Cal vs. Clutter

John Calipari has spoken so much about clutter the last two weeks, one might think his Kentucky team was positioning itself for a renewal of the Hoarders documentary series.

John Calipari has spoken so much about clutter the last two weeks, one might think his Kentucky team was positioning itself for a renewal of the Hoarders documentary series.

Only the kind of junk he's talking about isn't piling up at the Wildcat Coal Lodge. It's mental housekeeping that has the UK boss concerned as the mid-January grind hits his squad.

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It's been a recurring theme for Calipari during recent press conferences, including Friday's previewing Kentucky's (14-4, 4-1 SEC) upcoming matchup with Georgia (10-7, 4-1) on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

"There are things that we're talking about that go beyond just the basketball," he said. "Again, the clutter they hear. A 100-man marching band, that band is step-by-step, 99 turn right. This guy turns left and his people, that clutter, says to him, ‘What's wrong with those other 99?'

"That's the clutter, and you've got to get beyond all that… (A player needs to say) I'm owning what's happening. I'm taking responsibility."

The challenge becomes even tougher when you recruit one top-ranked recruiting class after another and have drastic roster turnaround on an annual business. This year, Calipari is trying to blend in eight new players, many who were used to being the proverbial "man" on their old high school teams. Now they're dealing with fewer minutes, fewer shots and more questions about why one teammate may be playing more than they are. The noise can get loud from family and friends.

But it's not unique to UK, Calipari noted.

"It's everywhere. It's not just here," he said. "I know it's happening across the country. Everywhere. You can become delusional, and I've had guys do that. Like, you're listening (to the clutter) and buying it, and it's making you feel good and you become delusional. Or you can man up a little bit, own your own performance, listen to (the clutter) but understand this person is not helping me. Then you want that call less and less instead of more and more."

According to Calipari, every team he has coached had to deal with clutter. Sometimes it's external. Other times, it's between players.

"My good teams don't buy it," he added.

Is it affecting the Cats?

"It might have been," Calipari said. "… If it was, I think it's been addressed."

Calipari has hinted that sophomore forward Alex Poythress was a player who was affected by the so-called clutter earlier in his career. But he's on a roll now, having scored double figures in three of the last five games, including a team-high 16 off the bench Tuesday in a 68-51 win over Texas A&M.

"Alex now, in my mind, when he's 35 years old and something hits him, he's not going to blame anybody," Calipari said. "He's not going to listen to the alibis. He'll work on changing, and his quote failure won't be for long. That's what you hope you get from all this stuff, that you're teaching life lessons, that they use this."

Many have wondered if the slumping Willie Cauley-Stein needs a similar transformation? The Cats' starting center has scored only three total points in his last three games and played a season-low nine minutes against the Aggies.

"Willie, when you have it going good, you better keep riding the stuff that you're doing well," Calipari said. "If you embrace the wrong stuff, you start sliding the other way, and that's a hard slide.

"He did well yesterday, and I hope he does in the game, but it's like a diet – you do right for five days doesn't mean you're going to lose 72 pounds; maybe even gain weight but you're doing the right stuff, so you stay with it, you know it's going to work, and you keep marching. That's what I'm trying to tell all these kids."

All in hopes of making Kentucky the kind of team the college basketball world thought it would be when the Cats graced many preseason magazines as the No. 1 team in the nation.

"There's something that is going to get us to make this big jump, and it's not individual performances going up enormously," Calipari said. "It's our team play, both on defense and offense, really elevating. That's what's going to get us where we need to go.

"Other teams are well ahead of us right now, either because they are veteran teams and they are way ahead of us as a team, or they've just needed each other more than we thought we needed each other. So we haven't made the strides we've needed as a team, but we have made strides. We are getting better, but we are looking for that big leap. That's where the leap will come, when we really, truly start playing for each other.

"When we get there, you'll see this team make a quantum leap."

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Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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