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The fearless and furious: Kentucky coach Calipari proud of instilling 'fight' in Heat's Adebayo, Herro

By Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

No, John Calipari said, based on what he witnessed at the start, he did not envision this, did not see Bam Adebayo, at 23, emerging as a Miami Heat leading man in the NBA Finals.

"Bam, when we got him, if anybody said they knew Bam would be what he is today, you're smoking crack," the Kentucky coach said ahead of Wednesday night's start of the NBA's championship series between the Heat and Los Angeles Lakers at Disney Wide World of Sports complex.

The ties between the Heat and Wildcats run deep, with Pat Riley's last two lottery picks emerging from Calipari's one-and-done program at Kentucky - Adebayo with the No. 14 pick in the 2017 NBA draft and Tyler Herro with the No. 13 pick in 2019. Both have proven essential in coach Erik Spoelstra's rotation.

Like Adebayo, Calipari said Herro, 20, has developed because he was open to growth.

"This kid is fearless because of his confidence," Calipari said of the second-team All-Rookie selection. "I'm not the one who built his confidence. I mean, as a matter of fact, I got after him to defend better, to pass better, that if he wasn't a fearless, confident player that would have taken away his confidence. It didn't do anything to this kid."

With Adebayo, it was a matter of developing the skill set that now has him as the Heat's point center.

"We teach our bigs to start like a guard and finish like a big," Calipari said. "All of them. That's how we teach here."

What also does not surprise Calipari is the selflessness of Adebayo and Herro.

"How about Bam taking responsibility for their loss?" he said of Adebayo putting the onus on himself for the Heat's Game 5 loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. "How about Tyler Herro saying, 'I'm playing for Jimmy Butler? I want him to get his first Final?'

 

"I'm proud of these kids. They learned to be great teammates. They learned to fight and compete every day and you're seeing it out there."

With that selflessness showing on the court, going beyond the passes Adebayo is making, noting of Herro, "You're seeing him now in pick-and-rolls. Well, when he was here, we needed him to score. He had the ball in his hands. He could make plays, but he wasn't in pick-and-rolls. Now you're seeing that."

Calipari said he has been texting Spoelstra, just as he has been texting Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who is guiding Anthony Davis, who also played under Calipari at Kentucky.

"But they don't know I'm watching my TV," Calipari said, "and I'm saying, 'Put him in more. Get him in. Where's Tyler? He needs to be in the game.' I also want my guys to take those big shots, to show that they're not afraid to take those, which means they're fearless because they're not afraid to lose."

Spoelstra said the preparation under Calipari has proven tangible.

"We love Kentucky players because you're there to get better, to be pushed, to understand what it means to play for a team, play a role and to train to become a pro at this level," he said. "You're going to face good competition in practice. You're going to be expected to work. It's an environment that, as much as it possibly can, prepares you for the pros, even though it's at the collegiate level.

"Our two guys played significantly different roles for Kentucky when they were in college. That was part of the thing that we liked. They were both willing to play a role. Young players, oftentimes, it's just about how many shots they can get, and how many touches, scores, so they can improve their draft process. But if you just watch all of those games of Tyler and Bam ... they truly did just commit to a role and then worked like crazy behind the scenes on their player development."

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