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John Calipari previews Kansas, talks freshmen in a boxing ring, kicking alligators and more

Calipari was all over the place while previewing Kentucky vs Kansas.

Denver Nuggets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

John Calipari was all over the grid during his Monday presser, where he previewed Tuesday’s matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks.

After a wild weekend that saw Kentucky pull off two narrow wins, Calipari was a glass case of emotion about his young Cats and how they’ll perform under the bright lights vs a top-five team in Chicago.

Tyler Thompson captured some of the fun Calipari was having:

Here’s a link to the entire press conference.

Now, here is a full transcript of everything Calipari had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On playing three games in five days …

“It’s OK. I mean, I didn’t want to do back-to-back games with this team, especially when I knew what the second game was going to be. I knew they’d be good. I didn’t know they’d be that good. When I say good, what they do is they’re a great execution team. They’re a veteran team, and that guard (Trae Bell-Haynes) put his name in the draft and then took his name out. That No. 2, (Anthony) Lamb, like, we got him in foul trouble or he would have really hurt us. You saw some of the plays that he made. So, that’s why we didn’t play back-to-back games. But, this is fine. This is going to be a really hard game for us to win. The good news is, thank goodness we played at 3:30 so that the staff could prepare. Like, I’ve watched enough tape right now that I have a feel. I’m more concerned about how we’re playing than how Kansas plays. Kansas is flying. They’re shooting 25 to 30 3s. They’re going to shoot them whether we’re zone, man, triangle-and-two, box-and-one. They’re taking 25 to 30 3s. They’ll still run some of their weave into pick-and-roll. They do a lot of pick-and-roll to try throw skip passes to shoot. I mean, they’re who they always are. They play tough. They’re a good defensive team. I know what they’ll do against us. They’ll come out and at some point play a 2-3 zone. At some point they may try and throw a triangle-and-two. But, I’m more concerned on things that we have to improve on. So, we’re going to have a film session in about 15 minutes, then we’ll go on the court and we’ll walk through what we need to talk about with our team. We’ll walk through Kansas and then we’ll get ready to travel to Chicago.”

On things the team has done better than he thought and things he thought the team would be better at than they have been doing …

“I’m pleased that they’re a really smart team that is really – they’re trying to grasp what we’re doing. And I like that. We’re not as good – well, we were yesterday because PJ (Washington) rebounded. I thought we’d be that kind of rebounding team that we were yesterday. That’s who I thought we’d be so, I would tell you that I’m pretty pleased with that. We’ve got to, two things: guard defense is really – what’s the word above bad? (Sports information director Eric Lindsey: “Terrible”). No beyond. Above that. (Lindsey: Atrocious). Yeah like, atrocious. Is there other words that you can use? Keep going. We’re just getting beat on the dribble by everybody. And you can’t – defense starts on the ball. It always has. And if you can’t guard the ball it’s hard to keep you in. Like I had to take Quade (Green) out. He gave up like five points in 18 seconds. You can’t score enough to stay in the game. Now, I haven’t done it yet but I want to see how many points he gave up versus how many he scored. I know it’s a negative. And I hate to tell you this. The same with Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). You can’t have a negative. I remember I coached Keith Van Horn in the NBA. And he said, ‘I’ve gotta guard Karl Malone. What am I going to do?’ Whew. I said, ‘He’s probably going to get 35 on you. Try to get 40 on him. It’s the only thing I can tell you.’ You know, and the crazy thing is the kid tried too, and it’s like, ‘OK. He killed you. You killed him. We’re in the game.’ It can’t be at a negative. And so I’m going to talk to the guards about it. It’s going to be a process. We have to be able to stay in front of people. We have enough shot blocking unless they’re shooting straight layups. Ain’t no one blocking that. If you make them go wide of you we can help. But, to go straight down the line – it’s not just guards. Kevin Knox is getting beat that way. PJ is getting beat that way. Freshmen get beat that way. Hami (Diallo) gets beat that way. That’s what freshmen do. They get beat that way. And now we’ve just gotta demand it. I was all over PJ for three days said, ‘You’re going to start playing with a motor.’ And you see him yesterday with the motor. He’s as good as anybody in the country. But, he doesn’t practice that way which means it’s hard to play that way. And so, I think he has an idea and the team does of why we’re demanding what we’re demanding of him.”

On if he’s worried about some of the matchups Quade Green will face on defense based on physicality …

“Some of it becomes just positioning. It’s called opening the gate. The guy goes to drive – watch. Instead of your first step being here (to the side) and here, his first step – you ready? – is, I’m gonna run you down. You can’t catch him. I hate to tell you, Shai the same thing, Hami does the same thing. The guy goes like this with the ball and they move up. No. The guy goes like that with the ball, you give space with a high hand. If you’re going to get beat, then get beat letting them shoot a tough two. You can’t give them layups or wide-open 3s. Those two things kill your team. In the second half, what’d we give Vermont? Layups and open 3s – then you’re gonna lose. This is a young team that, you know, we’re learning. That was a great game for us to play. Unbelievable. I’ll be honest with you, I was mad that we were playing it our second game. Like, I could not believe why we would play a 30-win team. You know what that was like? That was like my UMass teams. I laughed when I walked off. I said I missed those days, coaching juniors, seniors. Execution, everything’s done, and they’re in the right position and taking charges. That’s who they were. Then we got a freshman team that started the game again. We played OK but we made like four – like, why wouldn’t you just do this? They had five guys back. Don’t keep going, they have five guys there. Do not keep going. We did. It’s just stuff we can teach.”

On how big of a challenge Devonte’ Graham is …

“What he’ll do is shoot a 3 at any point, which means then you start playing him and he can get by you. It’s going to be a hard game for us. It’s not just him. I mean, they all can shoot. (Lagerald) Vick can get it to the basket. The big kid (Udoka Azubuike) is good. We recruited the big kid. They beat us on him. Next to the basket, it’s a tough deal. They rebound, but Graham is the one that stirs their coffee. He’s the guy. He’s the one that creates all that’s being created out there. It’s through him.”

On if Nick Richards can play more against Kansas than he did against Vermont …

“Should be, and it may be right for Tai (Wynyard), too. This may be a Tai game. Let him go in there and bang the crap out of them. But I’ll say this: I’m so proud of Sacha (Killeya-Jones), but what you’re seeing in the games, Sacha is doing in practice. And everybody on our team knows it. They gave him a hand last night after the game. He wants to score. You know, the left hook, ‘Why did you shoot that? You have no chance of making that. You’re not going to impress anybody with that. Rebound, defend, block shots, fly up and down that court – you’re gonna impress everybody. The left hook does nothing. Make a jump shot or two.’ We’ve just got to get these guys into – like Hami shooting a left-footed kick away in a six-point game. ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Well, I thought I could make it.’ ‘No, you can’t win playing that way.’ We’ve just got to continue to teach them possession by possession what it takes to win.”

On coaching against Bill Self so much and if there are any advantages or disadvantages …

“Well, I coached against him when he was at Illinois, so we’ve had a lot of games, and two championship games and they’re beating us pretty good the last couple. We’ll see. Look, I’m telling you, I told the guys prior to last night, ‘You have to enjoy learning.’ What I’ve got to do is be tough on them in these practices. Then I’ve got to really be as positive as I can, but I’m going to tell them, ‘If there’s something I’m telling you to do and you choose not to do it, I have a right now to let you know about it. But as long as you’re fighting, you’re trying to do the right things – things are gonna happen. Cover for each other, talk to each other and just keep learning about each other.’ How about this? We haven’t worked on the last four minutes of a close game. Are you kidding me? We’re trying to put in out-of-bounds plays right now. We don’t have a press attack. If they go triangle-and-two, we worked on our triangle-and-two offense. What? I’m giving it away. Go play triangle-and-two. Go play. I mean it’s – you just figure it out, and you play with confidence that way. Playing with confidence – real simple. I’m playing harder than the guy I’m playing against. I’m gonna be confident then. If he’s smashing me, I’m in the ring. Bang, bang. I’m confident? You can’t be confident. You’ve gotta smash him, and then you’re dancing. These guys, there’s no coolness because coolness leads to having no confidence. Because you’re layup, layup, boom, foul, grab and then your eyes are like that. And that’s what we’re trying to teach them: You build your confidence through playing harder than the other guy. By doing it together so you don’t feel the weight of the world on you. You don’t want to feel the weight of the world on you. What does the team need you to do? I’m gonna go do that. What we’re trying to have everybody do is play in a way that they can have success. The guys that fight us usually have a confidence problem. They’re trying to do what they want to do and all of the sudden they look so bad you just – and then they have no confidence.”

On the players saying they’re having fun and him sounding like he’s in agony …

“Kicking dogs, throwing cats. No, I’m dying here. I got a noose around my neck, I’m holding onto a rope, my hands are bleeding, I’m kicking alligators and I’m coaching freshmen.

“Yesterday, I’m telling you, honestly, this thing, I’m fighting to get my mind set in that I’ve got to stay in the moment of all this and I’ve got to be as positive for these guys as I can. And then I’ve got to try to build this toward the end of the year. You’re seeing if our guards can’t stay in front of anybody we’ll get beat by 30 up there. Thirty. If we don’t fight – because this team flies – you have to fight to get back and, you ready, and find shooters. You can’t run back (panting). No, where are these shooters? All the stuff I’m talking about, I am in deep agony.

“Now, let me say this, I’m happy if they’re having a ball because I’m killing them. He’ll tell ya (pointing to Lindsey), he’s on the sideline watching practice. He’s drinking a Diet Coke, his toes are up on the bench, but I’m harder on these guys than any team I’ve coached here. So, if they’re enjoying it, I’m happy as heck.

“But I’m in agony because – I know part of it is the anxiety comes when you’re worried about what just happened. I’m usually pretty good with that. My anxiety comes when it’s worried about what’s next and what could happen. Then you start having visions about what could happen. Then you’re balled up under the covers worrying about what’s – and most of the time it doesn’t happen. So, sometimes I get ahead of, within the next two, three weeks we better be here or we’re not – and you know what, they’re meeting my expectations along the way.

“My biggest concern is each individual. I worry about individuals as much as I do my team. I worry about, ‘Why isn’t this guy doing this right? Why is this guy fighting this and then he looks bad? What can I do?’ I have individual meetings. Tai hasn’t played. I gotta sit him down and say, ‘This could be your game. You gotta be ready. But if Sacha and Nick are better than you, what do you want me to do? I’m not going to take minutes from them.’

“I already had that talk. So, so-and-so wants to play more. ‘Who do you want to play in front of? Well, tell them. Do you want to take their minutes? Tell them who it is.’ ‘Do you want to give up your minutes?’ ‘You don’t? No, why don’t you just give him eight of your minutes?’ ‘No. He’s not getting one minute of mine.’ ‘Really? So, now you gotta go fight in practice and prove you should be playing and he shouldn’t, and we’ll have great practices.’ I mean, that’s stuff young kids don’t get.

“But, I love it when we win. I had a great time yesterday. The game got close. I’m just happy – we needed a close game, but we didn’t need to lose it. But we needed a close game. I found out Kevin (Knox) could make a shot. We were awful down the stretch. One-handed rebounds, one-handed catches all led to baskets. Missed defensively twice. I mean, there’s stuff that, that’s what I show them on the tape.”