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John Calipari talks new season, Nick Richards, the 3-ball and more

Nick Richards has come a long way, and so has UK’s perimeter shooting.

NCAA Basketball: Preseason-Morehead State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Ready or not, the Kentucky Wildcats’ next game will be for real.

Following a promising three-game exhibition slate, the Cats now enter the regular season after a dominant win over Centre on Friday. The Cats had plenty of instances where they looked like a special team in the making, but we also saw enough hiccups to have John Calipari worried as the new season begins.

“We just have so far to go. I didn't think we passed the ball to each other in the first half. Everybody was trying to get theirs a little bit and it just looked bad,” said Calipari “We just got a lot of work to do to be able to feel a comfort level on the court. I don't want to have to call stuff every time down, but I will.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say after UK beat Centre, courtesy of UK Athletics:

JOHN CALIPARI: We played our best when we were in running in a set, which I don't want to play that way, but we'll play how we have to play. I did play the zone just so we could look at it for a minute. But, again, gave up some threes, but it disrupted the game, which is why you go to it. You know what was great with Centre College, they saw no fear, they were so excited to play and they just played until the horn. And when he went to the bench that guy was excited about playing and I was disappointed that they got to the basket so many times on straight drives. Some of them were just simple pick and rolls where we didn't talk. But we just got a long way to go. I'm not in a panic yet, I do have both feet on the panic button, but I'm not crazy yet. It's just that -- and yesterday was a probably one of the toughest practices I've had since I've been here -- trying to get their heart rates up and get them not to surrender. You're fatigued, don't surrender. You're fatigued, don't let go of the rope. You're fatigued, talk more. You're fatigued, be there for each other, cover each other. That's our biggest issue. Now, I may be able to do that again maybe Saturday, Sunday, but we're off Monday and we got three games in five days and they're all going to be hard games for us. So, we got to get a little bit fresh and go from there.

Q. I know Nick has put in a lot of work, some after hours work on his offense, he was 6-6 from the floor, 5-5 from the line tonight. How significant is that to you, he threw the little jump hook in there, looked pretty good.

JOHN CALIPARI: No, he's gotten way better. But we just, he's just got to keep going. Part of it is we got to go at him and let him know what we want him to do. He's a really good foul shooter. He's a good shooter. I mean, if you leave him open at the foul line in those areas, he can make that shot. But that jump hook at seven foot is hard. Again, they weren't, they're not in there 6'-10", 6'-11" putting a body on him, that bothers him a little bit, but like I said, we're out there with a lot of young guys. I thought Wenyen did some good stuff, shot some balls. We shot the ball fairly well, but again, we got to be a team that really the ball zings and we get in that lane. And that means you got to play through bumps. In other words, you're going to drive, they're not going to just give you the drive, get the ball by them, they're going to body you a little bit, you got to go through the first one, get through the second body check and see what you have. But I know, you look at the stats and all that stuff, but I'm like I said, we got a ways to really get this right. But I'll watch the tape. I was more watching the game. I got a little frustrated with some of the guys' decision making and I thought most of it was, I'm trying to get one, I'm trying to get mine. But I'll watch the tape. Sometimes I'm wrong. I think it was 1978, might have been '77 I was wrong.

Q. With the season opener coming up, are there one, two or three things you can look at as a priority and say, we got to get better at this right now. Is there a priority list?

JOHN CALIPARI: It probably is being more, I want this to be a random playing team, but it looks like we're going to have to have some really, not over structure, but good structure that they know, if there's nothing there, this is what we're doing. We probably are going to have to play in segments like for four or five segments, four or five minute segments we're playing a certain way and, okay, now let's go to this and see what's -- and then finish with what works good. We got to see -- we're not going to be pressing the whole game, that's not what I'm doing. But we're doing that to condition, to get these guys to play up and down. So, but we're not where we want to be, we're not where we were, but we're not where we want to be. And I told them, I'm not worried about where we are right now, I just want to see that we're getting better.

Q. To piggyback off what you said a moment ago about some of the disappointment, there were a lot of threes and I saw your reaction on threes when you have a height advantage. They didn't drive as much as you would like, is that fair to say?

JOHN CALIPARI: On our shooting threes? Well, look, we only took 14, okay. But there were a couple where the lane was open, drive down the middle and dunk it on everybody. If someone tries to step up and take a charge, we work on that every day, attack and avoid. And if you avoid them, it's a moving, it's a block. Just don't run them over. But take that ball. And again, when the easiest thing at times -- and let me say this, if the ball is driven in the lane and thrown out, shoot the three every single time. If the ball is passed around the perimeter, drive it, don't shoot a three. That's when I was getting upset. The ball went from a corner to the wing to the top and a guy shot it. We never got it in the lane. Again, our advantage is we're long, we're active, if we can get guys helping, we'll offensive rebound, you are not offensive rebound - swinging around the perimeter shooting jump shots. Not going to. But if you drive it, kick it out, and get them out of whack and we miss that shot, we'll rebound it. I liked the fact that Kevin had 11 rebounds today and Sacha had nine rebounds today and Wenyen had nine rebounds today. But again, I mean we should have out rebounded Centre because we're just bigger.

Q. Veterans Day is coming up, the football team is kicking off Lexington's Week of Valor tomorrow. Are you going to do anything special with your team and what would you like to say to all the men and women who have served?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, at this point we haven't really spent a whole lot of time thinking about that, but Eric and DeWayne and I will probably come together and see what we do, but let me just say that the freedoms that we all enjoy are because people are willing to put their life on the line for all of us. You can't ever take that literally. Now we have Americans around the globe trying to protect us here at home in what they're doing for my team and for all of us to really recognize. And we have done a lot of stuff with the different military here, especially within our state with the National Guard. But, yeah, this is a special time, especially now with all that's going on around the world.

Q. How would you assess Diallo's progress through these three games? What things do you like and where do you feel like he needs to focus on improvement?

JOHN CALIPARI: He's got to get better and that's okay. Where he is right now is not where he's going to be in a couple weeks, in three weeks, in four weeks, but we all hope it was -- you know, when you get fatigued, you start like being lackadaisical. That's what I'm saying when you start surrendering to fatigue. And I think that what you're talking about is you saw three or four plays where, wow, he just kind of went after it nonchalant. Well again, when you're fatigued you surrender. And that's the stuff that we're trying to do in practice, get guys, when you're tired, go get that ball and then go dunk it. Come up with that ball. Don't flip a lazy pass, don't do it. But again, he's a freshman, a freshman like all these kids. And what we're asking them to do they have never done before, all of them. They have never played this hard. They have never played this way. They have never -- they don't even understand when we start Friday and it's for real, it's going to be up another level and the teams we're starting to play, whether it's Utah Valley and with a bunch of kids back and Vermont, a top-50, 60, 70 team, whatever they are, with all their guys back and they have had two or three back-to-back great seasons. They're hard games. Then you got to go play in Chicago, Kansas, I mean, this is, it's pretty heady stuff to throw at these guys right away.

Q. You played quite a bit of zone in the second half, how do you think you looked in the zone?

JOHN CALIPARI: I'll look at it. I was really -- the one that just disappointed me is the skip over the top and Wenyen 6'-9" and that kid's 6'-3" and if he drove it, we're in a zone, we got a guy on the elbow and we got a guy on the block, the only thing you could hurt us doing is shoot that three. But we haven't played much zone, how could I get that upset? I mean, we haven't played zone in a week in even practice. So we went to it and I told Coach Barbee, just talk to them and we'll, let's see what that big lineup looks like when we're playing. And I tell you, we got our hands on a lot of balls, we, you're really that long, it's pretty good stuff.

Q. The most lopsided margin of defeat in U.K. men's basketball history was at the hands of Centre, 70 points, and I was just curious --

JOHN CALIPARI: Centre beat?

Q. U.K. by 70 points.


Q. And I was just curious, did you schedule this game exclusively out of revenge or primarily out of revenge?

JOHN CALIPARI: Wow, they beat them by 70? How many points was scored in the game? Wow. Who was coaching that team?

Q. Answer my question.

JOHN CALIPARI: No, you know, again, this is -- the one thing, and coach was so appreciative and, but we are too. I mean, I want teams to come in and run all their stuff and out of bounds plays to try to score and get their kids to feel good. We try to leverage this program to help, to become involved in this state and what we do. And Thomas More came in and had alums and they were cheering. And it was funny, when we played Morehead and they were cheering and you could hear them chanting in our building, which I think is kind of neat. But it's a way of helping different programs and this thing is kind of unique in that the seat I sit in, you cheat the position if you're not reaching out to help. And the same with this program, we have a chance to help other programs, and I know when we schedule non-conference games, that's more beneficial to that other team than us and the only, you know, players or the programs I remember is when I was at UMass and Memphis and they wouldn't play me. So now I won't play them. They're out. But everybody else is in play.