Has Kentucky coach John Calipari changed the way he treats players this year?
Calipari apologized on his Twitter and Facebook pages Wednesday for a cursing freshman Terrence Jones during UK’s loss at Alabama Tuesday night. The tirade was caught on ESPN and it was not hard to tell what Calipari was saying to Jones, who led UK’s comeback from a 20-point deficit before the Cats lost by two points.
Calipari indicated he “got caught up in the emotion of the game,” but added that it isn’t an excuse — and it should not be.
Jones lost his starting job three games ago for what Calipari felt was selfish play. He had a team-high 17 points against Alabama, but also made four turnovers and took the game’s final shot when the play designed by Calipari during a timeout called for a better outside shooter to take the shot.
Calipari talked on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Monday about “calling out” players publicly when he sees areas that need improvement.
“In a very general sense, when I think guys should be better (I call them out). Terrence Jones could be as good as anybody in the country. I did call him out in that sense,” Calipari said. “They know I protect them. Whenever they do something dumb, you (in the media) shouldn’t know. When I say something publicly, it is not geared to anybody but my team. I do not talk in the media to anybody but my team, and maybe the Big Blue Nation.”
Calipari noted how some have indicated he’s thrown junior Darius Miller “under the bus” with his pleas for Miller to do more even though he’s averaging double figures in points.
“I think he should be one of the best in the league. Why isn’t he? I am not saying he is awful. He’s averaging double figures, but if you are better than that, why not be better,” Calipari said.
Calipari says his job is to push players to be better.
“You have got to play better each day. They are not machines. They have bad days. They get sick. They have five-hour bus rides. That’s all part of it,” he said. “But I think we are doing kids a disservice if we don’t keep challenging them.”
However, many seem to feel Calipari went too far with Jones — and Calipari’s apology would seem to indicate the same thing.
But one also has to remember that Calipari does things a little differently. I still remember being amazed early in his first season when players would seem to be yelling at Calipari on the bench — and he would merely yell back. Then a few minutes later he would put that same player back in the game.
Remember last year’s SEC Tournament when Daniel Orton left the bench after getting upset with Calipari and headed for the locker room? A few minutes later he not only was back on the bench, but Calipari put him in the game.
This year, center Josh Harrellson has credited his improvement to the extra workouts Calipari made him do for a Twitter message he sent out. Junior DeAndre Liggins was suspended for the first 10 games last year for unknown reasons, and he loves Calipari.
Recently I asked freshman Doron Lamb if it was hard to get used to Calipari’s criticism.
“I am used to having coaches on me. I had coaches like that my whole life. I am used to getting yelled at and being told what to do and not do. I am very used to that. It’s not a big deal. That’s how coaches make you better,” Lamb said.
What about Jones? Does it bother him?
“He does have a little bit of trouble with that, but he’s still fighting and trying to do better,” Lamb added.
Basically, Calipari was wrong to use the words he did to Jones — and he apologized for it. I’ve been to some of his practices, and his language is no better or no worse than 95 percent of the coaches I know.
He is who he is and that won’t change.
“I can’t change,” Calipari said. “I only know one way to coach and that’s to challenge guys to be the best they can be. That’s my job. If I don’t do that, then I am failing them.”