A sequence in the second half of Saturday’s 69-59 win at Mississippi State displayed the kind of team-first passion that John Calipari wants to see from his Wildcats game in and game out.
Jarrod Polson seized an open driving lane but missed the shot, with his forward momentum leaving him as the player farthest away from the MSU basket. As the Bulldogs rebounded the miss and sprinted out on a fast break, here comes Polson racing back into the play, to knock the ball loose. The ball ricocheted off a State player and went out of bounds, giving the possession back to UK. That’s the kind of effort-based mindset that Calipari is pushing so hard to get all of his players to embrace.
There wasn’t anything on that stat sheet to leap off the page and explain the impact of the play of Polson and Jon Hood late in the first half, when the Wildcats came from four points down to lead by nine at halftime. It was that separation that turned the game in UK’s favor for good.
This performance should serve as your reminder of why John Calipari feels the way he does about players-only meetings for any of his teams. They sound like a great idea but what Calipari most concerned about is actions, not words. There was a lot of talk about the players-only meeting that Alex Poythress called after the LSU loss but three games later, many of the Wildcats displayed the same kind of effort that got them beat in Baton Rouge. Fortunately for them, it came against an opponent with considerably less talent.
The previous Saturday at Missouri saw Kentucky players flying around the court, diving for loose balls, fighting for crucial rebounds, etc. The passion carried over to the next game against Ole Miss but the consistent all-out effort was not sustained in Starkville. That’s why you see Calipari pushing so hard–because he knows that is probably the single biggest obstacle to seeing this team having a chance to realize the collective potential of all of that individual talent.
Calipari has praised Hood time and again this season, for the way he approaches practices. And when Hood got his chance, at a critical point in the kind of game the Cats could not afford to lose, the senior from Madisonville answered the call. Leadership isn’t only about being vocal. It can also be about setting an example. You see the way Hood played in his time on the court and it underscores the point that the thing that leaders need most is followers.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network
–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”