By now, everyone is well aware that John Calipari has declared the Kentucky Wildcats team "out of shape," and decided that the answer is three weeks of 7:00 AM conditioning for the entire team. But I think there is more to it than that.
We all know the stories about the "Breakfast club" that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist started last year, along with Anthony Davis, and how that idea spread to all of last year's NCAA championship team. Calipari has been talking in the press for several games now about the fact that this team has not "fallen in love with the gym," and repeatedly bemoaned that fact.
So why is Calipari so insistent on this? It's not quite as obvious as you might think. Yes, the Wildcats, I believe, are not in as good a shape aerobically as they might be, and you can see some of that during the games. Calipari, in general, is reluctant to practice for too long or too tough because it raises the potential for injury among his players, and an out-of-shape but otherwise healthy high-school All-American is infinitely preferable to an injured one.
With that said, it seems pretty clear that this group is unable to sustain their intensity, and part of that is caused by the fact that they just aren't spending enough time together in a team setting. Whether you are scrimmaging or running suicides, shared athletic endeavor is the best way for this group to bond, and develop a shared understanding. Obviously, Calipari isn't going to go all Billy Gillispie and exercise them into stress reactions and such, but he does plan to put them out of breath every day for the next two weeks.
That will help them in many ways other than aerobic fitness -- it will help them talk to each other more, help them understand their teammates' capabilities and proclivities. It also seems that the team has finally gotten the message and is working out on their own, led by Archie Goodwin. This is a positive development, and every minute they spend together as a team focusing on improving their skills or conditioning is going to yield far more benefits than one might think.
The time frame is also significant. Remember when I mentioned that this four-week period leading up to the Louisville game was an opportunity the coaching staff sorely needs to get these guys playing at a higher level? The 3 weeks Calipari intends to use for conditioning is also significant -- it takes 21 days for a habit to form. Coach Cal is hoping to create 13 Josh Harrellson habits, and it will work greatly to the team's advantage if that happens.
Overtraining is always a risk with young guys like this, who sometimes don't know that you can get too much of a good thing. So it's important that the team communicates their efforts with the staff to make sure that their time, both individual and scheduled, is spent to the best possible advantage, and I'm sure that will happen. What is kind of curious is why it has taken Calipari so long to make this decision? I don't know, and I wouldn't care to guess.
To me, though, this is exactly what this team needs -- more time together engaged in hard athletic effort. It will bond them, it will physically improve them, and it will improve their mental focus as long as it's done right.