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John Calipari Talks Tai Wynyard, Skal Sleepover, Ohio State and More on Teleconference

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats will travel to New York City to play the Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday.

Thursday morning, Calipari briefly spoke to the media about the game and other topics on the official teleconference for the event.

Coach Cal opened by stating that his young team is struggling and that many players are still trying to find their identity, but that it will be exciting for them to play in a fantastic venue such as the Barclays Center.

One such struggling player is the recently maligned Skal Labissiere. Calipari said that he and his wife Ellen hosted Skal overnight to remind him that they are their to support him.

"I’ve done it before. It’s not the first time I’ve done it with a player. Normally, I have a steadfast rule: If I throw you out of practice you must stay at my house. So, don’t get thrown out of practice or you’re staying with me. I’ve had that rule over the years.

"This was more based on, he’s getting it from all angles. I want him to know and my wife wants him to know we love you, we’re here for you. Let’s talk. Let’s, just, you have to get more at ease. A lot of times these kids have so much stuff on them they become paralyzed. Then you see a kid that can really, really play and he’s not playing at all, and you’re like, wait a minute. And so, we had him over, my wife made him a great breakfast in the morning, we talked to him, and he said, ‘I gotta go, Coach!" And I said, ‘Alright, Skal, I’ll see you at practice.’

Calipari also said that Labissiere has reached a physical plateau, like most young players, and is learning to push himself; Cal likened Skal’s struggles to those of former UMass star Marcus Camby.

"I was just with Marcus Camby up at UMass, and I sat down with him and I said, ‘I may need to come to Lexington.’ I said, ‘Do you remember your freshman year’ where, one, conditioning buried him. I said, ‘Do you remember when we did the weight training and you had to lift the bar? Do you remember when you would raise your first in a game and then try to take yourself out and I would turn my back like I didn’t see it?’

"I played Marcus 20 minutes a game that freshman year and that was every single minute I could leave him on the court. I said, ‘Now, let’s throw in the adage you should be able to leave after a year. What if you had that hanging on you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, wow.’ That’s where Skal is right now. He’s learning how to work.

"Look, what happens to young kids, they start training for the first time, they start really working for the first time, (and) they start pushing their bodies for the first time. They don’t know how far they can go and when they hit a point they kind of whither. That’s not just Skal, that’s all these young kids."

With Tai Wynyard arrival in Lexington today, Coach Cal was asked about the timetable for the New Zealander’s debut in Blue and White. Cal said it all depends on the results of his medical exams. He said he expects Wynyard to hopefully be able to practice and hinted that there is a possibility the newcomer may play on Saturday.

"Tai came in this morning, he took a red-eye in. He’s going through all the medical stuff he needs to go through before he can practice. Don’t think he’ll practice today. I think he’ll have a chance maybe that he can practice tomorrow before we travel and you know, if he’s cleared to play, who knows? I may stick him in the game.

"Who knows what I’ll do with him but it’s good to have him here. I’m excited for him. Don’t know where he is conditioning, don’t know anything right now other than he’s pretty big."

On the subject of the Buckeyes Calipari said that Thad Matta’s team is similar to his own, they are inexperienced and are in search of who they are as a team.

"We’re going through the same thing. The thing that I had is with Tyler Ulis he gave us some experience even though he was our eighth leading scorer from a year ago. He at least had some experience playing 20 minutes a game, and he had it at a leadership role. That was important for us."