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Calipari’s season-long goal? Developing nasty defense


Mike Miller

Forget the recruiting acumen and the point-guard development. John Calipari’s best coaching attribute is his ability to get incredibly talented, potentially ego-centric player to play damn good defense.

Getting future pros to run and shoot is easy. Getting them to play defense? That’s like getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on a health care bill.

Call it a mix of managing egos and motivation tactics that results in an elite defense, year after year. It was true his last four years at Memphis and it’s stayed that way into his third season at Kentucky. Calipari does it by emphasizing defense from Day 1 and reinforcing it throughout the season. That’s how the players buy in.

“You can be a good team if you’re a good offensive team,” freshman Kyle Wiljter told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “If you’re good defensively, then that’s how you win championships.”

“Just playing hard,” Wiltjer said, “and you’re working on defense. That’s all he wants.”

This all-access video from ESPN is a good showcase of Calipari in action. He’s aggressive and vocal about exactly what he wants. A guy screws up, he hears about it. Well, everyone hears about. And more screw ups result in some up-tempo conditioning. (22 seconds on the treadmill at 14 miles an hour!)

But it’s all for one goal – game-changing defense.

“It’s easy to get mediocre players to play together. They got to. They got no choice,” he told ESPN. “But to get talented groups, that’s the challenge. We’re not there right now.”

They will be, though. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are nasty. Marquis Teague and Darius Miller are great on the wing. And Terrence Jones is capable of superb moments.

Now, if only we can watch them play UConn…

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