John Calipari took away his players' phones ahead of win at Tennessee
John Calipari has been coaching basketball for decades. He’s experienced more praise and more criticism than most head coaches can dream of. Lately, he’s been dealing with mostly criticism, although plenty of it has certainly been warranted. After dropping to 1-3 in SEC play and falling out of the projected NCAA Tournament field, Calipari was in unfamiliar territory as the head coach at Kentucky.
But winning tends to cure all wounds. The criticism from just a few days ago quickly shifted into praise following the Wildcats’ 63-56 win over No. 5 Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday. To his credit, Calipari has been consistent with the game plan this season, knowing that a breakthrough was looming at any moment. He ignored any outside noise targeted at him and his approach with this team. It paid off against the Volunteers.
“I’ve done this a long time. All you that are shooting arrows and bullets, I’ve got bazooka holes in my body; they go right through,” Calipari said during his postgame press conference. “They don’t even hit skin. It is what it is. You can be mad, happy, sad. I’ve got a good team.”
While Calipari is well-versed in dealing with criticism, for most of his players, this season has been their introduction to it. The Hall of Fame head coach knows exactly how to deal with it at this stage in his career — you don’t achieve as much as he has without that ability. But a bunch of college students living in the “golden age” of social media? Not so much. He came up with a simple, yet effective, pregame rule to help his players avoid the clutter.
“I just want to be here for this group,” Calipari said. “Help them write their own story, not the other stories. Try to keep them feeding the positive. Forget the negative. I got a couple of guys I know are looking at the internet and I want to strangle them. Why? They’re not even — yeah some of them are fans of ours, but they’re not fans of basketball. Or they’re not fans of ours. Why would you read somebody saying something about you? Stop it.
“You know what we did last night? I not only collected the phones, I collected the iPads and everything else. And all I told them is, we’re getting after this tomorrow. You go and have a great night’s sleep and you’re not looking at anything.”
Whether the tactic was the reason that Kentucky won or not against Tennessee, it worked for at least one game. Calipari even added that he intends to run with the “no phones ahead of games” rule for the rest of the season. If he knows that a handful of his players are actively reading the happenings on social media, be it good or bad, it makes sense to turn them away from it when possible, especially in the lead-up to a big-time game.
The players themselves would probably prefer to have their devices with them anyways (what college kid doesn’t?), but if it creates positive results on the court, they might as well try it again.
“I feel like we needed that as a team. Everybody needs to go to sleep and wake up with the utmost energy, ready to go,” Kentucky senior guard Antonio Reeves said postgame. “The past couple of games been kinda rough for us, but doing that (taking away phones the night before a game), it might help us.”
“It helps people go to sleep earlier,” Senior forward Jacob Toppin added with a smile. “Everyone got a good night’s rest and it showed today in the game.”