It won’t be long until the Kentucky Wildcats are playing in actual basketball games on the floor or Rupp Arena.
In the meantime, UK held its annual Media Day on Thursday to allow coaches and players to talk with reporters about the upcoming season. Up first was head coach John Calipari, who is entering his eighth season at UK, but in rare occurance, is coming off a year in which UK did not make the Final Four.
Since the 2009-10 season, UK has made it that far four times, including the 2012 NCAA Championship. That’s the kind of season many think this UK team is capable of having, but it will be another long road to getting there.
Calipari will have as many as four new starters this season, of which may all be freshman. UK was able to reel in the No. 1 recruiting class for 2016, and most of those freshman will play large roles in the successes and failures of this year’s team.
Here’s a recap of what Cal had to say about his team, the new season and more at his Media Day press conference.
On Isaac Humphries work in offseason and progress he’s making
“It's been really good. He doesn't even look like the same guy. It's funny, when you see a team picture of last year and you see him now, but he was 17, and now he's 18. When you have young guys, it's like the guys this summer, Sacha's body's not the same as it was 2 1/2 months ago.
“Neither is De'Aaron. Neither is Malik. You've got guys that they're so young that it's like putting water on a flower. They just start to blossom.”
On moving Joel Justus into a full-time assistant role
“Well, the initial part of that -- the question was about Joel -- was I wanted to give John some time. His father had passed away, and one of the things I found out was we were really able to do stuff with younger guys, it was going to be important to us. And then the other side is the more I thought about it, I need John around me more anyway.
“You won't believe this. As I get older, I start forgetting things, and for all of you here, if I ever tell the same story twice, just laugh and roll with it because, when you get older, you start doing that kind of stuff. Like "We've never heard that before." Just make me feel good. "That's the first time I've ever heard that story."
“So having John with me and then putting Joel in a position to really attack and establish us with some young kids, at least have our presence known with young kids, I thought was important.”
On how De'Aaron Fox has changed since he got here
“No, he's -- the great thing about the majority of the kids that we bring here -- and as you know, you guys know the numbers. 75 percent of the kids we bring here that we recruited and given scholarships have been drafted. 75 percent. Of that 75 percent, 75 percent of them that go to the NBA go to second contracts. So it's a big deal.
“Most of those kids, yeah, they have talent, but whether it's Devin or Karl -- you know how they work at the beginning of the year. Someone looks at you guys and say, ah, they were pros before. They were stable. You all go, no, no, we watched it all year, and they got way better.
“What happens with a guy like De'Aaron Fox, they're comfortable in their own skin. They want to be the best version of themselves. We never compare players. There's not one player that I'm going to say you're going to be like. No, no, I want you to be your best.
“I was in Indiana about two weeks ago, and the mother says to me, I cannot wait to be at practice. Why? I want to see how you're doing this. Well, what do you mean? Trey Lyles from Indiana averaged 7 points, 4 rebounds, was a lottery pick, and going to be an All-Star.
“Devin Booker came off the bench, lottery pick. What are you doing? I'm telling you, ma'am, it's simple. How do we make each player be the best version of themselves? How do we do that?
“They have to have a level of talent or they wouldn't be here, but they also have to be comfortable in their skin. We're doing this together, and numbers don't matter. You know it.
“I probably never told you this (sarcasm). Anthony Davis took the fourth most shots. It was the number 1 pick. Mychal took the fifth most shots. Have I ever told you this?
“And Willie Cauley took the seventh most shots on our team, and he was the sixth pick. John Wall took the most and Brandon Knight took the most, but it doesn't matter. You can be the seventh scorer or the first scorer, just be your best version.
“And then we've got to win, and if we win, it helps you all. You guys got to play to win, play to win the Championship, go into every game with an idea of what you're trying to do, but you've got to win and understand that means you become a great teammate, that we're all in this together.
“You don't have pressure on yourself to have to go nuts. Just be your best version, and guess what? 75 percent of the time, the guys that come here, they've been drafted, and of that group, 75 percent have gotten to second contracts.
“You know we have 17 guys in the league right now that aren't eligible for their second contract yet. So if that's 75 percent and it holds, which it probably will, maybe higher, we're probably -- in three years we've had, in the NBA, current NBA, you have over $2 billion in contracts, $2 billion. Not shoe contracts, endorsements.
“And you have the kids that have graduated. And who won the Community Assist award? Who won the Community Assist award in the NBA? John Wall won that thing. Who was the runner-up?
“Oh, Anthony Davis. It's not just basketball here. It's everything. You're at Kentucky. You're trying to do it all.”
On this year's team comparing to his previous teams
“No, but the interesting thing is what are the combinations going to be? My guess would be three guards. A little different than the three guards we played last year, but different, but three guards.
“At times we may go big with 6'10", 6'10", 6'10", and a couple guards who are 6'4". So there are certain players, if I put in, will probably play some zone, my son (Laughs).”
On how will this team play
“f you're 10,000 feet looking down, I would say we're going to be a mauling, helping, rotating shot blocking team, probably picks the ball up the court because we can. On offense, a team that tries to score within three seconds, and if not, is doing something to attack the rim or throw it to the post.
“If that's not there, probably some sort of pick-and-roll, or give it to somebody who can jump this high or get a jump shot off if you can't get something easy. At 10,000 feet, I'm going to say that's what it would look like.
“Now, I'm going to be disappointed if in February this isn't the best defensive team, but right now we don't know terminology. We don't help each other. We don't understand what it means to even pick-and-roll defense, post defense. What if they cross screen? We haven't done it yet.
“What about a UCLA cut? We haven't done it yet. How about your out of bounds play? We don't have them in yet. What if you need a three late? We don't have it yet. What's the jump ball? I hope they all get around that circle.
“We just don't -- when you start like we do, young, you've got to let them go and figure out who they all are, and then we go from there.”
On the televised practice Sunday and how UK’s perimeter shooting is
“I wouldn't go specifically shooter by shooter, it could be. May not be. May end up being the best shooting team I've had. It's too early. The Combine was a huge success for these players because every player helps themselves. Every single guy that was there helped themselves.
“They now can put all that stuff behind them and understand you've been evaluated. Now you're going to get better. And then are you going to be a great teammate that they'd want on their team? Are you going to be a winning player? If you're a winning player and you're a great teammate, it's a wrap. You're a lock. But you've got to do all that.
“And we're just -- you know, there have been teams that they told this team wouldn't shoot the ball well, and we did. We shot the ball fine. If you remember at the beginning of last year, Tyler Ulis didn't shoot the ball well. We had games where we were like, holy cow, I hope he can make some shots. And by the end, he and Jamal ended up giving us two guys that could shoot 40 percent from the three.
“Derek Willis is a stretch. Wenyen is a stretch or a three. They may not be consistent right now, but it's only physically being consistent.”
On how different Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis are now vs when they first came to UK
“Well, first of all, they're good kids. And Dom -- can you imagine who they played against for four years in practice? How much better they got. How much more confident they are. How about all of us, when you put them in the game, you don't have any anxiety.
“None of you do. I don't. The fans don't. They want him to play well. They're Kentucky kids, so they have their own following. I'm proud of both of them. I mean, they're -- right now I talked to you about Derek coming in early and the last one to leave the gym and gets extra shots up and knows this is his time.
“Dom's going every day to get better. There are times where he's doing something and the guy will score anyway, and he looks at me, then he'll go score on the guy. And he's even getting to where he talks a little bit, which is not his nature, but he does. It's good stuff.”
On what about this job keeps Calipari so passionate
“Well, first of all, I'm blessed to have this job. What this job does is every morning you wake up to put your feet in your car, you sit down in that chair and say my team has a chance to win the national title. That's every year. You know you do.
“The second part of this job that keeps you going and makes you excited is at no other time in the history of our sport has a program done what we're doing for players. You can all say what you want. 28 kids, four a year for seven years, have been drafted.
“Two others are in the league that weren't drafted. You're talking about 80 percent of the kids. You're talking Rookie of the Years. You're talking All-Stars. You're talking kids that are giving back to the community, that are role models, that are doing things, that are making us proud, that are coming back to us to help us, to be involved, or they need help. Can you work me out in the gym?
“The stuff that's happened, if we can keep this going, it keeps me young because nothing excites me more than seeing young people get better, seeing young people grow up. Like Isaac was in my office yesterday, and I just smiled and said, you're not even the same kid.
“And he said, I know, Coach. I don't feel like the same guy. It keeps you young. Have I ever told you the story about DeMarcus Cousins' mom? Say, no, Coach, you've never told us before. DeMarcus' mom calls me in tears after he'd been drafted by the Sacramento Kings, tears.
“So I think something is wrong. Is everything okay, Ms. Cousins? What happened? Is there something I can do? Coach, no, these are tears of joy. What? I just moved into my new house. I'm standing in the living room. Coach, it's unbelievable. I've got a rug on the floor. I've got furniture. I'm looking out the window, and I see the 9th Green. The 9th Green? You're on a golf course? Yeah, Coach. Do you golf? No, I don't. Well, why would you move on a golf course? Because I can.
“Generational poverty, most of us don't know what that means. But these kids, not all of them, but a lot of them, this is the opportunity for their family, and I don't take it lightly. People will say to you, he doesn't care about winning. He doesn't care about national titles. All he wants to do is get players drafted.
“If you want to pin that on me, I'll take it. We all know it's not true because we've won more games than any team in the country the last seven years, we've been to more Final Fours than any team in the country. We won one national title. Probably should have won three or four, but we won a national title. In our league, we've done what we've done every year.
“I'm happy with what's happening on the basketball court, but I'm more happy about what's happening for these kids. If my team won a national title and no one got drafted, I'd be disappointed. Oh, that will just rifle through our state. I would be disappointed.
On building a new team from scratch
“What I'd like you all to do, you have a picture of me in the opening press conference, what I look like today. This thing I do is in dog years, seven years in one. So I'm buckling down on Coach Rupp right now. I'm at 49 years going on 56.
“Coach tells me I've mellowed out, that I'm not as hard on the guys. Well, as the season goes on, you guys know I get a little more intense. The initial part is trying to figure them out. I can't just say, this is how we're doing it.
“Do it this way. This is the only way. I don't know. Half the time I learn from them. Who coached my team last year? Tyler coached my team last year. What was great about that for me?
“I still got paid. (Laughs). But I could learn, and there were things that he and Jamal did. Like right now Malik Monk is doing stuff that is oh, boy. Do I let him do stuff that I haven't let other guys do?
“Maybe. I see De'Aaron Fox. I see how Isaiah is shooting the ball. You know what I'm saying to Isaiah every practice? You shoot every open shot. If you have a three or a jump shot, you shoot it. If you don't shoot it, I'm going to get on you. I know you can get to the basket. I know all that. That's not what we need, and that's not what you need.
“So, yeah, I do things different. And the biggest thing is that's why every year we play different. You look and say, wow, he's doing different things, and it changes through the year because we don't -- we had an early offense last year, and we worked and worked and worked because I was looking at tape of stuff that we did a year ago, and I saw it.
“I said, oh, my gosh, we never ran it after we did in the beginning because it wasn't good for our team. So we do do things different each year, and it's all based on who we have. Look, there may be years we have one point guard, and then the other point guard's going to have to be a combo kind of guard. How do you play? Do you put the combo in pick-and-rolls? Or maybe he's not a pick-and-roll guy. He's more of a handoff guy.
“That stuff, we figure out as we go.”
On taking pride in seeing other schools trying to do what Cal has done with young kids
“Well, that's the ultimate compliment when people are trying to do the things that you do. Can I just tell you, everything all of us do is stolen from somebody. The people that are around me that give me ideas that I pass along or we try, the one thing I never do, I never give credit to anybody but myself. So I take all of the ideas. So everybody thinks that all of the ideas are mine.
“Let me just tell you something. Whether it's staff, whether it's what we're doing on social media, there's always a group. I don't want to be in there trying to think I have all the answers because I don't, and I've been wrong before. I think it was 1978. Might have been 1977, '78. The reality is this is a group effort here.
“When they talk about it takes a village, to coach at this place, if you think you're going to go here and do this by yourself, good luck. That's when they find coaches in the fetal position under the desk, like where is he? He's hiding under there. You can't do this. And you got to listen to everything.
“And the reason is, if we're going to stay the gold standard, we're going to stay ahead of the curve, well, then, when people try to do the things we're doing, we're trying to do more. We're trying to do something different. We're coming at it a different way. That, for me, to be honest, is the fun part.
“Coming up with things and getting in a group, what do you guys think? There's many things that we've thrown out or tried, didn't work. Or we're like, ooh, don't do that. A lot of that in house stuff that I thought let's do this, and they all laugh. Are you crazy? You know what that would do?
“But it's fun. This is different. The way we're doing this is different. The way we're trying to do it every year is different. Having players leave -- 14 have graduated in seven years, 14. Three graduated in three years. Six of the seven years, we had a "B" average. All these kids have lifetime scholarships. They can come back when they want.
“Eric Bledsoe has started. Julius Randle has started. Dakari Johnson has started. Somebody else, I'm missing a name. Four or five have already started coming back, taking a course, doing some stuff. They have lifetime scholarships.
“They get involved in the community. You guys know the fund-raising we bring the team together and do. You know what we try to do. We're trying to do everything here, and making sure you don't get away from the fact they want to be the best version of themselves on the court.
“Their families want to be comfortable that they're going to be the best version of themselves off the court, and that's what we're trying to do here.”
On Wenyen Gabriel
“He's been great. See, he's one of the guys that may be a little bit -- like fear is driving him. Am I good enough? What do I have to do? His mind races sometimes. It's fine. I was just with Michael Kidd down in Charlotte. That's exactly what moves him. My thing to those kind of guys, stay in the moment. You do things other people cannot do, so just stay in the moment as you improve the other areas.
“Michael's back five games. He thinks he should be in All-Star form, and it's driving him crazy. Stop it. You've been back five games. What Michael Kidd does, no one else in the NBA does. Now, there are some areas he can improve, fine. Wenyen, the same. You're talking about a 6'10", inside, outside, stretch four-three, good with the ball, but only touched where he's going to be.
“Sacha is the other one. Look, I knew Sacha was good. I wouldn't have him here if I didn't think he was good, but I didn't know he was this good. So now he's finally pushing through knees. He's not trying to say I can't go. He's staying up with the pack. He's now been challenged by other really good players.
“See, you don't come here to say I want to be the only guy on the floor. You come here to say you walk into practice and know you're going to get pushed. I'm going to get challenged every day in practice. If I don't bring it, I'm going to get dunked on, and I'm going to look bad. So I have to come every day ready.
“Sacha by that, going against these guys every day, we've got guys looking at me going, Coach, he's really good. Skilled, 6'10", blocking shots. He's like a -- feet are flying everywhere still. You look at him, and you're like what? Then you watch him play, and he's getting it done.”
On this team’s personality
“All the teams you have have different personalities, and you kind of want it. We do a great job of talking social media, teaching social media, making sure they understand interviews and where they can be drawn and where you're trying to stay, what you're trying to say, and how you get it across. A lot of them, we're teaching 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, but we have to do it. But they all have their own personality.
“It has to be fun for you when you see somebody at a distance and you take their opinion of what they're going to be like and then you go interview them, and they're totally different. You're like, wow, I didn't expect that. The greatest thing about being at Kentucky -- I said it from day one.
“You can get the best and the brightest. You can get unbelievable players who are smart kids, who are great kids, who have great hearts. You don't come here if you want to shoot all the balls and be the face and be the only guy. You don't come here.
“You come here to be the best version of yourself and play against other really good guys and be around other really good people, and then they learn from each other.”
On De'Aaron going up against two physical experienced mature players like Dom, Isaiah and Isaac
“I'm going to tell you. Isaiah and De'Aaron have gone. It's been great. I haven't put them all together yet. I want them to continue to compete against each other. Malik and Dom -- now, the issue Dom was figuring out is that he can jump over Malik, like he can go and just jump and shoot it. So Dom has figured out how to keep him in front so that, when he jumps, Dom jumps. So now Dom is learning. That's what competition does.
“My son was playing Mychal Mulder. Mychal went right and dunked on him. Then he went right and dunked on him. These are four straight plays. Then he crossed over, and he dunked on him, and he dunked on him. And I said, son, he just dunked on you four times. He said, my hip is bothering me. You better get it replaced. I don't know what to tell you, but he can't be doing that.
“But Brad came back, and he said, you know what, I was too tight. I've got to get hands up and make sure I'm retreating back because I can't let him run by me. That's what playing against good players does, and instead of it being 12 times a year in games -- we may have 35, 36 games, but you're playing 12 to 15 against guys that are really going to be guys in that league that challenge you.
“The others are not with players as good as you unless you're in a practice and every day you're facing someone who's just as good as you. That's how you get better. That's why we are doing this at Kentucky. That's why it's happening. It's that they get better because they compete, and that's what they want.
“If you don't want that, they don't come here. They go other places.”
How much has Isaiah Briscoe’s shot has improved
“Isaiah's shot has really improved. Again, when you're trying to make -- not just Isaiah. When you're trying to make somebody the best version of themselves, you have to keep defining that over a period of time because sometimes it changes.
“And there have been guys that you have to -- being a defensive player, a rebounder, a sprinter, a shot blocker, a guy that dives on the floor, that's who you are. That's how you're going to do this.
“Michael Kidd. That guy either buys it and works like heck to be that guy and tries to improve his other skill stuff, or he says, that is too hard. Let me shoot more. The other guy that you're saying you have to improve your shooting may say, what do you mean? You've got to come in the gym every night after practice and make 500 shots, game shots. Really?
“How about you just give me the ball more and I'll just -- no, that's not going to be your best version. This is what you have to do. Then it becomes do they buy it? Are they bought into it?
“Isaiah's bought into it. That's why I couldn't be more pleased. He's leading on the court. We're teaching him how to lead off the court just like we did with Tyler. Early on, Tyler was great on the court.
“Off the court, he wasn't as good leading and being around. Now Isaiah is going through that process. Unbelievable on the court, unbelievable. Shooting the ball better, really proud of him. Still the same defending, rebounding guard that he was.”
On Malik Monk
“The hardest thing for a basketball player to do is dribble two really hard dribbles. You are flying, and then pull up and shoot a ball from 15, 17 feet. It's the hardest thing in the game, and he can do that easy. It's very easy for him to do. And that's why -- the best players I've coached make really hard things look easy.
“Like you may say, well, that was easy, and then, well, go try it. You think it's so easy, go ahead and do it. Then you say, wow, he makes this like it's nothing. So there are things that he does.
“Now, his game is still like this, and we need it to narrow in, but he knows it. Mind races. His feet move fast, so does his mind. We're trying to slow his mind down a little bit. But that's all time.
“This team is not going to be what it is until February. I'm telling you now. I'm here watching it. Whether it's Bam and all these kids. You have a chance of starting four freshmen.
“What? Oh, yeah, we're going to be -- we're the best team. We're starting four freshmen possibly. At minimum, I would say three freshmen.”
On Bam Adebayo
“He's just getting better every day, and it's going to be a process. Just like it was for any of our big guys that bought it, Karl, and you saw guys, and as the season went on, they just got better and better and better.
“I really believe that's what he'll be. His footwork, he's still learning. He still fades some. But he's skilled. He can pass. He flies up and down the court, flies. Literally, we can go boom, bing, lob, dunk, and it's him. He may have rebounded the ball, like what? He's fast.
“So that's why I say we should be a fast team. Our bigs are fast. Our guards are fast. An efficient team, I don't know yet. An execution team, we don't have anything in to execute yet right now. But hopefully we will be.”
On similarities between this year's team and past years
“No. And I don't mean to be -- I'm not being disrespectful, I'm just thinking like where you have played a lot of guards, normally I don't play as many guards. And then you say, well, you did last year. Yeah, we did, but we didn't have that size around the goal that this team has.
“That team was totally focused on one guy having the ball, and we all played off of him. This team will probably have three guys having the ball, and we'll play off them. One may have it more, but the other two are going to have it a significant amount of time. So that makes it different.
“Every team -- that's the fun thing about this. I mean, literally, every year is a different group, and you have to figure out how you're going to play.
On being named to the ad hoc committee on the NCAA selection process
“The good news is Mitch is on the committee. Now, he'd have to leave the room when they talk about us, but he's on the committee, and I think he'll do a very good job. He and I talk about it all the time.
“The first thing is being the composite of an RPI. You can't use RPI. It's got to be composite. In other words, there are four, five, six different ways of evaluating teams. Do a composite of them. Kind of like what do they do in the voting stuff? They have all the polls. They have one poll called the -- come on, politicians. What's the one poll that brings all the polls? Clear choice poll? What is it called? Oh, my gosh, is anybody watching the politics here? Real clear. And do that so we all know.
“I think we talked about defining what quality wins are. There was a bunch of things that we proposed that went before them and that they're going to talk about. So I feel good that we coaches -- and, again, 14 coaches got in a room, and in one day came up with seven things we all agreed on, 14-0. I've never seen it before in the sport, never.
“Because guys go in and they only think about their own program, and you can't get a consensus because they don't think it's going to help their league. That's not what we did. We went in. And it was for everybody, not just Kentucky or the SEC. It's just how are you evaluating us? Let us know beforehand this is how it will be.”
On having his son on the team and answering to his mom
“My wife has been to three practices since I've been the coach here, and she's been to two this year. (Laughs).
“You know, she understands, and I'm coaching my son. He's a walk-on. He's trying. He can shoot the ball. He knew coming here that you understand this is Kentucky. He wants to be challenged. He wants to see how good he can be. He's in the gym at night with Kenny, works at hard as anybody, if not harder, shoots it pretty well.
“Biggest thing he told me that kind of got me to say, okay, you can do it, is he wanted to get into coaching, which I never knew when he told me that. Okay, this is a good place to go if that's what you want to do.
“Look, for our children, you want them to build their own self-esteem and their own self-confidence. For your own child. You don't want it to come from somebody else because, if it does, that same person can take it away. You want them to learn the grind.
“Nothing is given to you. You're going to have to work for it. You want them to understand competition. That's our country, competition. You want them to learn about teammates, coming together, melding with other people, seeing where you can help. You want them to learn about servant leadership, even as a young person. Be more concerned with everybody else than yourself.
“If my son is learning that here and, when he leaves me, that's what he's developed, I'm going to be a proud father. Now, let me say, if I had a son, I would want him to be Brad. That's the truth. He's a great kid. He's done some stupid stuff, though, I'm going to tell you.
“He's got two sisters, Erin and Megan. I was with them the other day. One's 29, and one's 26. And I said to both girls, at what age -- 40, 43, 44 -- are you going to get your own credit cards? At what age?”
On coaching his own son
“Yeah. I was in Charlotte, and a friend of mine said, do you know how hard it would be to be your son? I never thought of it in those terms. Look, I don't see myself as maybe some of you do or other people. I grew up in Moon Township, grandparents came through Ellis Island. I know who I am. I don't see myself as this whoever they see me as. I don't.
“But when someone says that to me for your children, and now where they're going with their lives -- and Brad wants to have his own name. I hope someday someone says, that is Brad's dad.
“That would be my hope. Wow. For me. Right now he's Coach Cal's son. And he understood, coming here, it's a tough deal.”