Yesterday, I attended my third-straight Women’s Clinic at Memorial Coliseum, and for the third-straight year, had a blast. Here are my eleven takeaways from the Clinic, which was my favorite one yet.
1) I feel better about John Calipari staying now than when I walked in
Earlier today, I shared Cal’s comments about wanting to leave UK having generated $3 billion for his former players and their families in the NBA. Cal said he had an epiphany two weeks ago after a friend shared data with him about how much his former players are earning, which opened his eyes to how much he’s been able to change lives in his current position. Cal said that he’s on a mission over the next 5-7 years to generate $3 billion for his former players’ families, which he says has never been done in the history of the sport. “It kind of changed how I see things. I’m chasing this now,” he told the ladies. We all know Cal loves challenges, and as the head coach at Kentucky, I think he’s in a better position to influence players and help them achieve their dreams than in the NBA. Coming into yesterday, I was one of those who believed Calipari may leave after this season, but coming into today, I believe he’s so passionate about what he’s able to do and the power of his current position that he’ll stay for longer. Maybe not five to seven years as he said, but longer than one.
2) “Let them eat first” is the new “Players first”
From the sign on the locker room door to all of the drills the players did on the court, it is clear that the team is focusing on next weekend’s NBA Combine. Cal told us that the Combine, which will take place October 10-11, is his way of showing the players he has their back, or “letting them eat first.” In typical Cal fashion, he went on a five-minute rant about how “letting the players eat first” has led to the most successful five-year run in UK basketball history. And if the haters want to keep hating? Go right ahead. “So then they say is ‘All he cares about getting guys in the NBA.’ If that’s how they tag me on my tombstone, it will say ‘He only cares about getting players in the NBA.’ Not a bad little tagline if you ask me. So, the combine was an idea with that in mind. How do I let these kids know I have your back? I’m letting you eat first.” Get ready to hear that A LOT this season.
3) Karl Towns is Rock Oliver’s favorite player to pick on
Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, and Karl Towns helped out Rock Oliver during his demonstration, which included giant ropes, medicine balls, and other equipment. The ropes were the most entertaining to watch. Here’s Tyler Ulis on the ropes, which are being weighed down by Karl Towns on the stationary bike.
Rock had Karl also do the ropes, but in a more difficult maneuver where you throw both ropes up from side to side with your hands together. Rock made Karl do a speed agility drill that the players will do during the NBA Combine several times, and this was only at one of the three stations at the camp. At this point, it was becoming clear that Karl was Rock’s favorite player to pick on. Rock joked that he likes to pick on Karl because “Karl loves himself so much,” but I had to laugh when Karl came over to me and Jennifer Palumbo to tell us how Rock challenged him to do 100 pushups in front of the crowd, and only let him stop when he got to 50. Karl was so exhausted after one drill he had to take a break behind the basket, resulting in this picture which may be the saddest one ever taken of him:
4) You women are crazy about your autographs
Inevitably, one of the biggest draws of the Women’s Clinic (or any Calipari clinic) is the chance to get autographs from the players and coaches. Women started lining up outside the Joe Craft Center at 6 a.m. to get an early jump on the autograph session, which took place from 1 – 3 p.m. during registration. The team set everything up as best they could to make the process go smoothly, creating a giant assembly line on the Memorial Coliseum floor, but chaos still crept in. Both Calipari and Robic had to get on the mic several times to attempt to organize the crowd, and at one point, there were some ladies yelling and accusing each other of cutting in line. At one point, Robic threw up his hands and looked around helplessly. You women are crazy.
5) Dominique and Dakari were the only ones brave enough to dance
The organizers of the clinic brought back the Fashion Show this year, a crowd favorite, and it did not disappoint, even if most of the players were afraid to dance. I filmed it all and made a highlight reel for you guys, which includes Dakari and Dominique dancing, Marcus Lee revealing EJ Floreal’s favorite movie, and Tyler Ulis looking like a little blueberry in a puffer jacket. Jennifer Palumbo and her co-host Marcus Lee did their best to get all of the guys to bust a move for the ladies, but only Dakari and Dominique were brave enough, and the latter only after his entire team and the crowd pressured him into it. It’s still one of my favorite parts of the night.
6) Seeing the team watching the Michigan game was a really cool moment
For most of the three hours, the clinic was split into three different gyms: the main floor at Memorial Coliseum and the men’s and women’s practice gyms in the Joe Craft Center. For those of you who have never been to the Joe Craft Center, the two practice gyms are separated by a lobby, where Cal holds press conferences, etc. There’s a TV mounted on the wall that was showing highlights from last season. As I was going between the gyms yesterday, I walked in and saw Aaron Harrison, Derek Willis, Willie, Trey, Alex, and I think Andrew watching the Michigan game, which was a pretty cool moment, honestly. I’m not sure how often these guys go back and watch that game, but seeing their reactions was very cool, and a moment that will stick with me for a while.
7) Trey Lyles looked fine to me
The crowd was treated to ten minutes of practice in which the team broke into four groups for 3-on-3s. The 3-on-3s were going on on both sides of the court, so it was a bit difficult to keep up with everything, but I did try to keep an eye on Trey Lyles since it was my first time seeing him play. Back from his mysterious leg injury, Lyles looked fine to me. Actually, he looked really good shooting the ball, nailing mid-range jumpers and threes. While he may be rusty in conditioning, seeing him hold his own against Willie Cauley-Stein in the 3-on-3s was encouraging.
8) This lady’s outfit earned kudos from John Robic
Robic stopped a drill in order to address this lady’s outfit, which he called “old school for sure.” She told me before the Clinic started that her fake tattoo sleeve was in honor of Willie Cauley-Stein, who needs to stop wearing a blue headband because he never plays well when he wears it. When Robic later pointed out that she was wearing a blue headband, she said it was the only one they had at the store. Regardless, well done.
9) Devin Booker’s shot is just pretty
Devin Booker didn’t have the best performance in the Bahamas, but back on the mainland, his stroke is back. At the beginning of the 3-on-3’s, Booker stepped back and nailed a three several feet behind the line, and his hot hand stayed warm throughout the practice. Mike Pratt recently said he was impressed by Booker’s form, and now, I am too. It will be a thing of beauty for seasons to come.
10) This team is happy and loose
One of the criticisms of last year’s team early on was that they didn’t look like they were having any fun. It took a tweak to change that, and I’m happy to report that the fun has carried over from the postseason and the Bahamas. The team looked loose, relaxed, and happy during the Clinic yesterday, which I definitely couldn’t have said about them for most of last season. The Harrison Twins, always quiet, were still quiet, but smiled and laughed with their teammates a lot, and for once, didn’t look like the weight of the world was on their shoulders. With fans, the freshmen already have the poise of veterans and fit in seamlessly with the rest of the team. It’s an interesting dynamic this year; with the biggest mix of experience Cal’s had at Kentucky comes even more of a big brother/little brother atmosphere. Marcus Lee, the team goofball, particularly loves to pick on the younger guys, introducing Karl Towns as “the guy that NEVER STOPS TALKING” and Tyler Ulis as “the little blueberry.” I know this stuff is kind of fluffy, but it was really refreshing for me to see the guys having fun and relaxing. After witnessing the low point in South Carolina, that will never get old.
11) This picture gave me goosebumps
It hangs right outside the locker room in the Joe Craft Center so that the guys see it every time they go out to practice. Maybe we should all make some for our offices.