Friday, November 14, 2008

Two hours of organized chaos with Coach Calipari

If you've ever wondered what a John Calipari practice is like, the Memphis paper recently provided a detailed description.

One of Coach Calipari's traditions is having his players use hand sanitizer during practice to help keep guys from getting sick. "I don’t want anything to get in the way of us having a good season," says Coach Cal.

According to the article:

There is an element of structure and control at work here that he appreciates, considering how he directs two-plus hours of organized chaos most afternoons over the course of the winter. Practices at the University of Memphis are intense affairs, a mix of free-wheeling competition and meticulous instruction.

At one point during the practice, Coach Calipari spends "10 minutes dissecting the finer points of working through a screen. The key for the defender, he says, is to 'stay connected' to the offensive player. Keep a forearm on him, Calipari says. Stay snug, almost hip-to-hip. Often, the screener will be forced to shuffle his feet to get a clean look at the defender and that, Calipari says, is a ...'Offensive foul,' they finally say in unison."

With a younger roster this season, Coach Cal "has been careful to take things slow with this group, acknowledging that he made mistakes in past seasons by jumping ahead too quickly — or, as he described it, 'blowing by all the stuff they really didn’t know.'

According to the story:

Calipari has kept all of his practice plans since he started his head coaching career at Massachusetts in 1988. The plans from his eight years at UMass and two-plus seasons with the New Jersey Nets are stored in boxes at his home. The plans from his eight seasons with the Tigers are stacked in binders in his office, and he refers to them all the time.

“If you came in and looked at my early-season practice plans from even four or five years ago, you’d say we do a lot more now,” Calipari said. “We’re a little farther ahead in what we’re trying to teach, and I have a better feel for what I want to get in. We’re more efficient.”

During a game or scrimmage, "Calipari said he sees what three or four players are doing at any given point. Larry Brown, who mentored Calipari at Kansas and now coaches the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, can see 10 players at once — and notice if anyone is messing up. His attention to detail, Calipari said, is extraordinary. 'I’m nowhere near that,' Calipari said. So if he misses something, he has a backup plan: A student manager films practice from a perch high above the court, and Calipari reviews the DVD at home that night.

Here's how the story concludes:

5:19 p.m.: As practice draws to a close, Calipari takes a seat at his table and tells his players to gather around. He says he is pleased with the effort, but they are making too many of the same mistakes again and again. He craves consistent effort and daily improvement.

He tells a story about how the Phoenix Suns’ Amare Stoudemire, in town over the summer, worked out at the Finch Center for two hours and spent one of those hours working on his skip pass. Skip pass after skip pass, until he was pleased with his progress.

The breakdown: As much as the team can accomplish at practice, Calipari knows his players need to get into the gym on their own and work on their games.

“Some guys are getting the message,” Anderson said. “But that’s something everybody will need to pick up on eventually.”

Because sometimes, the most important work for a team with title aspirations gets done when nobody — not even Calipari — is watching.