to make us better and in three weeks, it’s going to be crazy how good we are. If you approach it in a good way, then it is going to be a good outcome.”
And it likely will be – some time down the road. Unfortunately for the basketball Cats, their immediate future involves getting up earlier, working harder and trudging to class on rubbery legs.
Oh, yes – one thing more: The end of the semester is almost here. And that means none of those rules restricting the amount of time a coach can work his team. The coach is happy about that.
“We're sliding into Camp Cal time,” he said. “No classes, no time frame, no four hours (per day), 20 hours a week, none of that.”
Nope. It will be all basketball, all the time, as Calipari tries to will his team to better performances. But that won’t be for a few weeks.
For now, it’s up and at ‘em for running at 7 a.m. Think about that over your coffee and Cheerios.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 24th year with the UK TV and radio network, and can be heard each Mon.-Fri. on The Big Blue Insider at 6 p.m. on 630 WLAP-AM, wlap.com and I Heart Radio.)