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John Calipari talks SEC Tournament, Skal's impact, Kenny Payne and more

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Calipari previews the SEC Tournament, talks about Skal's rise and what Kenny Payne has meant to UK as it looks like his days in Lexington may be numbered.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is over for the Kentucky Wildcats as they prepare for what hopes to be a deep SEC Tournament run.

The Cats are the No. 2 seed in this year's conference tourney and have a favorable path to the title game. At this point, UK needs to at least make it to Sunday's championship in order to boost their seeding on Selection Sunday.

John Calipari echoed that sentiment during his appearance on the SEC coaches teleconference while also discussing the latest happenings around his program. He also praised assistant coach Kenny Payne for what he's done for UK during his time in Lexington, which may be coming to an end as he looks to become a college head coach.

Here's a recap of everything Cal had to say Monday:

On state of UK heading into SEC Tournament
"I'm pleased. I've been pleased with this team. We're just trying to continue to build confidence from within. Having each guy understand what it means to take responsibility for it, to not enable guys when they're not playing well or not playing with confidence. That's been our mission here for the last three weeks.

"I love what I'm seeing. I love how the kids are responding. And they're taking it on themselves. Their confidence, they own it. It's nice to be out there with a bunch of guys - and again, Tyler (Ulis is) leading this team and just doing wonderful things to put people in positions where they can play more confident."

On idea that conference tournaments are unnecessary
"Well, the tournament we're all fighting for obviously is the NCAA Tournament. The one thing that conference tournaments do is add to the intrigue. It gives teams a chance that need one more push to put themselves in. My whole thing is what is best for the kids, and I come back to this all the time.

"Whatever's the best thing for these kids is what we should be doing. If we make decisions based on them, solely on them, then we don't make mistakes. We use the tournament to improve our seed. I've said this for 25 years that I've been a coach.

"This conference tournament we're going to, our fans, it's a huge thing for Kentucky fans. We're going to play as well as we can play. We're using the tournament to improve our seed in the NCAA Tournament."

On who best defensive players in SEC are
"It's an issue for me to talk about that because we only played a few of the teams on time, and if we played them at home or on the road it may have had an impact. But I will say this is one of the better defensive - the league was. We had big guys that could protect the rim, you had some perimeter guys that really guarded and did some good stuff.

"I like my guys, how they defended. But I couldn't be fair to all those kids if I started naming names."

On Skal Labissiere's impact
"I'm happy for him. Obviously he makes our team better, but I'm happy for him. I've seen that he's finally bought into the process, and it takes time. We've had guys that take some years to buy in, and we've had guys that take some months to buy in and then all of a sudden they explode.

"Jamal Murray early on bought in and now all of a sudden, the process and what we're trying to do as a team and his role in that, he's absolutely taken on. And now Skal has. What Skal does for us, the biggest thing is Marcus Lee is able to play to his strengths, which is his energy, his offensive rebounding, tip dunks, dunking balls, being around that goal.

"He's not asked to do more. He's asked to play right into his sweet spot, because Skal can do all the scoring and all the other things that you want that big man to do, especially shooting on the perimeter. And Derek (Willis) also helps with that, so now you have other guys that aren't asked to do things that would make them less than confident.

"They're all in positions where: I can do this. It's who I am and I can be confident about it. Skal being plugged in really kind of puts the pieces where they need to be."

On how wide-open the SEC Tournament is
"Well, you have a lot of teams that are playing well right now, whether they're on our side or the other side or whatever you want to say. There are a lot of teams that are playing well right now. Mississippi has won five of six or four of five. You're talking about a South Carolina team that went to Arkansas - no one wins at Arkansas - and went in there and not only won, but won in convincing fashion.

"You say what you want. They're playing well. And whatever happened during the season doesn't matter now. It's kind of like our game with LSU. What happened earlier in the year had no bearing on that game being played later. I would say that as we go into the tournament, this thing is: Who's playing well, because obviously there's not a lot of difference between seven teams.

"I mean, it's like we're all looking like we have our chances. So it should be a fun tournament for our fans. I'm not sure for our coaches it'll be very much fun, because every game will probably be a war."

On Kenny Payne's impact on UK bigs
"Well, it's not just big guys. He's working with guards and everybody on this team, but let me just tell you what he does: He has a great relationship with these kids. He doesn't BS them. He doesn't tell them what they want to hear. He tells them the truth.

"That's one. And two, he's extremely hard on them. He is harder on them than I am, which is good for me, because I'm tough, too, but I'm not as tough as him. I mean, he absolutely accepts nothing but their best. We're not here to placate. We're not here to alibi. We're not here to enable. We're here to move you from Point A to Point B to Point C.

"We've done this. There's a process to it. You guys that buy the process are fine. The other guys, you're either delusional or you're trying to do it your own way and it doesn't work. There is a process to this. Kenny is there for these kids, he has a great relationship, but it's based on trust because he doesn't BS them.

"I'm not here - we're here to move you and move your game and get you to be the teammate you need to be. He's done a great job, and not just with big guys. I don't think it's fair to Kenny to say, ‘Well, he's a big man coach.' He is a coach, he is the associate (head) coach.

"He took over at South Carolina and did a better job than I would've done. Matter of fact, if we play South Carolina again, I'll probably be sick that day, let him coach the game. So he's not just a big man coach. He is a basketball coach who has done a great job."