Q&A: John Calipari talks before the Notre Dame game

 Posted by at 4:13 PM on March 27, 2015
Mar 272015
John Calipari

John Calipari

Here’s everything UK Coach John Calipari had to say Friday, one day before the Cats take on Notre Dame in the Elite Eight:

On Andrew being funny in private, but more reserved in public. Why?: “I don’t think he’s different. I think he is, you know, guarded somewhat. But he is funny, and the players know it, like I just love that his spirit right now on the court, how much he’s grown, you don’t see any body language. All you see is a positive, aggressive, attacking player who talks on defense, is helping his teammates and he is a great teammate. The young kids love him. All the freshmen absolutely love him.”

On how much film he and the team will watch on opponents: “What I’ll do is I probably will watch the last five games a team plays personally. I will — if we have played them in the past, I’ll glance at that tape just to see if there’s something they did against something we did in the past. A lot of times that’s not relevant but I’ll take a glance. But my team, we’re worried about us and I’ve always been that way but even more so this year. The only tape they’ll watch of the team, unless they’ve watched them on TV, will be at the dinner at 4 — in this case, 4:30 the day of the game, there will be a 10-minute clip of the other team and that’s it. There’s no let’s watch an hour of tape, this is what they’re doing. I want them worried about us. We’ll give them what they need today. We will work on drills that break down their offense. They won’t know it. They know we’re doing something for a reason, and then when they see the tape, they’ll understand what we did.”

What jumps out at him about Notre Dame?: “Well, aside, they haven’t changed offensively. In other words, they’re one of the best 2-point shooting teams and one of the best 3-point shooting teams and one of the most efficient teams in the country. They score in bunches, they can score at the rim, layups, post-ups. They can score on breakdowns. But what I’ve seen in the last five games is they’re really defending. They’re playing more physical, they’re playing tougher, their rotations are tighter and I think that’s why they’ve gone on this run, because now they can get to 75, 80, and they make it hard for you to do it now.”

On if he’s impressed with how his players have bought into the team aspect of things this season: “That should be the narrative of this team. It’s not a lot of times, but you’re talking about a lot of guys sharing, the term we use, everybody’s trying to eat, don’t be a hog, everybody’s trying to eat. And if you chew a lot, you’ll be full, you don’t have to take 25 shots. But you have to understand how this happened. We had four guys return that we did not think were coming back, so we were left with 10 guys. Now, my choice was to either play seven and figure out why I wasn’t going to play three. Bury them, do whatever, but you three aren’t playing. Or I could try to play 10, and by playing 10, I didn’t think that we could shuffle 10 in and out. That’s why we platooned. We’ve stuck to a version of it, playing nine guys, and it was great seeing Marcus Lee and Dakari play as well as they did yesterday. That’s because we’re playing them, they’re in a rotation. Karl gave us ugats, nothing, and we still win big because of those two, and that’s because we’re playing them. The other thing I would tell you is we coach every player on this team like they’re a starter. There’s no one coached — we don’t have subs. I’ve said that statement before. We have reinforcements. We’ve got them and you look up and there’s about 12 tanks coming over the hill. “What the — what?” That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Is there an advantage mentally to getting to this point in the tournament so often, as opposed to Notre Dame, which hasn’t been in the Elite Eight since 1979?: “It’s a one-game shot. You can say Mike has my number. They beat us by a hundred the last time we played. Mike has my number. I bet you Mike says that has no bearing on this game, and I would tell you what my teams have done historically have no bearing on this game. This is a one game shot. He’s got his team playing as well as they have ever played. Our guys played a really good game without Karl, and you know what, it should be a great basketball game. It’s going to be a very hard game for us because of how they play, how they spread the court, they’re defending better, that they’re not afraid to let balls go. They’ve got guys that will attack the rim and want to. This is going to be a hard game.”

On how close his guys have come to playing their best: “Well, I don’t know if someone has to play a perfect game. My team knows that every team that’s left playing can beat us, we know that. Somebody talked about perfection. We’re not perfect; we’re undefeated. I mean, we should have lost five or six games. I mean, easily could have lost those games. And we were lucky enough to win, stay undefeated. We’re not perfect. But I think someone would have to play well the way they play. You know, the thought of playing fast or pressing, playing slower, I don’t know. How do you play when you play your best? But here’s the great thing, our team’s not worried about that, we just don’t want to help them. So let’s make sure we’re at our best, we’re the best version of ourselves, we know how we want to play. What they did against West Virginia, the best thing was we talked about this is what we have to do versus the press. If you turn it over, you’re sloppy, your spacing stinks, you don’t come back, you’re helping West Virginia, don’t help them. The second thing we talked about, you can’t give them offensive rebounds, that’s the other way they score. So don’t help them by giving them offensive rebounds. That’s why they weren’t able to score a lot of points. The guys went out and said we’re not going to help them. Well, this is the same kind of game, you can’t help Notre Dame. If you do, you’re going to lose because they’re that good.”

On playing against tall guards like Jerian Grant: “Yeah, we have. What they are is they’re break-down kids who can get their own shot that are really skilled and tough. Mike opens up that court for them so they have every opportunity every time they catch it to attack the rim. If it’s a late clock, one of those two are going to have their hands on it and they’re going to take the shot. They’ve won 35 games or whatever they’ve won because they’re really good, they’re really well-coached and they’ve got really good players who play to their strengths.”

On his concern when Aaron Harrison was injured Thursday night: “Well, when I first saw it, I heard my wife just scream as a mother, and then I just — I had to look away. But he came right back out and I said is it your left hand or right hand. He said my left hand. That’s why I kissed him, you’re fine. Today I just grabbed him as I walked out and I said give me this. (Motioning.) I said, ‘What’s wrong with you, do you have rubber bands for joints? What have you got?’ I think he’s going to be OK but until we’re out there, we’ll see. It was pretty ugly.”

On Karl-Anthony Towns and his “coachability”: “Yeah, he’s a great kid. I’ve been harder on him than anybody on this team, but I told him at the beginning of the year, it would be that way because he had a long way to go, but I saw his upside being the best big guy in the country, and I’m not settling for anything else. When he gets off point, I’m right there, but after the game I get a text from his dad: Stay on him, don’t let up, Coach. Not: Get him more shots, play him more minutes. That’s the greatest thing about coaching these kids, they trust us that we’re about them, we’re about them getting better individually, that I want every one of them to shine, I want every one of them to be talked about. And so when they have a game like that and we still win, kind of takes the pressure off you. Willie’s had games like that and we’ve won. I could go right down the line. Trey’s had games like that, and we’ve won. But that’s what makes us unique in that there’s no pressure on you to play great but prepare to play great, prepare to be the best version of yourself. If you’re not, we’ve got this. Maybe it’s not your game. That’s when you have the numbers we have how we can play.”

On so many great NBA prospects averaging low statistics due to playing time: “We hired an analytics person. All our stats are per minute stats that they see, and they’re all based on 34 minutes per game. So whatever minutes you play, it doesn’t matter, your stats are going to be evaluated and those stats are sent to the NBA, even though they don’t need them because they’re statting them the same way we’re statting them. They’re not looking at shots or — they’re looking at per minute shots, per minute so they can evaluate these players. And when they look at their efficiency, I’ll give you an example: Defensive playmaking is huge in the NBA. Defensive playmaking, steals, blocks, versus your fouls and deflections. Well, we’re keeping those, we’re letting them see those things because that’s how they’re being evaluated. Look, I keep saying this, 25 years ago an NBA contract was worth $125,000. If you’re in the Top 10 picks, you’re going to make 25 million, your first deal. Your second deal could be worth another 80, and it is going up. So I have to respect that, that it’s 80 million, 120 million for these families and their children and their dreams and aspirations. I have to respect that, and I do. But I also know we had 10 guys, four stayed that we didn’t expect. So who were the three that I was going to leave out? Whose child was I going to say you’re not playing and I’ll bury you to make it about you. It wasn’t me; it was you. Or try to play 10, and that’s why we did this, which meant I had to hire an analytics guy because I had to sell this. I had to sell it throughout the year, that no one got hurt. How about this? We still have a guy that they’re considering for the No. 1 pick. We have another two or three that are lottery picks, and most of them aren’t even averaging double figures. It tells you the NBA is about analytics, it’s not about just simple numbers. And I’ll say this, even bad teams have a leading scorer and a leading rebounder and they stink, but they’ve got a leading scorer and a rebounder. Now, if that’s who you want to be, you’re not coming to Kentucky. It ain’t about 30 points. Now, you could get 30 points in two, three, four different games, just not going to average 30, got too many guys.”

On the expectations of UK fans and how they’re even bigger this season: “Well, if I have to deal with their expectations, I would be under the desk in a fetal position. So I don’t worry. The expectations we have for ourselves on this team is within us. The only thing that I can be concerned with is us being at our best and us having each individual player being coached as though they’re a starter being the best version of themselves, understanding what that looks like. We do a lot of video of them at their best. Here’s what you look like at your best. I want them to visually see it over and over and over. If that’s not good enough, I promise you I’ll be fine. I told the players already, you do your best, you’re — if that’s not good enough, I’ll deal with the response, I’ll deal with it. Because these kids right now, what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, it’s been special.”

On how he coaches big players like Willie Cauley-Stein to be great defenders against smaller guards: “Well, we practice it a lot but it’s real simple. In the game, if you give up a 3, you’re coming out. You say what you want, come over here. Next guy. I tried. You didn’t try hard enough, you’re out. You hold them accountable. The one thing I would tell you, I’m not afraid to coach these guys and tell them the truth and they all know that. They all want me to be real, be truthful. They don’t want mind games, they don’t want you to lie until you’re real with them, then it’s not so fun, then they’ll say be real with somebody else. But the reality of it is you hold them to a standard. If you accept mediocrity, you’re getting it every time. We just — it’s not acceptable here. This is how we play. Willie, Trey, Dakari, Karl, they can all do it. It’s really hard. So when they do it in a game — or do it in practice, I’ll blow the whistle. What does that tell you guys? They can do it. Why would they choose not to do it? Because it’s really hard. So if that’s your choice, then you’re not playing. You can do this, you’re proving it right now you can do it. But what, it’s really hard. Yeah, no kidding. What we’re doing is very hard or everybody would be doing this.”

On if the NIT season changed his approach to this program: “No. I mean, when Nerlens got hurt, it changed our team. We would have been an NCAA team that year with Nerlens. Nerlens ran into that stanchion that was on the court, and it changed our season and the direction of what we were doing. But no, look, when you lose — we lost six guys the year before. Six went to the NBA. Even that team, two guys go to the NBA. But I don’t think it changed what we did, we just — it’s one of those things you deal with. We didn’t blame the kids, we took responsibility, I did personally. Still had two kids go in the first round, can you imagine? We lost to Robert Morris. I was on the west coast, a guy asked me, ‘Who did you lose to in the NIT?’ ‘Robert Morris.’ ‘One guy?’ ‘No, Robert Morris University, what are you talking about, one guy?'”

What happens when opponents don’t double-team his post players (Notre Dame doesn’t like to do it)?: Well, I’ve seen them do both, I’ve seen them scramble, I’ve watched the North Carolina game a little bit, they’ll dig, they’ll get down in there, and if you bounce it, they’ll leave and trap that way. They just don’t automatically say we’re going big to big. He just doesn’t do it, but they do other things to kind of screw you up.”


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