By GARY GRAVES
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes “Camp Cal” yields a better-conditioned and more committed team.
Two days in, the intense workouts have at least gotten the Wildcats’ attention.
With no early risers on the roster, Kentucky players have found it harder to awake for the 7 a.m. workouts than the exercises. Not that basic training has been easy, what with strength coach Ray “Rock” Oliver screaming at them as they run.
Then comes afternoon practice with Calipari, who instituted the routine after Tuesday’s victory over Samford. Despite a rout of the Bulldogs, he was unhappy with the Wildcats’ second-half effort and vowed to change their attitude and fitness.
Kentucky’s response today against Portland (3-5) could determine whether Camp Cal lasts a few days or continues into the Christmas break.
What’s important is that everyone is on board with the program.
“We weren’t in shape,” junior guard Jarrod Polson said Friday. “Coach saw that and we needed something to get us off our feet, I guess. Going in there in the mornings as a team is a good way to start your day off and I think it’s going to help not only get us in shape but create more team bonding, stuff like that.”
Calipari hopes the extra workouts result in 40 minutes of basketball from his young team.
He believes that Kentucky’s 5-3 start is because his players have taken minutes off during games. The Wildcats’ lack of effort was exposed Saturday in 64-55 loss to Baylor in which Calipari called out his team for failing to challenge the Bears on shots and for rebounds.
That loss was Kentucky’s second straight, ending its 55-game home winning streak and knocking the Wildcats from No. 8 to out of the Top 25 after 61 consecutive weeks. Tuesday night’s 88-56 drumming of Samford should have pleased Calipari, considering they shot 56 percent and outrebounded the Bulldogs 41-25.
And he was pleased, at least with the first half. Kentucky outscored Samford just 43-42 in the second and allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 52 percent, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
What bothered Calipari most was what he considered his team’s lack of fitness and immediately challenged his players to shape up or be shipped out of the lineup.
On Friday, he seemed encouraged by his team’s response to his back-to-basics approach.
“We’ve got a good group of guys, we really do,” Calipari said. “They just don’t know how hard you’ve got to work or what kind of investment you have to make in this sport. I’ve always had a couple of guys on the team that could drag others. We’re still trying to find that mix.”
Calipari’s biggest issue has been with players’ failure to work on shooting and conditioning on their own. Last year’s title squad didn’t have that problem, spending much off time in the gym.
Tuesday’s uneven effort, coming off a two-game slide, led Calipari to create a “forced breakfast club” in which players begin their days with training. With classes done and finals beginning on Monday, the Wildcats have more time for extra workouts.
“I worked out like three times on Thursday,” sophomore guard Ryan Harrow said. “I was just trying to get a workout in and I’ll work out tonight. … We want to be in shape. We need something.”
Harrow has extra motivation to exercise. He’s working hard to get back in the rotation after missing two games because of illness and two more while taking care of a family matter in Georgia.
Harrow has only a basket in each of the past three games but has averaged nearly 20 minutes the past two contests. That’s more than he expected and his development could help address Kentucky’s point guard issue.
Freshman and leading scorer Archie Goodwin (16.6 points per game) has played there most of the season but is better suited at shooting guard. Fifth-year senior Julius Mays (9.6 points) has been solid there but the 6-foot-2 Harrow appears to be a natural fit.
Eventually, Calipari hopes that fit becomes the operative word for Kentucky.
“I’ve gone back to more roughhouse practices which I normally don’t like to do,” Calipari said, “and gone through the conditioning to get them in here and work on them mentally. When you start working and you go for five or six days and think ‘I need results now.’ No.
“It may be a month and half before you really see. It won’t change overnight.”