February 18, 2013
Even back then, before the season had officially started, John Calipari was frustrated. Already, he was experiencing issues he didn't have to deal with in guiding his first three Kentucky teams, each of which achieved memorable success.
"I'm tired because I'm thinking all the time," Calipari said following UK's first exhibition game. "My whole day is how do I do this? I've had more individual meetings to this point than I've had in the last three years because I'm having to build guys and feel guys (out) and challenge guys and some guys hug, some guys kick."
He's still hugging and kicking his guys, trying to cajole them into a team that can make a stretch run for the NCAA Tournament.
It's been frustrating, though, without a doubt. From start to finish, Calipari has exhibited more signs of confusion, desperation, helplessness than any other season.
Because the same issues that Calipari said would need to be addressed at the start are the same issues he's still trying to fix. It's evident in looking at what Calipari talked about during preseason and early-season interviews -- and what he's still talking about now.
Following a 30-point loss at Tennessee, he said some of his players are "not really coachable." He backtracked on those comments Sunday in a post, but his in-the-moment words are more telling than his planned ones of a day later.
He didn't think it would be that way at first.
"We've got a great group that understood coming here, hard deal," Calipari said in a preseason interview. "Tell us what you want us to do, and we're going to do it."
His players seemed eager.
"We're all great listeners," Poythress said. "We're all students of the game. Whatever he needs us to do, he'll put is in a position to win. We trust our coach."
It hasn't turned out that way.
Because this team has been, to varying degrees, uncoachable. That's a difficult term to label student-athletes with. It's not necessarily an indictment of their genuine desire to learn, to be coached. It's just that, regardless of their intentions, the receptiveness has not existed.
Goodwin and Poythress are the two prominent examples, the two players that have given Calipari the most fits throughout the year. After UK's first exhibition game, Calipari said they were "fighting" what he was trying to tell them. They still are.
For Goodwin, it's his blind, twisting, ill-advised shots around the rim that have frustrated Calipari the most.
"The issue becomes he gets so out of control, you can play fast but don't be in a hurry," Calipari said after an exhibition game. "When he plays fast, he hurries, and there's stuff he's learning. I'm all over him."
He still is: After Goodwin attempted a similar shot against Tennessee, Calipari immediately pulled him from the game. As Goodwin sat down, Calipari berated him. He mimicked Goodwin's behind-the-head flailing shot and asked why he would attempt that type of play before saying, "I can't coach you."
For Poythress, it's been the lack of a consistent motor that has frustrated his coach -- just as it was in the summer and fall, when that was the one thing Calipari said he was trying to instill in the freshman.
"The thing we've been working on with him is he looks at his feet all the time," Calipari said in the preseason. "So my biggest thing is you don't look down. You're always looking up. We have lines on the wall at the practice court that if he's practicing and he does a drill and his head goes down, I'm just yelling, "head, head, head," because it's a body language that he said, you know, I didn't even know I was doing it. Like make a play and look down. Then it zaps us of energy. It zaps him of energy. That is part of the reason I think there are times in the game that he didn't have the motor. It's something that simple."
Simple to identify, perhaps, but not simple to solve: Calipari still talks about Poythress' lack of energy zapping the team.
The progress hasn't been there. The same exact concerns Calipari had about particular players are still hindering this team from reaching what it seems like it could have been.
"I like what they'll look like in March in my mind," Calipari said before the season began. "Right now, that's the only thing I can live with."
It's not March yet.
But it's almost certain that this team isn't close to what Calipari had in mind four months ago when he projected his vision into the future.