Calipari is urging his team to not “drink the poison”


Kentucky head coach John Calipari addresses the media during the press conference before Kentucky’s open practice on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky will play Kansas State in the Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 22, 2018. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

As heading to Atlanta for the Sweet 16, John Calipari implored his UK basketball team to do, or not do, one thing.

“Don’t drink the poison.”

The term likely draws inspiration from Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, who instructed his team to stay away from “rat poison,” meaning stories and news segments produced about the players.

In the days following an upset-filled first weekend of the NCAA Tournament that left UK as the highest seed in the South region, some national outlets found UK’s potential path to the Final Four to be the easiest among remaining teams in the tournament.

Calipari wants his team to stay away from all ideas like that.

“There are no easy roads in this tournament. If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dogfight Thursday, and we’ll see what happens,” Calipari said.

He also said that seeds no longer matter at this stage of the tournament. According to the Hall of Fame head coach, when a team makes it past the first weekend, its seed no longer matters– a team can eliminate or be eliminated by anyone.

“Who cares about seed now? Seeds don’t matter. It’s who’s playing well. If you’re playing well, you advance. If you’re not playing well, guess what; you don’t advance,” Calipari said.

UK will face nine-seed Kansas State in its regional semifinal, a team that scored only 50 points in a win over UMBC to advance to the Sweet 16. Its head coach, Bruce Weber, is using the team’s media reputation in an entirely different manner.

After the team was “re-seeded” as one of the worst remaining teams by outlets covering the NCAA Tournament, Weber made sure his team knew and that they would remember that while they played.

“I don’t know if they saw it, but we made sure they saw it, and we put it up on the board. Obviously the game was ugly the other day, but I don’t think people appreciate what UMBC did to Virginia,” Weber said.

One coach wants to stay away from the “poison,” the other wants to use it to invigorate his team. One philosophy will carry a team to the Elite Eight on Saturday to play the winner of seven-seed Nevada against 11-seed Loyola-Chicago.