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Calipari says pickup games still essential to player development as many focus on individual workouts

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari is concerned about the lack of time players are spending playing pickup games compared to individual workouts.

“One of the things that I’m a little concerned about in this great game that we coach, kids are starting to just be about individual workouts,” he said. “My own son, Brad (Calipari), that cone has no arms. You need to play pickup basketball like we all grew up with. So, you play pickup, which meant you might play with five guys,or four other guys that you don’t even know. Or they’re your teammates that you just take your whole team to places to play, but you gain a feel for the game. How to space the court. You can’t do it in a one-on-one workout. You just can’t.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said he would like to see players compete in more pickup games as opposed to individual workouts. (Photo by Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today)

Calipari admitted that individual workouts have advantages, but would like to see today’s players spend more time playing pickup games.

“Your skills get better and you master your skills (with individual workouts), but playing pickup basketball and having some basic rules — you can’t shoot it until everybody cross the court, which makes everybody run, offense does not call the fouls, defense calls the foul,” he said. “If he doesn’t call the foul and he fouled the crap out of you, down on the other end, foul the crap out of him. So now we’re not calling it if that’s how we’re gonna play.”

The Kentucky coach said the biggest attribute to playing pickup games is by players communicating with each other and would like to see his team devote more time to pickup games this summer.

“You learn to communicate and learn to deal with situations that way,” he said. “The spacing of the court, you’re playing pick-and-roll or isolation or throwing it ahead and driving. You can do all that stuff. And I want this group to be playing pickup three days a week, maybe more. You need the individual work, you need to master your skills, you need to master the things that you want to use in the season. And there are some things you don’t do well. Well, work on those. But the reality of it is this is a game played five-on-five. This is a game that’s played with chemistry. Communication skills have gone down.”

He joked that players need to set aside their smart phones in order to get better.

“When you’re on the court, you won’t believe this, you can’t bring your phone out there,” he said. “You’re not texting a guy, ‘I went backdoor I was wide open, why didn’t you throw it to me?’ Bing. ‘I did not see you.’ Bang. ‘You should’ve seen me.’ ‘Well I didn’t see you.’ So you’re on that basketball court, your phones are on the side, and you’re playing and you learn. You’re communicating. You’re talking to one another.”

Staying or leaving?

Calipari was surprised when his son Brad entered the transfer portal even after the father and son talked about the process the night before Brad Calipari opted to consider transferring from Kentucky.

“He is still walking through it,” John Calipari said. “I didn’t know all the stuff went crazy. He puts his name in the portal – how does the media get it within a minute? That’s supposed to be for colleges, not for the media. But the media, I’m researching that. How does the media have all of this? It was out within 30 seconds of him putting his name in. The night before he says, ‘Dad, if I want to do this, how do I do it?’ I said you have to put your name in the portal to get started. It was a two-minute conversation. The next morning, he put his name in without telling me, his mom, his sisters, anybody. He just put it in there. He didn’t think anything.”

Calipari said he didn’t blame his son for considering the move despite the circumstances. Brad Calipari graduated in three years and received his degree last month.

“Do you blame him for wanting to play more and with knowing who is here? Has he gotten better? Absolutely, he has gotten better,” Calipari said. “Now, he can look around, and I even told him to look at Division II. What’s wrong with that? Go to a place where you are well coached, where you get a chance, where you are in a good league. You know Division II basketball, they’re just a little smaller, but you’ve got talented guys. He may end up coming back. He’s in the lodge and in classes, so he may come back.”

If Brad leaves, what will Ellen Calipari do?

“Mom said if he leaves she’s going with him,” Calipari said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Hope she was kidding. Maybe she wasn’t. The ideal thing would be for him to have more of an opportunity here, but you know, I’d love to do it, but that’s my own son. It has to be earned and you have to deserve it and you have to take what you want, and the other guys try to take what he wants, and if he is better than you then I am playing him.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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