By Keith Taylor
John Calipari knows his team’s opener against Duke in the Champions Classic is a big deal, but he’s approaching the showdown like it’s just another game.
« We approach every game the same « said Calipari. “You can’t do it any other way. This will be the stage. All we say is, look, our focus is on us. We will play as we play. They will play as they play. And either they are more advanced than we are, or we are a little more advanced than we think. But we’ll find out. «
Much like their coach, the Kentucky players are taking the same approach to the competition, despite the larger-than-life stage waiting for the two programs at historic Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.
» I just feel like it’s like a different game, « said Kentucky junior Keion Brooks. » We just go out there and treat it like any other game. «
Well-known director Spike Lee is expected to be there Tuesday night but Brooks doesn’t expect Lee’s presence to be a distraction.
« Once the game gets going we won’t worry who’s in the crowd, » he said. « We just worry what we can do to win the game. «
The two layered programs get into the top 10 to open the season. The Blue Devils are ranked 9th in the top 25 of the Associated Press preseason. Kentucky is right behind Duke in 10th place, what the Rivalry that only spans 22 games adds a little more hype, but the Blue Devils have dominated for the past decade. Duke has defeated the Wildcats in eight of the last 10 games between the two teams, including a 118-84 Wildcats win two years ago at the Bankers Life Arena in Indianapolis.
The competition will be Kentucky’s last regular season game against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. who announced his resignation last summer. Krzyzewski enters his 42nd and final season as coach of the Blue Devils and will be the best coach ever in men’s college basketball. Calipari hopes it won’t be his last game against the Hall of Fame coach.
“I hope this won’t be the last time we’ll play them so make no mistake. I hope we play them again, « he said on Tuesday.
Calipari said that Krzyzewski was a huge influence not only for him but also for other college coaches.
» He got me too made a better coach, « said Calipari. “He held me sharper. For the first five or six years we did things that Duke started using the same guys and it got this back and forth competition. But I have never lost my respect for what he has achieved over 40 years. Do you know how often you have to change the way you coach and what you do? It doesn’t mean the principles, the pillars of your program change, but how you defend, how you play offensively, how you teach, which is more important. «
» To have done that for over 40 years, unbelievable. In one place, amazing. Coach (Adolph) Rupp, you can say that too, ”said Calipari. “How do you do that in one place for so long and still have a level of excellence that you have. And I’ll tell you what, he was great for all the coaches. ”
Regardless of the outcome of what might be his last game against Krzyzewski, Calipari said the opener would be an advantage and help to gauge the progress of his team.
Iowa Transfer CJ Fredrick returned to practice last weekend and Calipari is happy to have the transfer guard on the ground.
“He practiced a little Saturday. He practiced a little on Sunday, ”said Calipari. “He’s practicing a little today. I suspect I could throw it in for a minute or two and just run it up and down, but that’s probably not that game. But it’s just good to have him back on the field. ”
Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at keithtaylor21
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