Slowly but sure, the Kentucky Wildcats are starting to show they can be the kind of special team John Calipari envisioned before the season.
After struggling to put anyone away in the Cats’ first four wins, they dominated Fort Wayne to the tune of an 86-67 win that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
After the game, Calipari recapped the win, talked about what the holidays mean to him, what his Cats will be doing for Thanksgiving, and how happy he is to see nick Richards finally rounding into form.
He also talked about the flopper, Xzavier Taylor, who tried to draw a charge on the UK head coach.
“Took a dive? Good for him. Good for him,” Cal said of Taylor. “It's going to get him on SportsCenter. The kid is smart.”
Here is a recap of everything Calipari said after the win, courtesy of UK Athletics:
On Nick Richards performance …
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, he was pretty good today. Kenny (Payne) has done a great job and Tony (Barbee). What we’re trying to get them to do, they're trying to do. I was just happy for how he was reaching for balls and the stuff that he was doing. I got on Wenyen (Gabriel). Wenyen got 10 rebounds, 9 points. I was kind of on him. Again, he had four turnovers.
I mean, and let me say this about Fort Wayne - how well are they coached and how do they play to their strength, which is drive the ball and shoot threes? They're a veteran team. They have a little bit inside. But the thing is, they're going to take -- they took 37 three-point shots. When you play a team that's willing to take 37 three-point shots, you got a chance of losing because they can make 20. Now you lost the game.
Again, they missed some free throws, which is surprising because they're a really good free-throw shooting team.
Like I said, we got better. The zone looked good. The zone kind of stymied them a little bit. It's nice we can go to that thing a little bit if we need to, but we're still learning.
Again, in one minute, they scored 10 points. I think it was a 10-0 run. We've had that every game. We're up 30. All of a sudden you turn around and we win by 19. We still got some issues. When I watch the tape, I'll figure out, again, here is why it happened.
I'm telling you, in most cases either someone was not engaged defensively or someone got selfish. Instead of making an easy play, they tried to make the hardest play or they just missed free throws, like missed them all.
I'll say this about shooting and free throws. You don't have to make them all. You just can't miss them all. Hopefully you're making more than you're missing.
Q. John, any players tonight kind of felt like the light came on a little bit for them? Your demeanor in the second half seemed to change, things had been going better than previous games.
JOHN CALIPARI: We still have some guys that have habits that they've got to create new habits. If a guy has been doing something eight years, you're not going to break that habit. So you got to create new habits so that thing is not there any more. We're not trying to break it. Leave it there. But we're going to do something different.
That's what's hard with these young kids. Hard. Kevin Knox -- one-handed rebounds again. One-handed catches. Just got to keep running him. You're going to run. I mean, Vermont game - one-handed rebound. We almost lost. Kansas game - one-handed rebound.
Those are things, it's not breaking that habit, it's creating a new habit that you're going to go after every ball with two hands.
There was some good stuff. I'm anxious to watch the tape. Happy for the guys. Look, we found out yesterday that we have the youngest, most inexperienced team in the last 11 years since Ken Pom has kept track. What? So there are 350 teams a year for the last 11 years, and we're the youngest ever. That's only because he only did it from 2006 and '7. It may be the youngest ever.
We're trying to win. I'm trying to challenge these guys. We're trying to create new habits. I am losing my mind thinking that we should be farther along than we are.
But I'm proud of them. I'm happy. Again, I talked to them after the game. Really said very little about the game. Talked about Thanksgiving. I just said to the team, “How many of you in this room understand how thankful you need to be? I hope you understand. I mean, how did you get that body you have? You haven't done anything for this. It's been given to you.”
I told them this. I said, “Look, how many of you grew up where you didn't have much?” I said, “When I see someone homeless or I see someone that's struggling, I say, only by the grace of God that's not me.” Where I came from, how I was brought up, it could have been me.
So for all of us to be thankful and talk to these players about that -- we're going to the Salvation Army. We're going to serve food tomorrow. The Lundergan family has done it for 30 years. Jerry is going to let us be a part of it. I appreciate him. He's a good friend of mine.
But I want them to feel. When we do the Christmas stuff where we bring in 12 families and we pay two months' rent, do you know what those mothers do when they players give them the rent check for two months? They cry. They cry. I wanted my players to see that. Do you understand the impact by doing something little, by having an impact on somebody else?
But the only way you can be grateful or be that way is be thankful and be grateful because most of the stuff we have is not earned or deserved, it just happened that it's us and it's not him. He had a break the wrong way. I had a break the right way. Only by the grace of God that's not me.
I said this. I'm not trying to get on a soapbox, even though I am. 2,600 homeless in our city - are you kidding me? Lexington, Kentucky, one of the wealthiest cities. We have 2,600 homeless?
I want my kids to know that. Then you have a chance to have an impact on stuff. How do you do it? What are you going to do?
This is a good time for a young team because these kids most of their life to this point -- what have they thought about? Themselves. What did they dream about? Themselves. Now all of a sudden you're put in this position where you can have an impact.
It's why I love the fact when I read about my guys in the league, in the NBA. Not even those guys, even a Jon Hood. You see guys that maybe aren't in the league, but you see what they're doing in communities and how they're being involved. I mean, this is the great thing about coaching here at Kentucky.
I've got to be grateful. I told them that. Can you imagine? There's no reason I should be the Kentucky coach. You had people try to stop me from getting this job. There is no reason I should be the Kentucky coach. And I am. Now all of a sudden we got 30, 40 kids in the NBA. We're having an impact on kids' lives and families.
I shouldn't be the coach. As a player, I was small, but I was slow. I'm coaching at Kentucky. I mean, for me, you know, just being thankful about that. I told them that. I'm able to put all of you on a stage where you have a chance to change the rest of your lives and the dimension of your family and the direction of your family by being in this program.
I will tell you all to have a great day tomorrow. I'm going to say this on the radio, and hopefully you guys will do this. If you're having Thanksgiving dinner, there's got to be someone in your community that you know is alone. Either bring them food, knock on their door, or have them come to your house and eat. Got to be some woman, some mother, you know they're alone.
It's a great thing about this state. I've never been anywhere that people have bigger hearts and make it about community. They don't talk about a city. They talk about a county. That's what it is.
I would suggest to all of you, if you have a chance, bring somebody in your home. Make somebody else's day. Take them food. Do something neat.
Q. Back to the end of the first half, start of the second half. 15-0 run. They go six minutes without a basket. What changed there?
JOHN CALIPARI: We just told them, “You understand they got eight threes, so let's take away threes. You got to stay in front of the ball. If you don't stay in front of the ball, you ready, I'm taking you out.”
He takes me out every time a make a mistake.
No. Every time you get beat for a layup, I'm taking you out. That's energy, that's effort, that's desire, that's fight. It has nothing to do with turnovers, missed shots, nothing.
All of a sudden we stayed in front. We gave tough threes. Now, it changed the game. First half, wow. Each pass, each drive, one more guy stopped. So when they got to the fourth drive or the fourth lane touch, two guys weren't playing on my team. They had already stopped. It was pass, pass three.
But that's what young teams do.
Q. When is the last time an opposing player tried to draw a charge on you?
JOHN CALIPARI: They asked me about it out there. The only thing I remember is one of their players -- and you know I love this -- he made a three in front of me, then turned and looked right at me. Like, How about that? I thought it was great. You know that don't bother me.
“You don't do that to me, you know my legacy, who I am.” That ain't me. I was ready to hit him with five. I like that. Kid has some swag about him.
The kid that fell, I don't know what happened. I don't even know. Somebody said, “You hit him?”
I said, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
Q. He took a little dive.
JOHN CALIPARI: Took a dive? Good for him. Good for him. It's going to get him on SportsCenter. The kid is smart.
Was I even close? Was I doing that one? Was it the Heisman? Was it the Heisman? Was it a foot?
Q. With Nick (Richards), you talked about the work that Kenny and the guys have been doing with him. What has been the biggest focus for you?
JOHN CALIPARI: Let me just tell you what's helped him as much as anything else. He called Bob Rotella. Then he came and saw me. He said, “Man, that guy is really good, got me in the right frame of mind right now.”
This is the game of basketball. If you think you're going to struggle, guess what? You're struggling. The only way, though, that you can build confidence is working harder than everybody in practice.
And the second thing is, you can't have the weight of the world on you and play this game. You got to play like you got nothing to lose. That's all I've been talking about to these guys. Every team that plays us plays like they have nothing to lose.
All right, well let's us play that way. We're the youngest team maybe ever trying to do anything, trying to win games. Let's play like we have nothing to lose.
Then they looked at me and say, “Well, coach, you have to coach like you have nothing to lose.”
I said, “We're not doing that.”
They said that to me, and they're right.
The other thing is if I have more fun coaching, they're going to have more fun playing. I have fun when guys are diving on the floor, taking charges, flying up and down, making extra passes, and hustling. I know we're not going to make shots. We're going to turn it over, freshmen. If they want me to have a ball, play like that.
But let me say this, it's really hard to play that way. It is. Because you have to just go until you can't go. It's hard.