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March 6, 2012

Calipari still not a fan of conference tournament

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Maybe you'll pack up the family and hit the road. Maybe you have a plane ticket and a hotel room booked.

Whoever you are and however you get there, John Calipari knows that if you're a Kentucky basketball fan, there's a chance you'll make your way to the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week in New Orleans.

And so the UK basketball coach promises that No. 1 UK (30-1, 16-0 Southeastern Conference) is going to take its focus will to win to this week's SEC Tournament - no matter how much he might personally dislike the thing.

"The only thing here that's different is that our fans take their vacation money, rent money, cigarette money and they go to these tournaments," Calipari said Tuesday. "They can't get tickets to our building, and this is their chance. And so you almost feel an obligation, let's play well.

"I don't know if we win, but you have an obligation that they just made a trek and this is their deal. And so it's different here. But my feelings of conference tournaments have not changed from when I was at Massachusetts and now here."

UK opens SEC Tournament play on Friday at 1 p.m. EST against the winner of Thursday's Arkansas-LSU game.

Calipari's teams have won six straight conference tournaments - his last four Conference USA Tournaments at Memphis and his first two SEC Tournaments at Kentucky - but he continues to downplay their significance.

"Probably because I don't care about it," Calipari said. "I could care less. They know that. We're trying to get better and so they go in and know it's not a big deal, let's just go play and have fun, and they end up winning it. It's not the formula I would say anybody else would use, but it's what I've used."

Calipari's issue with the conference tournament is twofold.

First, he'd prefer not to play three games in three days - the requirement for winning the SEC Tournament - so close to the NCAA Tournament. Calipari equated it to playing in the Maui Invitational, a tournament with a format different from the

And he doesn't see much on-court value in a conference tournament, a long-held opinion that might have been reinforced by last season's run to the SEC Tournament title only to land a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"It doesn't prepare you for anything," Calipari said. "We just played our whole… league schedule and now, for our league especially, it has no bearing on seeding. Proved it last year."

But Calipari's players insist they're taking the event seriously. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said the SEC Tournament is another opportunity "just to win games," and Darius Miller said there's value in continuing UK's hot streak.

"It's another time to get a championship," Miller said. "Hopefully we can continue the run that we've had and hopefully it can give us a little experience for the (NCAA) tournament."

Miller scouts opponents as sixth man

After spending his senior year coming off the bench, Darius Miller was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year by the league coaches on Monday.

Miller, who began the season as a starter before accepting a role as the top reserve, is averaging 10 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game. He's the first UK player to win the award since it was first given out in 2004.

Coming off the bench was a new situation for Miller, who started as a sophomore and junior, but quickly learned to like it.

"It's sort of an advantage," Miller said. "You get to see how the game's being called, you get to see how the other team is playing. You get to see the flow of the game. I come in ready to go because I've had a chance to watch what's going on. Coach talks to us on the sideline and tells us what we need to do. I try to come in and take advantage of it."

Miller started the season opener before heading back to the bench for the next nine games. He returned to the starting lineup for four games following Terrence Jones' finger injury and bounced back to the bench when Jones regained his starting spot.

But it was only for one game, as Calipari chose to bring sophomore guard Doron Lamb off the bench in favor of Miller for four games. He's spent 10 of the last 11 games as a sub, starting on senior night against Georgia.

Miller, who was SEC Tournament MVP in 2011, found ways to stay engaged even when on the bench. Now, when he enters the game, he's already prepared for the situation he's entering.

"If the game is physical, if there are a lot of touchy fouls being made," he said. "I'm sitting there talking to the coaches, talking to the guys on the sidelines about what's going on in the game. I try to come in and do whatever needs to be done."

Antigua a head coaching candidate

A report on Monday listed UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua as a candidate for the open head coaching position at Rhode Island. Jim Baron, who coached the Rams for 11 seasons, was fired on Sunday with his team mired in a 7-24 season.

Antigua, who played at Pittsburgh, has been on staff with Calipari since before the 2008-09 season at Memphis.

"Orlando is ready to be a head coach if that's what he chooses to be," Calipari said. "The issue is we've got a pretty good thing going here so now you have to be a little choosy on what you do. There are going to be schools that contact him.

Calipari also said assistant coach Kenny Payne is likely to have opportunities to pursue other positions soon. He told both assistants he'd be willing to help them if they asked.

"Just like my players I want everybody around me to have benefits and move forward and chase their dreams the same way," Calipari said. "I don't hold anyone back. If (Payne) has an opportunity we'd be for it."





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