The Kentucky men's basketball team is having a big Wiffle Ball game today after practice. How else do you expect the Wildcats to get ready to play Missouri?
You know John Calipari as the collector of prized freshmen, but there is a psychologist side to him, too, and right now he is pushing every button he can find, from pep talk to Wiffle Ball. If this works out with an NCAA tournament bid, he should get the Sigmund Freud Award.
What do you do, for example, when you've lost by 17 points to Florida, 30 to Tennessee, prized freshman Nerlens Noel is headed for ACL rehab and there is depression in the streets of Big Blue Nation? Or, as freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein put it, "Everything was discombobulating."
First, you don't shirk from the reality that much of the rest of this God-fearing, Kentucky-hating country is ready to have a party.
"Do you think there's a lot of people unhappy we are struggling out there? They are ecstatic we are struggling," Calipari said to his team. "So you want good things to happen? No one's going to do it for you. Go make it happen."
Then, you redefine the dream. This team began the season ranked No. 3, but all of the 2012 stars are gone and the ranking was a hopelessly unrealistic product of hype. The Wildcats no longer talk dominance but resurrection.
"I keep telling them," Calipari said, "this could be the story of the college basketball season, if they want it to be."
And then, you play dodgeball. Players vs. staff after Tuesday's practice. Players won.
The Wildcats came out the next night and beat Vanderbilt by four points, and at times it was almost quiet enough to hear the 42 retired-jersey banners fluttering overhead.
"We were just talking, what can we do? We've got to lighten this mood up," Calipari said. "These guys have the weight of the world on their shoulders."
Suddenly, they didn't. Smiles, laughs and everybody trying to nail the coach with a dodgeball. It was time to reboot the season. "We are starting over basically," freshman guard Archie Goodwin said. "It was a bonding moment for us."
Can backyard picnic games save a season? We'll see. The Vandy win was medicinal, but there is much harder work to do for an 18-8 team that lacks signature victories.
"Playing here is not for everybody," Calipari has often said and repeated again this week. "I can't hide guys. If your skill is suspect, I can't hide you. You're under a magnifying glass here."
Which has this particular bunch of Wildcats at a crossroads. They needed the Vanderbilt game. They need the Missouri game and more if they are to avoid joining Florida and North Carolina as recent defending champions that missed the NCAA tournament the next year.
Kentucky senior guard Julius Mays is a seasoned hand, having also played at North Carolina State and Wright State. Over the phone Thursday, he provided a short dissertation on the heat on the kids of Kentucky, circa 2013: "They come in after a team that had guys their age that won a national championship. They come in with all the same hype, so they start believing they have something to live up to. They get to listening to what people are saying about them on (the) Internet. It's easy for a young guy to get caught up in that.
"I try to tell them, stop trying to fill the shoes of last year's team. Be who you are, and it will take some of the pressure off your shoulders.
"Basketball is something all of us have done our whole lives, and I think we get to a point where we forget that why we started playing the game was to have fun. When you have fun, good things happen."
The Kentucky Wildcats will try again Saturday against Missouri. But first, they have to play Wiffle Ball.