Friday, April 4, 2014
Mysterious 'tweak' changes Kentucky
By Myron Medcalf
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Police dogs sniffed the backpacks and purses of men and women who entered AT&T Stadium on Friday morning. One of the officers claimed that the black Labradors were deployed to search for bombs and other explosive devices.
But that might not be the full story about the security operation. Perhaps they were really there to protect "the tweak."
For weeks, John Calipari has discussed "the tweak." It’s a mystery, but he swears that the tweak changed Kentucky basketball in 2013-14.
It all started about a month ago, as the Wildcats were prepping for the SEC tournament. That’s when Calipari tweaked -- not to be confused with "twerked" -- something within his program. Even though Kentucky lost to Florida by a point in the conference tourney title game, it seemed renewed in Atlanta.
The Wildcats were jelling and connecting in ways that weren’t evident in the previous weeks and months. They were moving the ball and defending better than they had all season.
What changed? Tell us about the tweak.
"I’m not supposed to talk about it, but it has definitely changed the energy of the team and our chemistry," Julius Randle said. "It just improved the team."
Calipari has promised to divulge the tweak sometime in the future. Once the season ends, he said, he’ll discuss the alteration that morphed Kentucky into the juggernaut that it has become in recent weeks.
John Calipari isn't talking about the adjustments made by the Wildcats.
The media, however, won’t understand the tweak, even when Calipari finally blesses us with a full explanation.
"What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, 'You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,'" Calipari said. "And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so "
Who can blame Calipari for his approach to this? He’s in the middle of a battle for the national championship, and the goal is to maintain a shroud over any strategic maneuverings that could give his opponent the edge. He’ll face a veteran coach and a talented program in Bo Ryan and Wisconsin during Saturday’s national semifinal.
So it’s better to say less right now.
Reveal the tweak? Nah. This is secret societies stuff. Knights Templar. Freemasons. Skull and Bones.
The tweak might be something simple. Maybe Calipari gave Dakari Johnson a pep talk or granted Randle the freedom to annihilate any mortal who dares to stop him.
It’s obvious, however, that the tweak worked.
Randle has been more aggressive and effective in the NCAA tournament. Aaron Harrison has made nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers in the Big Dance. Andrew Harrison has been a leader.
No team in the Final Four encountered a more difficult path to Arlington, Texas.
No team in the Final Four made the U-turn that this program has experienced over the past month. On Selection Sunday, the Wildcats were a disappointing 8-seed that entered the season as one of the most hyped squads in recent college basketball history.
Then, they lost to Arkansas and South Carolina in SEC play. As a result, many doubted the program’s postseason potential. Inside the locker room, however, Kentucky still believed.
Look at the Wildcats now. Look at the power of the tweak. Tweakability.
Kentucky’s third trip to the Final Four in four seasons? Don’t credit the kids.
Thank the tweak, whatever it was.
"I mean, Coach said don’t give any details about it, so I can’t really say what it is," Aaron Harrison said.
But what is the tweak? Is it tangible? Can you touch the tweak? Is it edible? Is there video evidence of the tweak? If we close our eyes, click our heels and dream, will the tweak appear?
And where is the tweak? A safe somewhere in Lexington, Ky? A vault in Dallas? Does Jerry Jones have access to the tweak?
"I cannot give any details," said Dominique Hawkins, who wore the look of a young man who knew far more than he disclosed. "I can’t say anything about it."
But maybe it’s not as complicated as Calipari suggests. Maybe it’s simple.
This isn’t the first time a group of young men have unified at the right time. The development of chemistry is a gradual process for most programs. That’s why juniors and seniors discuss their bonds according to years. These Wildcats have been together for only six months, and they’re all freshmen and sophomores.
That makes the tweak even more intriguing.
"I don’t know what the mystery is,” Alex Poythress said, "to be honest."
Young doesn’t mind sharing the secret behind the tweak: The Wildcats have embraced their individual roles and taken a more selfless approach to each game, he said.
"It really wasn’t a tweak," Young said. "It was just us playing hard, I guess, and getting open shots for each other. Just really penetrating."
Added Poythress: "We just came together as a team. We just try to look for open players more, try to play more team ball. Less is more."
Still, that only shows the impact of the tweak.
We still don’t know exactly what it is, and we may never know, because the Wildcats won’t talk about it. There’s a gag order.
And if they beat Wisconsin on Saturday, Calipari will probably mention the tweak again, but don’t expect him to ruin this covert operation.