Cal on Bahamas priorities: Improve, familiarize more important than winning

Besides recruiting bonanzas and winning a lot of games, another strand linking John Calipari’s five previous seasons as Kentucky coach is his attempt to temper, if not defuse, the desire to not only defeat but dominate all opposition. So no big surprise Wednesday when he downplayed the importance of victories when Kentucky plays exhibition games in the Bahamas Aug. 10-17.

“Guys come here because they want to develop as players,” Calipari said.  Players also want to enjoy the experience of playing cohesively with other highly-skilled teammates.

Ideally, he said, UK players shift attention to winning after those two greater priorities are met.

“That’s the order,” Calipari said. “Not the other way around.”

Sophomore-to-be Andrew Harrison offered a mild protest. He suggested winning was a constant priority.

“Because I feel every time we step on the court, we try to win,” he said.

A smiling Calipari offered a plausible reason why Kentucky should not assume it will win the six games in the Bahamas. The opponents are professionals: The Dominican Republic National Team, reserves from the Puerto Rican National Team and a team from the highest pro league in France.

Of the presumably savvy vets UK will face, Calipari said, “Some as old as 37 (or) 38.”

That sounded pretty long in the tooth for a basketball player, but Calipari made the trip sound like going to school rather than the Caribbean.

“Which means probably shouldn’t win any games,” he said seemingly trying to suppress a smile. “I want it to be about development.”

Calipari suggested that his attempt to arrange professional opponents meant much stronger competition than usual. By contrast, UK’s trip to Windsor, Canada, in August, 2010, was designed to offer only token resistance, he said.

“Let’s talk about the downside,” Calipari said of the trip to the Bahamas. “It just makes our season really long.”

So, he said, Calipari said he would let assistants coach some of the games. He also talked about making five-man substitutions, playing “platoons” and six-minute segments of playing time.

Calipari suggested that the players might want as much playing time as possible. He said this UK team was unusual in the sense of players who want to play together as much as possible.

Usually, he said, a team will have one or two players “doing their own thing,” or a “goof ball” who look to do other things.

“These guys play just about every day they can play,” he said.