By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
UK Basketball: Should It Be A “Players First” Program?
In 1870 a south Texas lawyer, Samuel Maverick, received 400 head of cattle to settle a $1,200 debt. As a lawyer he had no use for them so he had an employee “watching” them. He refused to brand them and instead let them roam freely wherever they wanted to go.
Neighboring cattlemen noticed the unbranded cattle and began to brand them and add them to their own herds. By the time Maverick noticed the error of his ways he was missing much of his original heard. He immediately sold what was left and accepted his loss but the name Maverick stuck.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says a “maverick” is “a person who refuses to follow the customs or rules of a group”. And of course the immediate question is “what does this have to do with UK Basketball?”
Much discussion recently concerning UK Basketball has focused on various players not performing on the court as they have been requested by their coaches. So much so that at a recent point in the season John Calipari said players had been told in a timeout to do one thing and immediately went out on the floor and did something different. Frequently he is seen wildly gesturing at the players during the games trying to get them to perform a certain way.
What makes that any different from previous years? One thing. Some of those players continue to start and play significant minutes while continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again. Selfish mistakes. Lack of effort mistakes. Lack of focus mistakes. After 27 basketball games players should be listening and working together to implement the instructions they are receiving. Some are and some are not.
One most recent discussion centered around the struggles of UK shooting guard Hamidou Diallo. Here is a quote from Coach Calipari, “Let’s think about it, It’s your son and he’s struggling. It’s your son now, not somebody else’s son. Your son. Would you want me to just bench him and say, ‘We’ll worry about it next year?’ That’s what you’d want me to do with your son?”.
To further explain his position he said, “I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you, and if you are doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you,” Calipari said. “That is someone’s son, just like the others. Now, it would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly, just say you’re out and I’m going with these seven. I’m just not going to do that.”
Knowing that some players aren’t doing things they are being asked to do leaves an interesting dilemma for a coach who is 27 games into the season. He can continue on playing players that don’t seem to want to follow the plan – or can’t – in the interest of being a “players first” program or he can put them on the bench and shorten his rotation to the number of guys that stick to the plan, give effort and continue to try to improve.
It appears from Coach Calipari’s comments he is sticking with the former. Here’s what he had to say about what he intends to do. “I’m the one that’s buying time for guys which may be costing us some games, but I’m going to continue to do it,” Calipari said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first, and I’m trying to stay that course.”
John Calipari is a Hall of Fame coach that doesn’t usually follow the herd. He does things his way, all the way. And like all coaches sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn’t. This year seems to be one of those years when the formula might not be working.
Another Hall of Fame coach – John Wooden – once said, “If a player’s not doing the things he should, put him on the bench. He’ll come around.” That philosophy seems to have been around since the beginning of coaching. Throughout the history of basketball that methodology has generally worked well on most teams but of course each coach must do what they believe is best for their team. After all, one of the reasons John Calipari is the current coach of UK Men’s Basketball is because he is a maverick. He does things his way, all the way.
Sometimes being a maverick can lead to new discoveries. Other times it can lead you into a ditch. Unfortunately during the process you never know where you are going to end up.