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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Since Coach John Calipari arrived at Kentucky, many records have been shattered in men’s basketball. But what about with women?
He’s got that covered too.
The John Calipari Women’s Clinic broke a record Wednesday night for attendees at an NCAA women’s clinic, with over 600 participants coming from all over the country.
The first part of the night included an autograph session with all 12 players on the team. Hundreds of women stood in a line (some for two hours) that snaked twice around the Memorial Coliseum court. No matter how long it took, participants who were repeats from last year said that this year’s method for autographs was much more efficient. Last year, the players were separated, and participants had to choose which autographs they wanted. But this year, everyone just waited in line for all 12 of them.
John Robic, one of the main orchestrators of the clinic, was the one in charge of ushering the players around the line in an effort to make the process quicker. He kept repeating over the microphone, however, that they would not start the program until every last woman had gotten all her autographs.
After that process wound down, the rest of the night went much smoother. Ladies were divided into three groups and sent to either the men’s or women’s gym at the Craft Center or told to remain at Memorial Coliseum. Then, three groups of coaches and players rotated around the gyms and offered their own programs.
Coach Robic was in charge of running some of the smaller players through skill drills – Nerlens Noel was even still hanging around when the drills were ready to start, but Robic told him, “This is skill work, Nerlens, you don’t want any part of this.”
After Noel left, female volunteers were called down from the bleachers to go through the same ball-handling drills that Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Jarrod Polson, Twany Beckham and Ryan Harrow were going through (drills they had never seen before, according to Robic). Players were made to dribble two balls at a time – sometimes one had to be lower than the other, or they had to criss-cross the balls – and then the women imitated them.
Robic took great pleasure out of coaching both his players and the clinic participants. He joked around with the women who lost control of the balls and he even pulled one girl away from her drill to talk about her neon pink and green shoes.
After Robic and the guards finished their work, women’s basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, with Jon Hood in tow, came by to run a short conditioning drill and to give a motivational talk. She spoke of her friendship with such legends as Muhammad Ali, Warren Buffet and Michael Jackson, and what those friends taught her.
Being fearless was a key point of what Lieberman had to say – a piece of advice that has clearly gotten her far in life, as she became the first woman in history to coach in the NBA’s Developmental League. She also mentioned that she had seen DeAndre Liggins at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Media Day.
“I told him I was going to Kentucky and I was going to get to see Coach Cal, and his face just lit up,” she said. “That caused me to get a high-five from a complete stranger. Isn’t it amazing what a logo can do?”
The final ones in the coaching rotation were strength coaches Rock Oliver and Mike Malone, along with Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Brian Long, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Oliver put the players through the same stretches/warm-ups they do before they do any kind of running. At one point, when he didn’t think they were doing a particular move as well as they could, Oliver made all five guys go back to their starting point and repeat the process.
That never-quit mentality is one the players have taken from their strength coach: The team lifts weights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. No big deal, right? Well, they do it at 6 a.m. Oliver said that in his 28 years in the business, this year’s Kentucky team has been working harder at strength and conditioning than any other team he’s been around.
With that weighing on their minds, all the women headed back to Memorial Coliseum for a presentation from Coach Cal about how a typical in-home recruiting visit will go with his staff. According to Calipari, he discusses with the potential player that player’s dreams and aspirations, and then they move to the topic of academics. Cal makes sure the player is committed to finishing his degree, no matter how quickly he leaves the University of Kentucky.
Then, of course, there is the speech about being selfless.
“I ask him, ‘Do you want to win a national championship?’” Calipari said. “They all say yes. Then I ask, ‘Can you do it by yourself?’ They say no. I tell him you’re going to need six or seven others just like you. Now do you understand why you can’t shoot 30 times each game?”
After listening to the typical speeches Cal gives to recruits, clinic participants were treated to the very same video Calipari will show a potential UK basketball player. Only recruits (and now, women’s clinic participants) are able to see this video that documents the Coach Cal era, including NBA Draft footage, a UK-only “One Shining Moment” tape and footage of Calipari’s speeches at Big Blue Madness events. Several women even teared up over the video, showcasing just how much emotion they invest in the Kentucky basketball program.
As a few tears were dried, the women turned their eyes to what is generally considered their favorite part of the clinic: the player fashion show. Lights are extinguished, and with Jennifer Palumbo at the mike reading out fun facts about the guys, each player struts (and occasionally dances) under the spotlight as they display a particular UK clothing item. Whether it was the winter coat, the white golf polo, or the traditional jersey and shorts that were shown off by the players, the women were ecstatic.
It was the perfect ending to the perfect night, as lady after lady said that this was a better clinic than in the past. As only Coach Cal knows how to do, he continues to impress the participants of this wildly popular event – so much so that he was able to break yet another NCAA record.