Kentucky Basketball: Reviewing John Calipari's Media Availability Of Tuesday

Frederick Breedon

Here, we'll look at what Coach Cal said, and what I think he meant, yesterday.

With the final recruit signed and no further additions likely for next year, John Calipari opened the 2013-14 campaign yesterday by laying out his vision for the team.

The theme for the coming season would seem to be, "chasing perfection," two words he used in his press conference yesterday. Naturally, the media consumed and dissected every word, and we will do so as well. Here's the full video, in case you were like me, and to buried with other work to watch:

Calipari says that he has moved on from last season, and insists he did the same thing after the championship year, although I have called that into question recently. One thing I think he was trying to say, and said rather clumsily, was that players can get better during a season and have it not show up in the results. He also implied, and I think this is very true, that when you make changes mid-season, they very often are too late to have a substantial impact, particularly with freshmen.

I find it interesting that Calipari misremembered his first year as his second, saying "What were we that first year, 9-7?" Maybe he's talking about Memphis, but it seemed like he could have been talking about Kentucky. Even this year, Kentucky wasn't 9-7 or 11-6, so that must have been memory fail there. I think he said Kentucky could have been 9-7 in 2009-10 but for some fortunate bounces, but I can't be sure.

He pointed out that this team, the one next year, is going to "need [the coaching staff] in different ways." He talked about the fact that the "alpha males" that we didn't have last year are present in this team.

I'm going to now categorize Calipari's main points and comment on them. As you might expect, the conference wandered from place to place, and grouping related points together help make more sense of it all

Regarding last year's team:

  • Calipari said 2011-12 did not have one bad practice. Last year, they had about 5 good practices the whole year.

  • The players last season "weren't as skilled" as they needed to be, despite solid numbers offensively and defensively.

    This may sound strange, but last year's team numbers were not that bad in many areas. Perimeter shooting and defense were substantially worse than any previous season, though.

  • Calipari said that the guys coming back should have come back. He pointedly did not say the guys leaving should have left, although I think he does believe that about Noel, but perhaps not as definitively as we all assume.

  • Cal said that he must have more than 8 scholarship players. He said he was "trying to protect" players last year, and what I assume he means by that is trying to protect their playing time and reputations. He basically suggested that he wouldn't be doing it that way again, but that he will always put players first.

    In continuing that thought, Calipari said that he doesn't have many regrets about giving a guy multiple chances, even when it winds up hurting the team. "Guys got the full season" to prove themselves. He said he will err on the side of the player, and asked, "If it were your son, what would you want me to do?"

    This is essentially a defense of his decision to play players that weren't performing well, and he didn't apologize for putting the welfare of certain players above the welfare of the team. But I think, at the same time, he's not going to be willing to do that again.

Regarding individuals next year:

  • Willie Cauley-Stein has chance to be one of the better players he ever coached. WCS knew he could have been a first round pick if he entered the draft.

    He later said that Willie told him flat out that he "didn't like school" when he came, but at the end of the year, that changed. The whole dynamic, the social scene, the academic work behind the scenes including some by Calipari himself helped change his mind, which had a lot to do with his willingness to return.

  • Kyle Wiltjer has to change his body and take his defense to another level. Calipari wants him to make the Canadian national team to give him a further opportunity to improve.

  • He said Alex Poythress learned a lot last season, and further said he would have been a first round draft pick; but Poythress knew he wasn't ready.

  • Jon Hood had breakthrough at the end of the year.

  • Jarrod Polson wound up as one of UK's better guards. What he left unsaid was that we needed more than Polson could give.

  • Aaron Harrison will be required to be a lock-down defender. He said with this team, UK can play a "big zone" and press a lot more.

  • Cal wants Andrew Harrison to wind up like Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Derrick Rose. Said Andrew's skillset would allow them to play a lot more Dribble Drive Motion.

  • Calipari described Dominique Hawkins as "tough,", and that he wanted one more tough point guard after "what we just went through." No doubt who he was talking about there.

  • Calipari said Dakari Johnson has had a steep curve of improvement, and has become a very skilled big man.

  • Said that Marcus Lee averaged a triple double, and wanted to be here and take on challenge of playing with all these great players.

  • Cal said that Julius Randle can play inside and out, is an "Alpha beast," and has some of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in him.

  • Said that Derek Willis is long and skilled, and wanted the challenge of going against players "this good."

  • Cal describe James Young as a 6'6" or 6'7" wing that "can flat shoot the ball."

Team comments

  • Calipari told all his incoming class that they would have to share the sacrifice to come here. No getting 30 shots a game, etc.

  • He said that "We" have no choice but to be patient with this team, and that it "may be ugly early."

  • Cal said that when you don't have the alpha male, you have to lead as a coach and your team will never be as successful as when you have one.

    I think this is right, but we did have alpha males last year. The problem is, we didn't have enough of them.

  • Calipari reiterated his wish that kids would have to stay at least "two or three" years, and said he is still lobbying for the rule change to make that happen.

  • He said Jodie Meeks is coming back to finish up school. That's great to hear.

  • Said 12 players out of 13 had a B average or better last semester.

  • He also said that Kentucky is "not working on a 25 year old model." Made fun of those calling UK a basketball factory, and referred to the academic success his players have enjoyed.

  • Regarding the 40-0 thing, Calipari said that Kentucky would be "chasing perfection, chasing greatness, chasing things that have never been done." He said that pressure is good, and that he's had that pressure his whole career.

    He further stated unambiguously that the kids would face pressure their whole time at Kentucky. It's just the way it is here. He says that helps them have the mentality that they can win every game.

  • Calipari likes the fact that this year's squad will face competition with each other for playing time. He said that nobody has been promised anything, and that some players will play a lot and some won't play much.

    Cal then suggested an eight or nine man rotation, which is a few more than what we've really seen here, but not near enough to get everybody time. That dynamic will be really interesting.

  • Calipari scoffed at the idea that the officials were going to call more fouls, and said that Kentucky will be fouling a lot more next year, because they have the players to play that way.

    He went on to say that it would be good if the officials would call more fouls, call the block/charge the right way (as the NCAA has suggested it would) but doubted it would actually happen. He was clear that is the right thing to do, but in my view was openly and unambiguously skeptical the change would actually occur. His message was that UK is going to play as physical as they can until the officials make him stop by calling fouls.

  • Players will have to "earn [their] way" into single rooms, and into the locker room. Not quite sure what he meant by that latter.

  • Calipari Wished Andrew Wiggins well, and is just as confident in his team with or without him.

Overall impression

I came away with the impression that this was the most unambiguous and matter-of-fact that I can remember Calipari being in a long time. He was pretty clear that, despite development last year, the way he went about it would not be repeated. He didn't apologize for it, or say that he totally regretted it, but it was clear that he thought the success of it was too far below his standards to suffer through a repetition.

He is also clearly very proud of the team's high academic performance, and revealing that he personally worked with WCS on the academic side was poignant in a way, and struck me as an emotional episode for Calipari when WCS changed his view of school.

I was also struck by his skepticism of the NCAA officiating emphasis, which I happen to share. He's really taking the position that it will not happen, and even though he did not expound on why he thought that, it's pretty clear that he believes it is mostly talk.

The thing about pressure, the way he talked about it was refreshing, and he's done that before. This was the most matter-of-fact that I've seen him with respect to the pressure that the players themselves will be subjected to.

He also went with the rote, almost boilerplate stuff, such as "delusional" and "Kentucky is everybody's Super Bowl" and all the sales talk we've heard from Calipari over the years, but to a somewhat lesser degree, which made this media availability one of the more pithy I can recall.

I suggest you watch it for yourself when you have the time, and add your thoughts below.

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