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NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ã¢â‚¬â€ Perhaps it would not seem to be the perfect way to prepare for NCAA Tournament play to have a backup freshmen center yell back at the coach, walk off the court and later get a technical foul.
Yet thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just what happened here Saturday when freshman Daniel Orton, a player who seldom shows emotion on the court, got that frustrated during KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 74-45 win over Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.
Kentucky was leading 16-15 when Orton and UK coach John Calipari got into a heated verbal exchange for the second time.
The first time, Orton disagreed with something Calipari said but took his seat on the bench when he left the team. This time, Orton talked, stood and didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sit down. Calipari pointed toward the locker room and Orton headed that way with former UK star Scott Padgett, who is on CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s staff, trailing him.
However, in just a few minutes, Orton was back. He slapped hands with Calipari and less than a minute after he came back, he was back in the game.
So what happened?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was just something in the heat of the moment,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Orton. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I got caught up in the game. A few words were exchanged and he (Calipari) told me to go to the locker room to cool off.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make it all the way back to the locker room. I had to cool down. I came back, apologized and that was about it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Orton and teammates noted that Calipari encourages players to voice their opinions Ã¢â‚¬â€ and other players also did during the game even if they were not quite as demonstrative as Orton.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I really wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even talking to him the second time,Ã¢â‚¬Â Orton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was talking to an assistant. I did not go after a loose ball hard enough, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why he took me out.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But it is over with now. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something we can laugh about and talk about. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just competitive. I really wanted to win today. We like each other. I just overreacted a little bit. Coach wants us to be like that. He knows it is an emotional game and that emotions will flare like that. He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hold grudges.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Believe him. Or at least Calipari sure made it sound that way as if this incident would do nothing to derail UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chances to win the SEC Tournament today or national championship starting this week.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s really coaching a team of 19-year-olds. There are some things that I shake my head at. But we got good kids. They’re just Ã¢â‚¬â€ they react to things wrong. They react to things on the court wrong at times, and that’s my job to teach them without trying to embarrass them,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But we’ve had things happen and guys say stuff, and you just shake your head. But he’s a good kid. He’ll be fine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How amazing is that, especially when Calipari seemed totally sincere saying it?
Junior reserve Josh Harrellson was inadvertently caught in the middle of the Orton-Calipari flap. He tried to keep Orton calm and even hit him a few times with a towel to get his attention while he was mouthing to Calipari.
What was Harrellson hoping to do?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was trying to tell him to listen to Coach because he will tell you exactly what he thinks. I said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœDonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let this get the better of you. Shut up, listen and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t walk off,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Harrellson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want Coach mad at him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the first time this year weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had something like that happen. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just maybe the first time in a game. Daniel was just a little out of control. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what he was doing or where he was going when he walked off, but I knew he would be back. When he came back, he played great.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Orton had three rebounds, one blocked shot and two turnovers in his 14 minutes of play. He also got into an exchange with TennesseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism that resulted in a double technical against him and Chism the second half a few minutes after they had exchanged shoves going after a rebound.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He said something and I said something back. Chism was saying stuff and doing stuff the whole game trying to get into our heads. I really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think either one of us did that much on that play to be honest,Ã¢â‚¬Â Orton said.
Instead, Kentucky let its suffocating defense the second half and improved 3-point shooting do the best talking in this emotional, physical game between teams that obviously were not going to back down.
Maybe thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why it did not seem like that big a deal after the game that an obviously distraught Orton had left the court Ã¢â‚¬â€ and then come back and had a chance to play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are no grudges on this team,Ã¢â‚¬Â junior Patrick Patterson, UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team leader, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Cal understands guys gets frustrated and he can handle that, which is one reason heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s such a great coach.
Patterson said he was not condoning what Orton did or the technical he got in the second half. However, he said what happened will not impact future play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you are frustrated, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better to go back to the locker room instead of saying more to a coach or player,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you go back, cool off and then come back, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m fine with that. We all are because we all knew how much Daniel wanted to win and in some ways seeing that emotion from him was not all bad because that fire is what it takes to win.Ã¢â‚¬Â