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December 21, 2012Forget the fireside eggnog or the holiday movie marathons. Forget time spent with old friends at parties.
The Kentucky basketball team isn't having the sort of winter vacation you remember.
The Wildcats are having a basketballs-to-the-wall break. There's hoops and food and rest in between, and there's not much else.
And nobody seems to be complaining.
"It's everybody's basketball dream," UK forward Alex Poythress said Friday. "You ain't got time for nothing else. You say you love basketball, so prove it here. You got no time for girls, no time for partying, no time for TV. It's just wake up, eat, practice, sleep, practice, eat, sleep. It's just a cycle coming over and over again."
There's a method to that monotony.
As the Wildcats prepare to host Marshall on Saturday, UK coach John Calipari's hope is that his players can apply the lessons of "Camp Cal" when they hit the court at Rupp Arena.
"They've done good," Calipari said. "But the follow-through, the carryover into the game is what we'll all wait for. Everybody's watching for the same thing. Every fan and everybody else is just (wondering), 'Are they going to compete at a really high level? Are they going to battle? Are they going to talk more? Are they going to play with more energy?' If they do, we're all going to be really happy."
Unofficially, the Wildcats are in their second week of "Camp Cal," a jam-packed semester-break practice schedule heavy on conditioning and practices. But last week, the Cats divided their time with final exams.
This week, there's been no such classwork conflict, so Calipari's hoping for a better retention than his team showed in last week's 88-50 rout of Lipscomb, a game that left Calipari wanting more intensity.
"It's just a mindset thing," freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said when asked about carrying practice strides to the game. "And certain individuals have to do what they do in practice, because if one person doesn't do it, it looks bad. It looks like everybody isn't doing it. And then that's when you get the question if we actually learned anything that whole week of practice."
The Cats are learning plenty, and not just on the court.
The team eats virtually every meal together during this break, and Cauley-Stein players have learned more about each other. They've swapped stories, including some from the veterans about last season's NCAA title team.
"It's fun when we go out to eat," Cauley-Stein said.
And in a way, it's fun to go through the ringer at practice.
"It's been tough but competitive," senior Julius Mays said. "I think guys have actually enjoyed it. The way we've been pushed is only making us better. You're seeing improvements in guys on both offense and defense."
Those improvements have taken work, and the Cats are logging plenty of it.
Mays, who started his career at North Carolina State and transferred to Wright State before arriving at Kentucky as a graduate transfer, said "Camp Cal" is a far different experience than he had at his previous stops.
"We stayed and had practice, but it wasn't as intense," Mays said. "We might have a day off here and there. But there's been no days off here. It's been non-stop going and getting better."
It's been rewarding, the Cats said.
Some players have reported nodding off by 9 p.m. from the sheer exhaustion of the days.
"That and there's nothing else to do," Cauley-Stein said. "It's not like there's anybody on campus. So the only thing you can do is rest. Sleep was a must, though. You would not be able to make it through this if you didn't have enough time to sleep."