By LARRY VAUGHT
If you believe Kentucky coach John Calipari there’s no reason to worry about chemistry issues on his team despite what happened Tuesday when UK blew a 17-point lead in the second half and lost to Tennessee.
Teammates Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards yelled at each other on the court. Hagans seemed to tell Calipari he would not go back in the game and then when he did go on his play was lacking. Other players just seemed to lack focus and energy the final 10 minutes.
So is Calipari concerned about the body language in that game going into Saturday afternoon’s game at Florida — the final game before postseason play stars.
“Nah, heat of the moment, some of that stuff. When you coach young kids, this is what pops out sometimes,” Calipari said. “And you won’t believe this, I get emotional so I don’t mind when other people get emotional. I get it.”
He’s right. I don’t believe. He might accept it but no way he can like having players yelling at each other in games or having a player refuse to go into a game even though — as expected — he downplayed the encounter with Hagans.
“Look, I’ve done this before: There are sometimes I’ll go to a guy and ask him, ‘Do you want to go in?’ If he says, ‘No,’ I say, ‘OK,’ we move on,” Calipari said.
“Some of it’s late-game stuff because I had to sit there when I played and there’s 25 seconds left in the game and you go, ‘OK, go in and get that guy.’ And then there’s the clock running down and no one does anything, and then five seconds to go you walk into the game and you walk in and he subs, so I’ll do that.”
Maybe that happened to Calipari late in games he played or maybe he’s had that issue in the final minute of a game at Kentucky. But this was not late in the game. It was not even midway of the second half when it happened with Hagans. So no, that explanation doesn’t start to explain what happened.
“We’ve got a young team that’s growing and learning and learn from every situation,” Calipari said.
Now that hopefully is true.
Maybe freshman Keion Brooks Jr. was a little more honest/open in his evaluation of what the team is doing to support Hagans when he was asked about it Friday.
“Just been continuing to let him know that we love him and care about him. We’re doing everything we can to help him. Everybody goes through their lulls, their bad stretches. We’re not going to give up on him,” Brooks said.
Again, that’s acknowledging the obvious — Hagans has had “bad stretches” even if Calipari won’t say so.
“We’re going to continue to let him know that he’s a great player. He’s going to break through and, like I said, just continue to love him and support him,” Brooks said.