A new life: Freshmen must adjust



The freshmen will be freshmen.

UK will likely go through all the problems inherent in having a team dependent on young players. The team will start slow, could lose some games early and needs to develop an identity. All this is transparent at this point.

So let’s look at the freshmen group from two different perspectives: their adjustment to head coach John Calipari, and how chemistry is able to develop among a group of people who arrived at campus mere months ago.

Freshmen have a relationship with Calipari long before they ever come to campus while they are being recruited. But the relationship is that of a coach courting a talented player. Once the player commits, the relationship changes.

“It’s totally different. He’s nice to you when he recruits you, but when he gets you, it’s a whole different story,” freshman Doron Lamb said. “He pushes you 24/7, wants you to work hard.”

The intensity of Calipari, especially once he’s on the sidelines during a game, is a level above his practice tendencies. It’s something that caught the players off guard the first time they encountered it, against Pikeville in UK’s first exhibition game.

“They were shellshocked because I got after them,” Calipari said. “I’ve done it here in practice, but I haven’t been like I was in the game. Within 15 seconds into that game, it’s on. They were like, ‘he coaches this hard?’ That shocked them.”

It may have come as a shock, but sometimes a jolt can be exactly what a team needs.

“(Calipari) is a lot more intense during game day and we saw that, but it’s a good thing,” freshman Jarrod Polson said. “It fires us up.”

Calipari may push his players — think back to all the times last year he demonstratively instructed John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins or Eric Bledsoe or Patrick Patterson — but players have seen their predecessors improve under Calipari.

“All of the players that have come under Coach Cal have gotten better,” Brandon Knight said. “And Coach Cal is a winner.”

He’s a winner on NBA Draft Night, too. Last year a record five UK players were taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“He pushes guards into the NBA fast and that’s what I want to do so that’s why I really came here,” Lamb said.

For their part, the players are receptive to Calipari’s coaching.

“They are listening to everything we say,” Calipari said. “We had better make sure we are telling them the right thing. They are listening.”

Knight noted listening to Calipari was a strength of the team.

“That’s one of the things I think our team does well is listen and implement what he tells us to do,” Knight said. “I think we’re a smart team, when he tells us to do something we try our best to get it done.”

The freshmen have to do many things in a short amount of time. Learn the dribble-drive motion offense, learn each other’s games, learn what it takes to excel at the college level.

But they also have to learn each other, personally, and that will enhance the product on the court. Freshman Terrence Jones said the team has been hanging out since they arrived at campus, including roller skate sessions and playing Mario Kart. Apparently, hurrying to pick Donkey Kong so as not to get stuck with Princess Peach builds team chemistry.

And it helps that the AAU and recruiting world brings players into contact earlier and more often than ever.

“(Chemistry) all starts with AAU basketball, because we see everybody on the AAU circuit,” freshman Stacey Poole said. “We all get along, we already have a feel for each other’s game, what you can do and what you can’t do.”

The changing landscape of high school basketball plays a role in which players decide to go to which schools, and players become friends rather than acquaintances.

“It’s always good talking to future teammates,” Jones said of knowing his current teammates before they came to UK. “They could end up being your future roommate, like Doron was for me.”

Josh Harrellson has seen the new players bond with the entire team. He watched the same thing happen last year.

“We’re actually a lot closer than we were last year at this point in time,” Harrellson said.