‘Attitude Points’ System Reveals Personality of This UK Team
The media room at Memorial Coliseum was filled with seasoned media members well practiced at gleaning unique insight from their subjects.
Among all those veteran reporters, it took a fifth grader to pull the most interesting nugget from John Calipari on Thursday.
Elaijah Mayhorn – a student at Julius Marks Elementary School – was playing kid reporter at Kentucky men’s basketball media and asked Calipari how he handles his players when they give him “sass.” After an entertaining back-and-forth about the meaning of her question, Calipari revealed his team has a bit of an issue with trash talk.
“The problem is when they talk at the other team,” Calipari said. “That’s a problem. That’s an attitude. So we have a couple guys that start competing, and then they start jawing at each other. They start sassing, as you would say.”
Calipari has developed a system to stem the sass.
“So if they’re competing and the score is 12-9 and Keldon (Johnson) scores and then starts to chest bump, boop, attitude point, the other team,” Calipari said. “Now it’s 13-10, and we keep playing. So we have attitude points this year.”
It was no accident that Calipari named Johnson, the freshman swingman whose reputation for a fun-loving attitude off the court is matched only by his fiery competitiveness on it.
“I’m just a big competitor,” Johnson said. “This is my passion. I love basketball. When I’m on the basketball court, that’s my happy place. I don’t like losing regardless whether that’s basketball or not. So when I get out there I want to win regardless of the situation. That’s just the person I am. When I get out on the basketball court I’m working towards a bigger goal.”
Not surprisingly, Johnson is one of the two players most often docked attitude points. That likely comes as no surprise for anyone who knows Johnson, but his companion in that respect might not be quite as expected. Coming off as quiet and unassuming, point guard Ashton Hagans – who reclassified this spring to join this Kentucky team – goes attitude point for attitude point with Johnson. With the way Hagans gets after it on defense (Calipari calls him a “pit bull mauler), maybe that shouldn’t be any shock.
“I would say me and Keldon are tied with trash talking,” Hagans said. “It just comes with my game and picking up the ball, so that’s just what comes with it. I know how to control it so it’s just practice; it’s what comes with it.”
Hagans hits on an important point. Though Calipari’s attitude point system has been installed for a good reason, the characteristics of this team that have prompted it are more encouraging than they are concerning.
“These dudes are like, we’re having to kind of get in between, like stop,” Calipari said. “But after it’s over, they’re great. But that’s what you look (for): fight like heck on this court. Make each other better, compete. You try to beat him every day, he’s trying to beat you every day. If he’s beating you, you’d better get in the gym more because eventually he’s going to leave you in the dust, yet when it’s over, we’re all together. We’re family. And that’s how they’ve been doing it.”
The Wildcats came to Kentucky in part for that kind of competition in practice, but they have been a bit taken aback by what they’ve seen.
“It’s been crazy,” Tyler Herro said. “We have 13 guys and everybody is working hard every day, getting in the gym, practices and being 100 percent competitive. Everybody is trying to make each other better.”
Herro is facing college competition for the first time. The same can’t be said for PJ Washington, but even he has taken notice.
“Everybody’s more focused,” Washington said. “You can tell these guys want it more. Everybody is in the gym every night. We all want our craft to get better, which makes the team get better. We just want it more I would say.”
Sometimes, that desire yields attitude points. Calipari will accept them on occasion if the Cats continue to compete at a high level, though he was a little surprised at himself for revealing the fact that they exist to that young reporter.
“My job is every year to try — what is this team, what do they need from me?” Calipari said. “So to get them — I want them to talk to each other. I just don’t want them to talk to the opponent. Leave them alone. Very good question. I gave up trade secrets, though.”