Lane, Calipari coach with passion

Last night, I was lucky enough to have a seat in the press section at Rupp Arena—something I never thought would happen to me. And while most people were watching the action on the court, I was more intrigued by the coaching styles. As an athlete of many years, I’ve been coached by varying personalities with different styles, and watching the coaches last night was an experience.

While John Calipari and Brian Lane are both college basketball coaches with talented players and skill as coaches as well, they showed last night that they are two different coaches with two different approaches to the game.

With his Wildcat-blue dress shirt (sans tie) and dry-erase play board, Coach Cal started out the night with calmness and precision. He got his team together before the tipoff, going over strategy and plan.

Coach Lane stood his ground with his crimson tie, equally calm, surveying the court. But when game time arrived, he let his players orient themselves on the court rather than huddling them up just before tipoff.

The beginning of the game turned out to be misleading, however, when it came to the coaching attitudes. While both coaches were involved and animated, they each showed different attitudes and body language.

Head coach Brian Lane is No. 3 on the all-time wins list at Transylvania.

As opposed to his initial release of the players, Coach Lane was constantly out of his seat, pacing back and forth on the sidelines, watching the game unfold and offering looks and gestures to his point guards consistently. While he didn’t appear aggressive, he was definitely assertive. When one of his players did something Lane didn’t like, he stayed silent, rather than yelling across the court; but when a player did something praise-worthy, he was more than willing to cheer them on.

Lane also substituted many more players than Calipari, and more often, sometimes subbing in three or four players at a time. This allowed the team to stay fresh, as opposed to the Wildcats who seemed to tire out quickly at the start of the game.

He advocated a strong defensive style, as the Pioneers pressed hard against their opponents. But the team also progressed competitively on the offense, attempting a grand total of 38 3-pointers and making 12. Overall, Coach Lane stayed centered and supportive of his team, consistently offering direction.

On the other side, Coach Cal’s coaching style was more sporadic; at times, specifically when the Cats were up by a significant amount, he was sitting back in his chair, watching his players navigate the floor. But when one of his players lost the ball or there was a call by the referee he disagreed with, he was significantly more forceful in his gestures and words. While I never heard Lane’s voice way up on press row, I heard Calipari’s words several times.

Calipari’s philosophy for his team’s defense was man-to-man, representing an aggressive strategy in an effort to keep the Pioneers from scoring.

Coach John Calipari took over the UK men's basketball program in 2009.

The huddles during timeouts were significantly different for each team as well, even in their basic composition. UK’s huddle made almost a perfect circle around Calipari on the court, while Transy’s players formed a closer, more intimate semicircle, allowing for the players on the court to sit courtside for a break. Calipari also seemed to make the board a central part of the strategy during every meeting, gesturing to it quite often. While Lane used the board with his bright orange dry-erase marker, he exercised much more eye contact and vocal expression.

During halftime, the teams disappeared into the locker room; when they returned, the two teams and coaches did exactly the opposite of what they had done before the game: Calipari kept to himself and let his players get situated on the floor, while Lane huddled up and strategized.

However, the start of the second half did bring a more consistently aggressive Calipari, who was suddenly out of his chair and directing his players. He sat for short periods of time, but was usually back up on the court again within 45 seconds — until the Cats had a lead of about 20 points. Then he calmed down, and sat back in his chair.

The timeout with 16:08 remaining in the second half produced a significant example of the difference in coaching styles between Calipari and Lane. Lane allowed Assistant Coach Nate Valentine to take the lead and direct during the huddle, something I never saw Calipari allow.

Throughout the second half, as Kentucky’s lead increased, both coaches continued to sport their styles. Calipari sat more as his team widened the gap in score, and Lane advanced a bit quicker and farther each time his team came down the court. During this time, the huddles during timeouts took a more similar shape as well, Lane bringing his team out on the floor into that perfect circle.

As the Cats nearly doubled the Pioneer’s score, both coaches remained poised as the crowd’s cheers grew louder. Lane subbed more, and Calipari let his players continue working as they had been.

Once the buzzer sounded with the final score of 97-53, the coaches went to greet each other with a handshake and slap on the back. Despite the opposition between their teams, Calipari and Lane ended the game by displaying the comradery present in the week leading up to the game.

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