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What happened with Orton-Calipari?

Daniel Orton takes a shot against Tennessee Saturday. (Victoria Graff photo)


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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 that’s just what happened here Saturday when freshman Daniel Orton, a player who seldom shows emotion on the court, got that frustrated during Kentucky’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 didn’t sit down. Calipari pointed toward the locker room and Orton headed that way with former UK star Scott Padgett, who is on Calipari’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?

“It was just something in the heat of the moment,” said Orton. “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.

“I didn’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.”

Orton and teammates noted that Calipari encourages players to voice their opinions — and other players also did during the game even if they were not quite as demonstrative as Orton.
“I really wasn’t even talking to him the second time,” Orton said. “I was talking to an assistant. I did not go after a loose ball hard enough, and that’s why he took me out.

“But it is over with now. It’s something we can laugh about and talk about. I’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 doesn’t hold grudges.”

Believe him. Or at least Calipari sure made it sound that way as if this incident would do nothing to derail UK’s chances to win the SEC Tournament today or national championship starting this week.

“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 — 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,” Calipari said.

“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.”

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?

“I was trying to tell him to listen to Coach because he will tell you exactly what he thinks. I said, ‘Don’t let this get the better of you. Shut up, listen and don’t walk off,’” Harrellson said. “I didn’t want Coach mad at him.

“But that’s not the first time this year we’ve had something like that happen. It’s just maybe the first time in a game. Daniel was just a little out of control. I didn’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.”

Orton had three rebounds, one blocked shot and two turnovers in his 14 minutes of play. He also got into an exchange with Tennessee’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.

“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 didn’t think either one of us did that much on that play to be honest,” 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 that’s why it did not seem like that big a deal after the game that an obviously distraught Orton had left the court — and then come back and had a chance to play.

“There are no grudges on this team,” junior Patrick Patterson, UK’s team leader, said. “Cal understands guys gets frustrated and he can handle that, which is one reason he’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.

“If you are frustrated, it’s better to go back to the locker room instead of saying more to a coach or player,” Patterson said. “If you go back, cool off and then come back, I’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.”

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  1. Dennis

    I am a fan of Daniel Orton. That being said, I thought that was huge lack of respect when he screamed at Coach Cal like that. You just don’t do that kind of garbage. I know Cal says its not a big deal, but it is. This is something I notice alot of with today’s generation of players and I HATE IT! Now that my rant is over on that subject, I am on cloud-9 after that dominating Beatdown of the Vols. So, does anybody want to say Bruce coaches circles around Cal now? HAHA, I didn’t think so! Great Win and lets bring home the SEC Title tommorrow! Go Cats!

  2. Mike

    Orton needs to find some offense and stop the stupid fouls before he takes on the coach. He hasn’t exactly lite things up offensively or defensively last few games.

  3. Karen Sprinkle

    I think Coach Cal does a great job of teaching his young guys. A lot of coaches would probably tell a player who backtalks to go to the locker room and not to come back. Cal seems to realize that guys get fired up, and lets them talk, to a certain extent, but lets them know who is in charge. And he doesn’t ask the team to vote on any potential discipline.

  4. Greg

    Being an old school guy, it is a little disconcerting to see the way some players talk back to coaches this day and time. It has become quite commonplace, I was surprised to see it from Daniel Orton. On the flip side it is on some level, good to see that the kid has a burning desire to win. I really like Orton and I’m glad he chose UK, we’ll more than likely have him patrolling the paint at Rupp for several years to come. Coach Cal seems to take it all in stride, the one thing none of us see as how hard he pushes these kids to become premier college ballplayers. Coaches who’ve had Cals success are very demanding, and push these young men, test their physical and mental limits, the payoff is we once again have 1 of the absolute top tier programs in the country!…..GO CATS!

  5. Mike


    Some very good points there. I think Orton has a tremendous upside and seems like a great kid from a great family. He has seemed to play so under control that the outburst was out of character.

  6. Jim Boyers

    If Cal isn’t concerned about this incident, then neither am I. If he wants them to express their opinions, like he always says, then things like this will happen. If Daniel was truly mad, he would have taken a lot longer to return from the locker room, if he returned at all.

    Do I agree with yelling at coaches? Absolutely not! But I don’t think it makes him a bad kid. He want them to breathe fire on the court and show emotion, so there is always a chance it will carry over to the bench.

    I’m just glad to be done with UT and to have ended it in such an amazing way. They are a bunch of trash-talking punks and I applaud our guys for showing as much restraint as they did. I’ll take 2 technicals any day to see 2 technicals on them, an ejection of one of their players and a 29 point embarrassment!!

    GO BIG BLUE!!!!

  7. LindaS

    Isn’t life good? GO CATS! 31-2

  8. Old Kentucky

    Orton is getting better every game. I am proud of him for showing a little fire.

  9. Greg

    lol…yes Linda “Life is Good Dear!”….You made me laugh out loud!

  10. lunchbox

    the number 1 job coming off the bench is to help the team and put the team before yourself. i watched daenell come off the bench miss a shot and then get a t. u cant do that when the game is on the line. that being said we got good kids and a good team and maybe i should just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the ride

  11. Jim Barr

    Larry, I have a question about the technical that Orton received with Chism. Watching it on TV, it didn’t appear that Orton was going to receive a technical until Pearl went ape-ish. It appeared they called it only on Chism (replays showed Dodson even patting the ref on the rear). SO, my question is: why the T on Orton? Did Purl’s livid reaction have anything to do with it?

  12. ronnie

    I enjoy watching the cats play that being said the thugs from TN got beat and pearl and hopson isn’t smiling so life is good in the bluegrass state again

  13. Sarah

    One of the most enjoyable games I have seen in quite a few years. Wow!!!

  14. Ball Hog

    Not noted much but Harrelson is a leader and a good influence on this team.

  15. LindaS

    Ball Hog…from an old woman’s point of view, I would like to see Harrelson playing more often! (and get back those cute trunks, throw those skirts away!) Greg, life is good, I have not felt this happy since 1998 and I worked at that ‘other’ school in Louavull and UK won the Championship. Wore my blue every day to work during the tournament.

  16. Richard

    In an interview
    Daniel said he was upset with Coach Antiguez, not Cal. I’m not sure what to believe — fog of war, downplaying the incident, but.

    This does show an emotional health to the team. From what I can see, we have a team that is allowed to express what they feel by a coaching staff that can take it. Coach Padgett walked Daniel back to the Bench and Cal high-fived him.

    With that said, I hope Daniel understands his coaches are due respect. When apologies were made I hope that was part of his.

  17. KY_Wildcat_AL

    Forgiveness is always good and acceptable.

    Go Big Blue!

  18. gmoyers

    Great discussions here. Surrpised me when this happened with Orton since we so seldom see any emotion out of him. MOre in a few days with some insights I might have on this.
    As for the T, I wondered too, Refs called T on Chism and then later add one on Orton. Even Orton didn’t know what went on that play
    But it was a brutal game to officiate. Never saw a more physical game with more talking.
    Did astound me how well both Cal and Orton handled the incident

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