Psychologist of The Year?

John Calipari talks to Cats at Friday's practice.

Voters may have selected Wichita State's Gregg Marshall as their undisputed coach of the year – and with good reason after the Shockers rode an undefeated record into the NCAA Tournament – but Kentucky's John Calipari would have been a strong candidate for college basketball's psychologist of the year.

Voters may have selected Wichita State's Gregg Marshall as their undisputed coach of the year – and with good reason after the Shockers rode an undefeated record into the NCAA Tournament – but Kentucky's John Calipari would have been a strong candidate for college basketball's psychologist of the year.

A team that had lost three out of four games to close SEC play and was written off by media and fans alike is now two wins away from a national championship that so many analysts had forecast for it coming into the season.

Some major changes in thinking helped it come to fruition. One might even label a few of them as "mind games."

Asked what lessons he learned during Kentucky's odd path to the Final Four, Calipari told reporters at Friday's Final Four press conference that the list is long.

"Well, first of all, don't believe all the hype, including me," he said. "Know that each of these kids needs to be coached, needs to be challenged. You need to define their roles, however good they are. At the end of the day, they can't do it by themselves."

For much of the season, Calipari spoke of the team needing to "take ownership" of itself, that the Wildcats needed to be empowered to make their own decisions on the court.

It didn't work.

Players who were perceived as "one and done" or "selfish" were instead surrendering, begging to be led. They wanted to be coached and wanted to be coached hard.

"With a young team, early in the season what I learned, you got to make it really hard, you got to be really specific, you got to start defining things earlier than I did," the UK boss said.

At times, it may have appeared that Calipari was ready to throw his hands up and wave the white flag like many on the outside looking in. He began skipping press conferences and his weekly radio call-in show. He occasionally threw players under the proverbial bus, something he's rarely done in the past. He got ejected in the season's most embarrassing loss to SEC cellar-dweller South Carolina on March 1. Could not stand to watch another moment.

All along, Calipari was dealing with an ailing hip that had him limping during games and tossing during sleep. It will require replacement surgery in the off-season. He tried painkillers, but didn't like the side effects. Some say he may have taken out a little of that frustration out on his young, inconsistent team. A short fuse and frequent substitutions were common during the regular season.

"A lot of what happened with this team falls back on me," he said.

Calipari, however, found a second wind prior to the SEC Tournament. He introduced "tweaks" to practice and the UK gameplans. He saw the Wildcats battle No. 1 Florida to a one-point loss in the league championship game. Suddenly, he was re-engergized.

The Cats knocked off a physical Kansas State squad from arguably the nation's toughest conference, the Big 12, in their tourney opener.

They shocked previously unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State and its national coach of the year in the Round of 32.

They dispatched their arch-rival in the Sweet 16, defending national champion Louisville, a team many had picked to cut down the nets once again.

And they sent Big Ten champion Michigan packing in a third-consecutive "Instant Classic" game that propelled Big Blue to North Texas for the Final Four.

From where the Wildcats were just a little over a month ago, it may be one of the most impressive tournament runs in recent memory.

"I will tell you, this has been, for me, to see the joy in individual players, and I'm talking from our best player to one of our walk-ons, it's been amazing ride," Calipari said.

Almost enough to make him forget about that lingering pain in his hip. Another mind trick?

"It's not my hip. The job at Kentucky ages you," Calipari joked. "It's not my hip. I look at the press conference I had five years ago, I didn't look like this.

"The season, the end of it is coming at a good time, let me just put it that way. I'm going to have to deal with this after the season is over, but the adrenaline you have and how you feel for your team pushes you through all that."

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