Published November 20, 2014
John Calipari's word choice could have been better and he knows it.
The Kentucky coach, however, stands by his message to freshman Terrence Jones and the rest of the Wildcats during a loss to Alabama on Tuesday: It's time to stop worrying about your numbers and start worrying about your chances to compete for a Southeastern Conference title.
Cameras caught Calipari loudly swearing at Jones during a stoppage in play late in the second half. The coach later apologized on his Facebook page and his Twitter feed for his language and said during his radio show on Wednesday that he was "embarrassed" by his language.
By Friday he was ready to move on, more worried about Kentucky's inability to win on the road than any fallout over letting his emotions get the best of him. He brushed off questions about the incident, but reiterated the Wildcats (14-4, 2-2) can't continue to be selfish if they want to repeat as conference champions.
"They think being selfish only means, 'Well, I pass the ball, I don't shoot the most shots.' It's not that," Calipari said. "It's not what it is. It's doing what your team needs you to do."
And what the Wildcats need now is better communication.
There were so many breakdowns in the final minutes against the Crimson Tide that senior center Josh Harrellson doesn't blame Calipari for losing his cool.
"We messed up three plays in a row. You could see it happening," Harrellson said.
Harrellson didn't even notice the outburst and was surprised when it became talk show fodder. The way he looks at it, coaches yell. It's what they do.
"I didn't think it would get as much attention as it did," he said. "Every coach does it, so he gets caught one time."
Besides, Harrellson himself sheepishly admits he's received text messages from friends who saw him mouthing a curse here or there during the course of a game.
Yet there's a difference between a player doing it and a coach, particularly the leader of college basketball's all-time winningest program.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who spent a decade coaching at Kentucky, understands the microscope that comes with the job. Calipari is hardly the first Kentucky coach to get a little hot under the collar.
"In the heat of the battle, there are things I'd like to take back, and I'm always apologizing to my team for things I've said or the way I've acted," Smith said. "You don't know how you're going to respond in those situations. Hopefully it's behind him now."
It had better be if Calipari wants to avoid his first two-game losing streak in six years. A Calipari-coached team hasn't lost consecutive games since Memphis dropped four straight during the 2004-05 season.
Heading to South Carolina (12-5, 3-1) on Saturday isn't exactly the best place to get back on track. The Wildcats have struggled in Columbia, S.C., losing their last two games there.
Last season the Gamecocks shocked the then top-ranked Wildcats just hours after Kentucky received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama for their work raising money for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
The president likely won't be on the line before tipoff on Saturday, and that's fine by Calipari. He'd prefer his players listen to him — and each other — instead.
"We're still not talking," Calipari said. "There were plays (against Alabama) where two guys are working together and we make a call. They should be talking to each other (but) they all do their own thing."
It's an issue when dealing with a young team, one South Carolina coach Darrin Horn can sympathize with. The Gamecocks have seven first-year players on the roster but have found ways to post wins over SEC East rivals Florida and Vanderbilt.
That doesn't mean Horn doesn't get as frustrated as Calipari at times if it doesn't come across on camera.
"Maybe I'm not showing it as much," Horn said.
Not that there's much to complain about at the moment.
South Carolina has won four of five and an upset of the Wildcats would stamp the Gamecocks as legitimate contenders while another loss would give Calipari bigger concerns than his language.
He insists that he "likes his team," Jones included.
The freshman, for his part, appears ready to move on, too.
"An arrogant man is a fool," Jones posted on his Twitter feed Friday. "A confident man knows he must listen 2 the teacher and take direction to become his best."
AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.