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October 13, 2011

Fans, Cats focused on NCAA title

VIDEO: Media Day coverage

If you ask him, John Calipari is going to tell you it's no big deal.

Kentucky fans want to win a national championship. It's been a long time, and they're not subtle about the desire. But Calipari insists he's not inundated with win-now mandates from the masses.

"Are we the only school that wants to win a national title this year, and our fans?" Calipari said Thursday at Kentucky basketball media day. "Come on. I just don't get bogged down in it."

But he's aware of the fans' desire. He expresses it with some frequency to his Kentucky basketball team, considered one of the favorites to win the 2012 NCAA title.

"Cal tells us that every day: 'These people don't expect you to go to the Final Four. They expect you to win it all,'" point guard Marquis Teague said. "So that's motivation for us. We're going to come in the gym, work out. We'll be in here at 11, 12 at night sometimes, just playing one-on-one games or working out together."

To hear Teague and his teammates tell it, this is a Kentucky team built for - and singularly focused on - ending the school's 13-year NCAA championship drought.

The Wildcats have size. They have shooters. They have a mix of veteran holdovers from last season's Final Four team and incoming talent from the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.

And though Calipari said Kentucky could have as many as six first-round picks in next June's NBA Draft, the Cats insist that their focus is on a team goal, not the individual glory that comes after.

"Everybody's on the same page," said sophomore Terrence Jones, who opted not to enter the draft after last season. "Last year, there were some guys that were unsure. The new guys wanted it a lot, but some guys just weren't sure of themselves, just because they didn't have that experience of playing the year before when they were here."

The team's intent also is the fans' focus, and Kentucky fans have made it clear that the school's eighth national championship is their desire. Though Calipari said he isn't overwhelmed with title talk, it seems his players can't avoid it as they cross campus.

"Fans tell me every day: 'banner,' 'eight,' all that stuff," guard Doron Lamb said. "We're trying to win it all for everybody in the state of Kentucky."

Even the Internet offers no respite. Logging on to Twitter serves as a reminder of Big Blue Nation's great expectations.

"(The fans) tweet all the time," freshman Anthony Davis said. "I probably get 25 or 30 tweets a day from random people saying, 'I want No. 8.'"

Those expectations create "a lot of pressure," freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. And though expectations are high every year at UK, Jones said this season is different than last.

"It's about the same amount of pressure John (Wall) and those guys had (two years ago)," Jones said. "Last year, I feel we weren't pressured. No one really expected us to go as far as we went. We were an underdog team."

As for how intense that pressure can be, Jones shrugged.

"I haven't felt it yet," he said. "We haven't played yet."

When they do, Calipari doesn't want his players to stress about cutting down nets. His goal, he said, is for his team to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season.

"If that's not good enough - that's the best we can do," Calipari said. "If we are playing our best basketball at the end of the year, what if someone just happens to be playing better? Yeah, I'm disappointed, but I still have peace of mind that my team did the best they could, they are playing their best and individual players are playing their best, and that's what we try to do. You know, if that turns into a banner, great. If it doesn't, next year, here we go, let's do it again."



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