John Calipari sees Pelicans voluntary workouts in Lexington as ‘great first step’

by Jim Eichenhofer

Six summers ago, members of the Oklahoma City Thunder spent a portion of the 2011 NBA lockout together in Lexington, Ky., doing their best to prepare for a 66-game regular season that wouldn’t begin until Christmas. The following June, the Kevin Durant- and Russell Westbrook-led Thunder reached the 2012 NBA Finals, still the only title-round appearance for the franchise since it moved to the Sooner State.

When a large contingent of New Orleans Pelicans players held a similar offseason gathering recently on the campus of the University of Kentucky, it reminded Wildcats Coach John Calipari of OKC’s successful approach.

“I’m sitting here saying I’ve seen this act before when I saw the Thunder come in,” Kentucky’s accomplished sideline leader said of the Black and Blue Report last week. “It’s kind of like they’re slowly changing the culture. They want to put winning first (and are saying), ‘We’re all willing to do this to win. We do not want to lose.’ That’s the first step to winning.”

This fall, New Orleans (34-48) will try to return to the Western Conference playoffs after a two-year hiatus. With a handful of new players acquired through free agency or the draft, the Pelicans used their Lexington trip as a way to bond and improve chemistry and familiarity.

“You’ve got a bunch of guys that are established pros. You have some young guys who are going to have to learn,” Calipari said of the composition of the Pelicans’ roster. “But when they make a commitment to doing what I’m seeing here, wow. It’s a great first step.”

Pelicans All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins played for Calipari in college, as did forward Darius Miller. New Orleans' new starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, also played at Kentucky, but prior to Calipari taking over as head coach of the Wildcats. Davis and Miller helped UK win a national championship in 2012, a few months before both were drafted by the Pelicans.

Hear University of Kentucky's John Calipari on the Black & Blue Report