First-year assistant coach Joel Justus had his time with the media during UK Media Day, and spoke about all the new opportunities and experiences he’s getting with his new job.
Justus spoke on getting to coach with John Calipari, which he is grateful to get the opportunity to do.
“I think every day you have to feel blessed to work with a great head coach, first and foremost, in Coach Cal,” Justus said. “He’s reached out to me and really tried to help me, and I think every day I’m grateful for that.”
Justus isn’t just happy to be around Cal, but all the coaches on the staff.
“But not only Cal, it’s Robes (John Robic), it’s Kenny (Payne), it’s Tony (Barbee),” Justus said. “You’re on a big team. It’s also a blessing to work with such great kids that we’ve had in the two previous years and this group we have right now.”
Justus kept reiterating how grateful he was, and how blessed he was to have his job. He’s very high on Coach Cal, and talked about how he met Cal.
“My father was the sports information director at UNC-Wilmington when Cal started there,” Justus said. “They stayed in touch. I interviewed with Cal when I was at Elon and he was at Memphis. That’s a long story I can tell you another time. But basically he flew me in and said, ‘I’m not going to hire you for this job, but I want to get to know you and maybe down the road I’ll hire you.’ I guess whatever that was, 10 years ago.”
Ever since then, Justus has been learning from Calipari, especially in the past couple years. He spoke on what he’s learned as well.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned basketball wise is the daily preparation for basketball, for basketball practice, taking a look at how he plans a practice,” Justus said. “I mean obviously I was a head high school coach so I spent six years planning my own practices. Then to go back and learn a different way other than the way I had been doing it or the way the coaches I had played for had done it has been fun. Off the floor, just the forward thinking, cutting edge approach to recruiting, but also building a brand is something that is fascinating to have a front row seat.”
Calipari has been revolutionary in his recruiting approach, and it has been wildly successful at Kentucky. It’s surely been great for Justus to see how Cal works.
Justus also talked about coaching-specific topics, such as finding the best guys to bring into Kentucky.
“I think the best thing for us is to try to identify guys who see Kentucky as the ultimate destination for them,” Justus said. “If this is a place they see themselves maybe being fit for, they see Coach Cal is someone they want to trust with their development, they see our staff as a group of people they’re going to trust with their future. I think we need to identify that and that’s something I think is probably at the top of my to-do list every day.”
There are certainly a lot of top-flight players who have decided Kentucky is the place for them, and the results speak for themselves. While many top players are drawn to Kentucky by their recent success, there’s still pressure on Justus to help recruit No. 1 class after No. 1 class.
“There’s always a challenge to it, but I think there’s a lot bigger challenges to recruiting at Elon,” Justus said. “Here there are other challenges that are after the initial hellos, introductions. But I think with what we have to sell, with having a Hall of Fame coach, with having 75 percent of the guys that come here be drafted in the NBA, 75 percent of those guys getting their second contract, 30 guys over the last seven years, you have that to sell.
“Then when you have the staff that we have, the people that we have that are in our program, the players, the type of players you can promise to a mom that her son is going to be around, or a father that his son is going to be around for the next one, two, three, four years. It makes it a fun place to recruit.”
There’s no doubt that the program is great, from its on-court results to the feeling of family in the clubhouse. Justus has great reason to enjoy recruiting players to come to Kentucky.
In his first year as an assistant coach after spending a few years within the program before, Justus will certainly learn a lot. He will take in a lot from Calipari and company, and will hopefully do a great job in contributing to the recruiting effort.