Lessons from the Master Clown, John Calipari

  • I know I’ve been guilty of slamming John Calipari a million times in online blogs. Many of us have given him unflattering names and descriptions. I’ve done it again by giving him the title, “Master Clown.”

    I created that name from watching plenty of his games, and John is a very animated coach. I see animation as a major feature of clowns, but in reality maybe John just knows how to communicate to high school and college players.

    (insert segue)

    We are about ready to embark on another great year of Kansas basketball in the Big 12 Conference. This is the time of year where Coach Self starts focusing playing time into a smaller and smaller group. This is the time of year where players that didn’t quite make the cut get placed away in the deep freeze on the far end of the bench and rust away.

    There are several quality players that might want to grab their winter coats about now. Not because of the current frigid temperatures outside in Lawrence, but because of the frigid temperatures coming inside, at the end of the bench.

    What players are bound for chilling temperatures and rusted joints?

    1. Svi. Svi has shown lots of promise, but he hasn’t shown enough immediate ability to contribute on a consistent basis.

    2. Brannen. Brannen had one game showing how hot he can be, but hasn’t shown it again. His defense lacks intensity, and he hasn’t had a steal all year.

    3. Hunter. Hunter has shown some promise during a few moments while other times seems a bit lost and slow in the game. His timing seems a bit off, and this has kept him from stacking up bigger numbers in his brief moments of play in the area where he was dominant at Arkansas; shot blocking.

    4. Landen. Landen is a starter who is slowly fading off the screen. He (and everyone else) has been awaiting the inevitable, for Cliff to come on stronger and take his minutes away. Will he take most of his minutes? Good chance of that happening, but Landen will surely be counted on in parts of the coming season, when Cliff finds himself in foul trouble or unmotivated play.

    (insert chorus)

    This leads me back to John Calipari, and his platoon system used to parse playing time.

    I’ve never given John credit for being able to win with a stacked deck. I’ve always maintained that a group of this much talent can probably win 25+ games a year being self-coached. We’ll never know if that is true or not.

    But I am about to break new ground here and give John credit for convincing his all-star troops that playing a mere 20 minutes a game can be a positive. Meanwhile, the rest of college basketball coaches has to plead with high school recruits and guarantee them a starting position with all the playing time minutes they can handle.

    When Coach Self was focused more on 3 and 4-star recruits, he seemed quite proud to lay down the law to the recruiting world: “if you come to Kansas, you’ll have to earn your playing time. There are no guarantees. You’ll have to steal minutes from experienced players who will have a preference for their experience.” We all see where that got us. CS suddenly found himself in a recruiting slump.

    CS finally broke down and changed his strategy. He was sick and tired of spending all that energy in top recruits and rarely landing them. None of us know what he tells recruits today (exactly). We know he has softened his positions, and we have seen many recent 5-star recruits start as freshmen.

    This all makes me wonder. Has he committed playing time to certain players? Right now my focus is on Wayne and Perry. These two seem to often bring the softest play to games (not always). Are they playing under the same high risk other players are playing under?

    Are we going to experience another year where we rust away much of our deep bench, ending the possibility we can use an effective bench later? Will we experience more transfers after March?

    We were all shocked at Conner Frankamp’s transfer. No one saw that coming. We all thought there was a possibility he could be “put on ice” for another year. He isn’t the exact profile player we look for in a perimeter player, and the one enticing area of being a sharp shooter hadn’t come to fruition. But Conner did have plenty to offer us. First, he represented needed depth at PG and the 2. He is a different approach from what we have now. He was less athletic and was small, but he offered a good amount of basketball IQ, something we often lack on the perimeter. If he was instructed to do something, he did it. He was disciplined.

    Conner was (and is) a Kansas Jayhawk diehard. But he is also a tough competitor, and he couldn’t stand the thought of rusting away at the end of a bench, even if the bench was at Kansas. Conner left for two main reasons: first, we ended up being lopsided with too many talented perimeter players, and most of these players fit a profile of what CS liked to recruit (and play) and Conner was not in that profile. Second, Conner had already experienced a year of Jayhawk “deep freeze.” I believe both of these factors made a compelling statement concerning his future as a Jayhawk.

    We’ve lost plenty of talented players to transfer over the past years. We can shrug our heads and turn up our noses and proclaim that these players just couldn’t cut it. But the facts are the facts. When we lose talent that has been at Kansas for a year or more we are losing experienced depth. We lose a few players early to the NBA, but when you combine it with the players we lose to transfers, we end up in a situation where we are never able to put an experienced team on the floor again.

    I don’t know what John Calipari does to get his 9 McDonald’s All Americans on board for playing half games, but he has now earned some coaching respect from me for making this approach work. Most of his players do not come from the State of Kentucky, and were not diehard Kentucky fans, yet they seem more flexible for sharing playing time and in the process have become a tighter team because of their sharing attitudes.

    What will make Kentucky a great team come March will be their depth. All of their talented players received plenty of minutes throughout the year, and will be ready (and fresh) in March. Will we be able to say the same? Or will we “ice away” several players now, only to not have options in March and face more defections after the season has ended?

  • Absolutely right about Calipari. Keeping all those egos in check and getting them to prioritize the team first has led to their dominance, and kudos to him for that. Kentucky will continue to stifle the opposition as long as he can maintain that attitude among his players.

  • @drgnslayr hate to be a pessimist but Im thinking the latter. Coach Self just has this maddening trait to stick with the status quo. That being run the hi-lo inside out game and stick with your 7-8 man rotations. I dont see him being able to let go of that. As a result KU might not be at its potential best come March. Now, conversely, if Self surprises us and lets a few of those wrinkles go? Maybe gives his bench some work and stuff? Who knows, they might win the league and be a legit contender.

  • @drgnslayr

    Like many predicted, once the games get tougher the platoon game plan goes away. Against Louisville, only 9 UK players saw playing time and of those 9 players 7 used up 179 out of 200 minutes or 90% of the available playing time…so much for the platoon. Once games get tougher, although on the weak SEC it does not seem likely, the platoon will be seen less and less and it will be interesting to see how the players that lose playing time react. Just sayin’…

  • @JayHawkFanToo he may win it all, but I would not want to play like that! No way!

  • @drgnslayr

    Nice stroke.

    No one talks about how K is keeping 9 happy.

    Or how Stumpy is keeping 8 happy.

    Happy persons are usually happy about something.

    What makes players not getting to play so happy?

  • As long as Self demands to use his system vs adapting to his talent, he’ll be second fiddle to Calipari. Self is trying to have the best of both worlds. It’s not working. Selfs team must learn to operate a tank to kill a rabbit when Calipari knows all you need to do is send five guys armed with M-16’s and let 'em go. Sick 'em!!

    Experience lost to young talent in 2012 two times.

    Young talent trying to learn to operate a tank got blasted by young talent with semi-autos in 2014.

    The game has changed. I hope Self get’s on board. He needs a new offensive philosophy.

  • @drgnslayr The Frankamp loss now looms HUGE. With Graham sidelined, Frank is playing at least five too many minutes…and on a painful shank already. We are bound to see a Gimpy Sherron before long if Frank does not get rest. How far will this squad go with a sidelined Frank Mason? YIKES!

  • @JayHawkFanToo

    That may be. Then he should have even a bigger problem. But will it become a problem?

    I remember how he hid Lee on the bench last year. I can’t believe that kid wasn’t playing 35 mpg somewhere else, like on another contender. The kid seems happy and always motivated when he comes in off the bench.

    Imagine we had 9 McDs AAs. We can’t seem to keep support players happy around 4 McDs AAs.

  • @drgnslayr

    Like I said, the SEC is just too weak and other than Florida on a very good day, I just don’t see any conference team giving them problems; it is very likely that they will finish the season unbeaten. However, once they get past the first couple of rounds on the tournament and the games become tougher, it will be interesting to see how players that were part of the platoon and don’t get to play in the biggest stage react. As I mentioned, 7 players used up 90% of the playing time against Louisville and it is reasonable to expect a similar play distribution in the later rounds in the NCAA tournament.

  • @JayHawkFanToo


    How do you feel about the dilemma Self is in about distributing PT?

    We have a young team, and I know Self likes to limit PT down to 7 or 8 so they get as much experience playing together as possible. And he feels this is his best shot of winning another B12 championship.

    Should we make sacrifices during conference play that could reduce our chances of winning the conference but help us in March? I believe this to be the dilemma.

    In my post above, I mention other factors, that by reducing the play down to less we may be opening ourselves up to more transfers. With the loss of transfers we also lose experience.

  • @drgnslayr BG and Devonte are hurt, or they would be in rotation. I still think Svi will get looks and Lucas w/slower bigs.

  • @drgnslayr

    Coach Self has always favored a 7-8 man primary rotation by the time the tournament comes around; BTW, he is no alone in this approach. This season he indicated that he might go to larger rotation because of the available talent; however, none of the players that are not getting minutes has really performed consistently enough to warrant more time; should Graham not be injured, he would certainly be part of the rotation. The two players that could see more time are Greene, which we all know is a one trick pony with multiple liabilities and Svi who has not yet found his stroke and has been wildly inconsistent.

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    What exactly is BG’s injury? Has it been reported?

  • I have a slightly different take on why Self and other coaches shorten the bench.

    I think whenever the competition gets tough enough, coaches go with their 6,or 7 best guys, because that’s the only chance they have against another team that is forced into putting its 6, or seven best guys on the floor, too.

    In short, its quality of competition that drives coaches to use only the best quality players they have.

    Imagine putting Hunter Mickelson, or Landen Lucas, on the floor against two top 15 big man draft choices either the first or the second half. It doesn’t make any difference how much PT you give them the rest of the season. They haven’t a prayer of getting you a W come March.

    You shorten your bench, whenever you meet a really top team and aim to beat them. Self had no intention of trying to beat UK the first game, so he played quite a few guys to see what they might do against top talent. It helps him judge which guys he should invest in.

    But whenever Self, or any other coach comes up against a team with talent as good or better that they seriously want to try to beat, then the bench gets shortened, because there are only a few guys on any roster that can play at the highest level.

    Remember that Cal shortened his bench once this season already.

    And he played with only 6 legitimate players to win the 2012 ring.

    When you play the best, you’ve got to play your best.

  • @jaybate-1.0 sore neck

  • @jaybate-1.0 @JayHawkFanToo

    Yes… I see it the same way you guys do. I just wonder about “collateral damage”… meaning… transfers.

    I know the stats show that college basketball is suffering with more transfers than in the past. It seems like something that can really hurt us if we continue to sign several OADs every year and then have a transfer or two.

    Will we ever have a senior-laden team again?

    Seems we have been one of the youngest teams in America the past 2 years.

    I also think we need to keep our bench “fresher” for March. We never seem to utilize our depth so we might as well not have it.

  • @drgnslayr who would you have put in yesterday?

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    I’m almost certain that I would have substituted more frequently. I would have run more minutes for Svi and Brannen (if his neck could handle it). I would give Hunter and Landen a bit of clock.

    I would try to push the pace, and keep the guys running.

    We really had UNLV in the open court. They were very young and undisciplined. I rarely saw a time when we were unable to run open court, be we stopped doing it because our guys were getting tired.

    I’d push pace and I would use my bench.

    Hard to say if we would have won with my strategy or not. I think we would have been successful in the open court, but I know players like Hunter are a bit behind the rest, so maybe it would be a trade-off.

    I always want to win a game, and I’d be careful who I have in the game during the last few minutes. But I wouldn’t have lost sleep over a loss to UNLV. I’d rather get my team ready for conference play and March.

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