By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) —Kentucky coach John Calipari has been yearning for more time with his team this season. He will get that chance this month.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats (6-1) will play five games in the month of December, starting with Saturday’s contest against Fairleigh Dickinson. Kentucky’s schedule also gets tougher as the Wildcats inch closer to the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.
For now, the Wildcats are in the midst of “Camp Cal” and the players embrace more time with their coach.
“This is the preparing stage,” Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans said. “It’s just time for us to get better and become that team that we’re looking forward to becoming at the end of the season.”
Calipari said the sessions are geared toward training as his squad tries to “figure each other out.”
“It’s really in-depth and we’re training — that’s what it is,” Calipari said. “You’re not playing as many games. You’re training. We have a day off, we have three days, and then another game. And then, but then we have a day off and we have four, five days. So we got eight days between, really, two games.”
Although the Wildcats have four straight since a 67-64 loss to Evansville nearly a month ago, Calipari said his squad has a tendency to get “undisciplined at times, both on defense and offense.”
An emphasis of concern for Calipari behind the scenes is offensive rebounding, an issue that has plagued the Wildcats through the first seven games.
“We just got to keep working on it,” Calipari said. “…We’re not in the kind of form we need to be in when we hit January, which is when we got to be locked in.”
Calipari said the key is changing his team’s mental approach when it comes to rebounding.
“Your mentality has to be every shot that we take, the three, four and the five, sometimes the two, off guard, this is a miss,” Calipari said. “You got to train yourself every shot we take offensively is a miss, I’m going to go get it.”
Kentucky has steadily improved since its only loss of the season to the Purple Aces. Hagans said the setback served as a learning experience for the Wildcats.
“Everybody’s going to go out there and fight against you no matter who you are, especially if you’re a Duke or Kentucky, North Carolina, they’re going to be at you because they want to go home and tell their parents that they just beat a Duke or a Kentucky,” Hagans said. “But you know, the little teams are coming to fight this year. I can say that. You just gotta be on the lookout and fight back.”
Calipari isn’t a big fan of playing in the Maui Invitational. The Wildcats haven’t played in the prestigious event in more than a decade and that likely won’t change in the future.
“We don’t need to play in it,” he said. “… we played Michigan State. We got other games coming up. We always have a young team. You can’t play five top 10 games in your first seven games.”
Calipari said his schedule is more beneficial to the players than the fans.
“We schedule the way the kids benefit,” he said. “I know fans want me to schedule for fans. I schedule for the kids. At the end of the day we still have one of the best schedules in the country every year. Just can’t do it up front. You can’t.”
Kentucky has played in the Maui Invitational five times (1993, 199, 2002, 2006 and 2010) and Jeff Brassow’s tip-in at the buzzer in 1993 gave the Wildcats a win over Arizona in the finals that season.
Gametracker: Fairleigh Dickinson at Kentucky, Saturday, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.