Now don't think it has been all hugs and kisses with Holsopple and the players.
"He's developed a real mental toughness that I thought we lacked at the start of season last year. Last year we were not strong," Smith said. "Now we are all on board. He has developed strength, stamina and endurance. He helped make them pull for one another doing different drills, taking them through things that forced them to have to help one another."
"This summer the weight room was probably one of the hardest workouts I've ever had," said senior Bobby Perry. "When we got done in the weight room, it felt like we just got off the track in 100-degree weather. We could wring our shirts out. But everybody was willing to do that, and that's the biggest difference this year."
All about togetherness
Now the Big Blue prayer meeting is all about togetherness, which is probably a good thing considering the rumored divisiveness that led to a 13-loss season last year and the departure through graduation and transfer of eight players from that team.
"We are spending much more time trying to get to know each other both on and off the court," senior Lukasz Obrzut said. "The upperclassmen are talking closely to the young guys. When a guy gets low, we encourage him."
Sounds good. But why didn't UK do that last year?
Maybe part of the credit for the team's sudden "good" team chemistry should go to freshmen Jodie Meeks, Derrick Jasper, Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter as well. The four are doing - and saying - all the right things. Maybe they are so likable and team-oriented it has rubbed off on their older peers.
"We don't want to think about anything to do with last year because we really don't know anything about that," Porter said. "We just came in and want to do whatever we can to contribute. We have learned a lot from the older guys, and they may learn some things from us. We are a team now. We work together as a team."
Say amen, Big Blue fans.
But will it continue? UK's highly-touted junior class of Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Randolph Morris desperately wants to play in a Final Four and validate their lofty rankings when they signed with UK along with Rajon Rondo, who left for the NBA and is clearly proving he's a unique talent with the Boston Celtics. However, it's clear Smith is going to make sure the juniors don't lose sight of the team goals this year.
"I don't think they should worry what other people think of them. They need to concentrate on being the best players they can be," Smith said.
The coach said he's the "expert" when it comes to determining their worth to UK.
One team agenda
"If they focus on what they can be and not what they were, they will be fine. They can't do anything about the past. If it motivates them to work hard, so be it," Smith said.
"They did come in as celebrated players, as most athletes do at this level. Some are celebrated more than others. We don't expect any more or less out of any of the other guys. If they can just do the things we ask them to do, they will be fine and the team will be fine. If they just focus on team and do not worry on what they have to prove, they will be fine."
Smith stressed he has seen the "one team agenda" that he likes and that players have been alert, prompt and eager in practice.
"I just want to make sure they know they are here to serve one another. We have got good players, but we want them to be great teammates. I can see that happening. Guys are looking out for one another, communicating, spending time together," Smith said.
So whether it is the strength coach, freshmen or more mature juniors, everyone at UK thinks team togetherness is better this year. The key, though, is keeping it that way in January, February and March, something UK couldn't do last year.