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As fall academic semester comes to a close, Cats set sights on ‘Camp Cal’ during break

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

John Calipari can’t wait until the fall semester ends on Wednesday.

“I don’t have to worry about anything academically — nothing,” the Kentucky coach said. “We’ll go 29 straight days four-a-days. (We’ve) got nothing to worry about except basketball. Right now, we gotta get through Wednesday.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari wants his team to get better over Christmas break (Tammie Brown Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari wants his team to get better over the Christmas break (Tammie Brown Photo)

Instead of leaving campus to be with family and friends following final exams on Wednesday, the sixth-ranked Wildcats (9-1) will stay in Lexington and focus on basketball and team bonding during the Christmas break, a period typically known as “Camp Cal.”

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe doesn’t think the team will have any trouble transitioning to the winter format and likes the idea of putting academics on the back burner for the next month.

“This time coming up is very important because we only really have to worry about one thing and that’s basketball,” he said. “If that’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, this Camp Cal should be fun. Last year it was fun for me. No school, just all basketball and getting better. That’s the things I live for and I’m sure the freshmen, great group of guys and I know that they love basketball, so I’m sure they’re looking forward (to it) too.”

In order to reap the full benefits of the winter workouts, Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said the Wildcats have to embrace the process and focus on getting better.

“It is a time when there really is no other thing going on other than basketball,” he said. “We’ll have a couple of practices. They get to go out as a team and rest. Cal mentioned playing video games. It’s a time for them where they can just focus on basketball. By that point, a lot of the stuff that we’re trying to focus in on as a team is in. Now it’s getting back to the individuals and becoming the best version of you. They’ve seen 10 and 11 times in the games and after 50 practices they know, this is what Cal wants me to be. This is what it looks like. Now we get to do that a couple of times a day.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Justus said “a big part of coming to Kentucky” for the players is being “the best version of you” and said the workouts are intended to help the newcomers make a bigger leap on the court as the team prepares for the Southeastern Conference schedule and the postseason.

“If you embrace that and are excited about it, it’s a fun time of year,” Justus said. “After that, the game seems to maybe slow down for our freshman because they’ve gone through a bunch of practices and then it’s game after game. Let’s slow down, talk about you and us, and not really have to focus on anything else.”

Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox doesn’t know much about the intense workload Calipari plans to unleash on his team and is taking a wait-and-see approach to the workouts.

“I haven’t heard anything but I’m pretty sure no one likes three practices in a day so we’ll just see how that goes when it comes,” Fox said.

Although nearly two months into the season, Briscoe said the Wildcats haven’t reached a comfort level on the court, a process that’s still ongoing for Calipari’s squad.

“We’re still in the beginning of the season (and) guys are still getting better,” the sophomore guard said. “We’re still jelling as a team and we just focus on getting better every day collectively as a team. When March comes around, we’ll focus on March. But right now we’re focused on the next game and just getting better.”

In addition to adjusting to a new practice routine, the Wildcats face a tough stretch before Christmas, with games against No. 7 North Carolina at Las Vegas on Saturday, following by a road encounter at 11th-ranked Louisville Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center.

“We just have a ways to go,” Calipari said. “We got some things we gotta figure out.”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. North Carolina at Las Vegas, 5:45 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS (Channel 27), 98.1 WBUL

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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