Kentucky's run of 17 straight NCAA tournament appearances ended last season, which is why John Calipari is now the Wildcats' coach and Billy Gillespie isn't.
Calipari is doing things in a different way in preparation for his first season at the helm of one of college basketball's most-storied programs. Instead of running the types of practices Gillespie liked, ones that often resembled football scrimmages or rugby scrums, Calipari is conducting more normal basketball workouts that emphasize execution instead of toughness.
"I'm not trying to beat these guys down," Calipari told the Lexington Herald-Standard. "What I'm trying to do is build them up. I'm trying to get them to dream. I want them to think outside of where they thought the past couple of years. I want them to think they can do special things if they choose to do them."
Calipari has brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation despite getting a late start after leaving Memphis. John Wall was considered the top high-school senior in the nation by some analysts; he is joined by fellow guards Eric Bledsoe and Jon Hood, forward DeMarcus Cousins and center Daniel Orton.
Wall and either Bledsoe or Hood will likely comprise the starting backcourt to complement the three returning starters, all forwards: seniors Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris, and junior Patrick Patterson. Last season, Patterson was 39th in the nation in true shooting percentage (63.7), 40th in offensive rating (122.4) and 52nd in effective field goal percentage (60.3). Stevenson was 87th in block percentage (6.9).
"Our freshmen think they poop ice cream right now," Calipari said. "They think they're going to win every game. We have to get the returning players to dream big again and dream like Kentucky players have always dreamed. They seem a little beat down."
Perhaps the holdover Wildcats' attitudes can be changed by reading their coach's first effort as an author, a newly released book called Bounce Back that encourages readers how to deal with setbacks in life.
"It's a real chance to say, 'Can you make a difference in people's lives?'" Calipari said. "I feel it when I'm coaching basketball. That's why I love what I do. But that's 100 players in my lifetime. I'm 50. What if it becomes 100,000 because of the book? Hopefully, a lot of good can come from this."
Florida State seemed to get the bad end of the deal when the Atlantic Coast Conference recently released its 2009-10 schedule. The Seminoles will face Duke and North Carolina only once each, and both games will be on the road.
Coach Leonard Hamilton is hopeful the lack of the ACC's two marquee teams visiting Tallahassee will not have an negative effect on attendance, particularly after Florida State snapped an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.
"We hope our fans get to the point where they are more excited about watching Florida State's basketball team play as opposed to who we're playing," Hamilton told the Tallahassee Democrat. "I'm positive that we have the caliber of players now that I think people can get excited about."
Florida State has three returning starters in sophomore forward Chris Singleton, sophomore center Solomon Alabi and junior guard Derwin Kitchen. Alabi was 16th in the country in block percentage (10.5) last season.
The Seminoles went 4-0 on a trip to Spain last month. Sophomore guard Deividas Dulkys was the leading scorer with a 19.0 average after averaging 3.6 points and 13.3 minutes a game last season.
Mississippi State survived a scare last week when senior center Jarvis Varnado became nauseous during a workout and had to be hospitalized overnight. Test did not reveal why Varnado fell ill but doctors have cleared him to take part in full workouts.
Varnado led the nation in block percentage last season (15.3) as the Bulldogs went 23-13, won the Southeastern Conference tournament and made it to the NCAAs for a second consecutive season. He played for the bronze medal-winning United States team in the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia in July and averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 10.7 minutes a game.
Mississippi State will have all five starters back as Varnado will be joined in the lineup again by junior swingman Ravern Johnson, senior guard Barry Stewart, junior guard Phil Turner and sophomore guard Dee Bost. Johnson was 64th in the nation in fouls called per 40 minutes (1.8).
Rutgers Guard Transfers
Guard Corey Chandler was Fred Hill's first major recruit as Rutgers. However, Chandler never lived up to expectations during his two seasons with the Scarlet Knights. The guard averaged 7.1 points in 20.6 minutes as a sophomore last winter on team that finished 11-21.
Chandler has decided to transfer to Binghamton, where he will have to sit out this upcoming season. He will be joining a program on the upswing as the Bearcats went 23-9 last season and made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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