UK basketball coach John Calipari certainly isn't averse to public speaking. On the contrary, I think he rather enjoys the microphones on the table, and the cameras in the back of the room. And his seemingly candid style is a ... change.
Which is a good thing. On that we can all agree.
Calipari's Wednesday press conference gave us yet another glimpse into the mind of UK's basketball coach. And I for one appreciate Calipari's eagerness to share this thoughts ...
But, when a fan base is blessed with a coach who is apt to be fiercely verbose, well, that gives guys like me an opportunity to examine, critique, and opine ourselves, on what the coach has to say.
It all begins with:
Calipari on expectations:
"We will calm them down, don't worry, it is not that time yet, but we will calm them down. You are going to have people that will say that we are going to be the national champion and they are No. 1 or No. 2 ..."
He continues to beat down expectations, but does he?:
"Half of the team is going to be new players that have never played college basketball, and the other half has never played this style. What you are going to be finding out is that in September and November balls are going to be playing everywhere, and they (the fans) will be questioning how we are playing. All of a sudden it will hit January and we will have a couple of breakout games and they will say, 'Oh my goodness.' Then it hits February and we aren't turning the ball over as much and we are shooting better, and still running people into the ground and that is how you are playing. Then by March you are playing your best basketball."
I don't care which coach it is, or how long he's been at UK, but if someone brings in the type of talent that Calipari has, coupled with the return of Patterson (and the probable return of Meeks), my fourth grade sociology book tells me that equals UK fans expecting ... a lot of "W's." Great players equates to great expectations. No amount of spin will ever change that fact.
Calipari knows that.
He's purposely speaking the typical UK fans language with his comments about his expectations for the teams performance in January through March. He knows what the UK faithful want to hear, and he's confident enough to say it.
I don't know that his statement would qualify as tempering enthusiasm (laughing as he types), rather the opposite seems true, but I like it. I think he knows this team should be good. He knows it in his bones.
Calipari on Patrick Patterson coming back to UK:
"I told his mother and father that I wanted them to understand that he and I had two conversations with him and Jodie together, and not once did I tell him that he needed to come back. I told him that he needed to explore and do what he needed to do and that I would be here for him. I did not coach him to come back, because if he came back I wanted him to know that he is coming back for himself, and to help the university."
We get it coach. You didn't talk Patrick into coming back.
Calipari on who performed well in practice:
"Darius (Miller) has played well, and Josh (Harrellson) has played well. Perry (Stevenson) has done some things that we had to stop practice and the whole team clapped for him, because he did some things that they haven't seen him do."
This is twice now that Calipari has mentioned Josh Harrellson's name when asked who's playing well. Although I don't see Harrellson taking too many defenders off the dribble, he is a capable outside shooter. Which could make him dangerous in this type of offense. Plus, his size would dictate the opponent pulling another defensive big man away from the basket to cover Harrellson.
I'm sure Cal can figure out a way to use a good shooting big man. I'm rootin' for you Josh.
As far as Perry Stevenson -- I have run the gamut of emotions with him: I've praised him, I've bemoaned him, I've been content with him, and most recently, I've buried him as thoroughly as Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito buried Billy Batts.
In my view, Perry's improvement needs to be spectacular in order for him to see much floor time this year. He does bring the element of experience, but I'm afraid his talent deficiencies will, in the end, be exposed.
Coach Cal talks about who might not be coming back:
"I don't know. There are some guys that we will sit down with and talk to, but I haven't really sat down with any of the players that way."
Well, the time is getting near, coach.
My thought is that as soon as Wall makes his announcement, Calipari will start downsizing. Based on Wall's decision, he will have to take away either one, or two scholarships from current players.
Regardless of how it's spun, Calipari is left with no choice but to convey to at least one kid that he's not good enough to merit a scholarship. I don't like it. But, unfortunately it's a part of college athletics.
The player[s] will be left with options, though: A grant-in-aid is always a possibility, but the players family would have to qualify; a player paying his own way, is another. In order to qualify for an academic schollie the player must be carrying a 3.3 GPA. To my knowledge, although good students, none of the the current players can boast a GPA that lofty.
I'm not going to get into which player I think will be "let go." I'll only say that I hate to see it happen, if that is indeed the scenario that plays out.
Calipari feels our pain when talking about DeAndre Liggins and Kevin Galloway:
"Kevin and DeAndre are completely out of control. Your feet have to move really fast in this offense, like really fast. Like a duck where your feet are moving really fast under water, but above the water, it is really smooth. But, when their feet move really fast, their minds move fast as well. That is all about being coached and drilled."
Is it a coincidence that the only two UK players that Calipari has said anything negative about (that I recall) are the two point guards?
Liggins and Galloway played fast last year. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good. But, I can imagine how anxious they are to please their new coach, especially with one, maybe two stud points on the way. That can only add fuel to their already frenetic style of play.
And they know that as the point guard, especially in the DDMO, their decision-making sets the tone for the possession. And unless they are delusional, they realize that turning the ball over at the same rate as last season is not an option.
So, they're pressing. They're probably trying too hard.
But, I think Cal is right. It's all about repetition, it's all about being coached in his style. But, will that be enough to secure a spot in the rotation for the two returning guards? We'll know sooner, rather than later.
And as a bit of friendly motivation for you guys (Liggins and Galloway), take a look below at Cal's quotes about incoming freshman Eric Bledsoe.
Calipari's thoughts on the high number of walk-ons:
"We had a football team when I first got here. My focus is going to be on the 10, 11, or 12 that are really going to play. We will have walk-ons, but I am not going to keep seven walk-ons, I will tell you that. ... there are guys out there that have always dreamed of playing for Kentucky and hopefully you can help a couple of kids accomplish those dreams, just not seven."
Actually, I can see Slone becoming a "Cameron Mills"-type player, if he stays all four years. Although he's a good shooter, he made a living at Paintsville taking his man to the rim, which could make him viable and valuable.
His intense passion for playing for Kentucky was clearly on display last year. And I think he has the right blend of talent (plus his incredible desire to wear the Blue and White), which may enable him to make the leap from human victory cigar to game-time contributor.
Calipari on Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins:
"Daniel Orton is going to be terrific, because he has great size, really long arms and he's skilled. You can play him inside or outside and he's a terrific passer. He also has the skills that if you want to play two big guys you can. There is DeMarcus that you can play with him and together. You have the opportunity to play two guys that are big, because they are really fast, aggressive, and skilled."
Uh, coach, is that still you tamping down expectations?
He continues with Eric Bledsoe:
"He reminds me of the point guard I had at Memphis, Antonio Burks. He is fast and very physically strong and tough. He has great vision on the court, and in this offense you have to be able to react. Everything that we do in the drills and teach is trying to get them to react better, and to keep their heads up and recognize what is happening to them. Some guys never get it ... but he is one that gets it. He just gets it."
Obviously, all three of these freshman are going to have a huge impact on the success or failure of next seasons team. Their collective importance cannot be underestimated, but ...
I hope coach Cal realizes fans are going to remember these words ... for a long time. Previously questionable memories are suddenly strengthened to the point of extreme durability, when optimistic words such as these flow from the lips of a UK head coach.
Calipari on the schedule:
"I have some stuff going on that will be unbelievable if we can get it done. We are trying to move one game in Louisville and play at another neutral site. Texas has called and wants to play a neutral site game in Houston. We are thinking about Cincinnati, but you really want to protect your home fans in Lexington, and make sure they have games. You may have to shove a game into Nashville at some point. It may not be bad as a neutral site."
"I like neutral site games for all of you to understand, because what I like to do is split tickets. You get half the tickets, and we get half the tickets. The reason is, that is an NCAA venue, which is what the NCAA is. You are not playing a road game in the NCAA tournament. It will be half and half."
"I would love to get a team that would agree to play us in Louisville every year, and split the tickets."
In my perfect world UK would rotate playing Indiana in Louisville, and in Indianapolis. And in the years that UK is playing in Indy, Kansas would be UK's Freedom Hall opponent. I know I would be giving up a home game for a neutral site game, but check UK's record in Freedom Hall. They win at nearly same rate as they do in Rupp -- Rupp Arena record - 427-60 (87.7%), Freedom Hall record (in neutral site games) - 50-12 (80.6%).
I've been to three UK versus IU games: One in Louisville, one in Indy, and one in Rupp. For my money, the best atmosphere is when the arena is half blue, and half red. There truly is an NCAA tournament aura within the arena.
How about a neutral site game between UK and Memphis, held in Nashville? Somebody get Pastner on the phone!
I think Calipari makes a good point when he talks of the need to "protect the home fans." I know for years fans have been complaining about the level of competition being brought into Rupp Arena. Although North Carolina and Louisville make bi-yearly visits (and Kansas recently ended a home/home with UK), that still leaves eight or nine other OOC home games that have been mostly filled with low-Division I teams.
I don't think its unreasonable to expect UK to play five or six top-30 teams in Rupp Arena on a yearly basis (out of 10 or 11 OOC home games). I don't know, maybe I'm being an overly optimistic schedule-maker, otherwise known as a "coach killer."
But, Calipari's tenor has leaned toward toughening, not deflating, the strength of UK's schedule. I agree with that, as do most UK fans.
Man, he gets another thing right.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!