By LARRY VAUGHT
With Christmas less than a week away, I thought it was kind of refreshing that Kentucky coach John Calipari started his Thursday media opportunity talking about the time his players spent celebrating Christmas with some special families this week rather than Saturday’s game in Chicago against North Carolina.
“Yesterday was a really special day for these players. We had Christmas for a bunch of families. They sang. They gave out presents. They met with the families. They served them food. They had conversations. They found out things about the families that kind of, you know – it kind of rocks you a little bit,” Calipari said.
“It was a huge day for our players. I always look forward to the day because I want to see how our guys respond.”
Calipari said former Cats now playing in the NBA are doing special things for others, including some that most of us don’t even know are doing it.
“Some of them are more quiet and that doesn’t mean the guys that aren’t playing aren’t doing things. They probably are too. It’s one of my favorite days of the year when we are able to do that for my players and for the families,” Calipari said.
Calipari said helping families also helps his players.
“It’s a big day where your joy comes from you doing for someone else. It’s not what you’re gathering; it’s what you’re giving. I’m just telling you, it’s – for me to see it – one little girl had lost her mother in an accident, being raised by a grandmother. Another family, the father lost his job in the hallway before he walked in to have dinner. They just called him and said, ‘We’re laying you off.’ Now, it may have been a layoff for Christmas, I don’t know, but he’s able to enjoy this and have these players understand, only by the grace of God that’s not you or won’t be you,” Calipari said.
“It has nothing to do with we beat Utah, we lost to Utah or who we have coming. It has nothing to do with that. This is one of those moments as a coach you get to teach more than just what it is in basketball. Kids did great academically. There was a lot of good news of what we’re doing.”
That led Calipari to emphasizing again that he likes his team maybe more than even some UK fans do going into Saturday’s game.
“We still have some things that if we’re ever to truly break through they’re going to have to start doing, and I’ll talk to them about it. Yesterday’s practice was good, but it’s gotta be more player driven than coach driven,” Calipari said Thursday.
“And you guys know every year similar to me saying you either win or you learn. When this team becomes empowered, that’s when they’ll take off. Now, I think I’ve probably said that every year. It’s gotta be team driven not coach driven. We’re still coach driven right now.”