Kentucky Basketball: John Calipari And A "Player Driven" Team

Andy Lyons

What will it take to get Kentucky to top performance? Coach Cal thinks that being "player driven" is one thing.

So we've heard John Calipari issue the newest edict from on high, the idea that he wants the team to become "player-driven" rather than "coach-driven." As with all Calipari-speak, this is pretty easy to figure on the surface — he wants the players to run the team most of the time. He wants them to tell him when they want to do things, like Julius Randle telling Calipari to put him on Johnny O'Bryant III during the overtime period — that kind of thing.

I totally get where this comes from. Calipari has always begged this team, and his others, for more communication, more leadership. He's always asked his teams to "sub themselves," that is, to indicate when they need to come out and rest versus just toughing it out and losing their man because they are tired. There is nothing whatsoever offensive about this "player-driven" preference by Calipari — it has all kinds of benefits from helping them communicate better with each other, helping them communicate better with him, and prevent a top-down mentality where players are just following instructions all the time.

Having said that, Calipari must let go of the team a little, and I think we saw some of that on Saturday. In the prior game at Ole Miss, I accused Calipari of overcoaching the team and I think he did — his activity on the bench went way beyond just coaching, he was pulling strings out there, and it was obvious at times that the team was uncomfortable under that arrangement. My exact observation was this:

Speaking of Calipari, I thought he totally over-coached this team last night, literally dictating when a shot should go up from the bench. I swear, at one point, I thought he was going to run out on the floor, take the ball away from Andrew Harrison, send him to the bench and take over at the point guard.

Coach Cal's demeanor was much different on Saturday against LSU. Rather than rampaging up and down the sidelines, he looked more like he was encouraging the team. Rather than making funny faces at players, he encouraged them when the chips got down. How did they respond? By doing what Randle did, and challenging themselves to defend LSU's best players, and ... winning a game they probably deserved to lose.

I have no idea how Calipari lays out his plan when coaching a team like this, or even if there is a plan at all. But he definitely changed his technique between Ole Miss and LSU. Will he change it again on Thursday when Kentucky takes on Arkansas in Rupp Arena?

I don't know, but it will be worth paying attention to see what happens.

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