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John Calipari talks injuries, Kevin Knox’s Monmouth struggles, and VT’s shooting abilities

Everything John Calipari said in his media availability before Virginia Tech.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky vs Monmouth-NJ Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari held his regular pregame presser to talk about Virginia Tech. He of course addressed a lot of other things, including Kevin Massey, all the injuries the Cats are dealing with right now, Kevin Knox’s struggles against Monmouth, his bigs defending the perimeter and Shai Gligeous-Alexander wanting to be coached.

Calipari is trying not to take credit for Kevin Massey’s successes, he said. He says assistant coach John Robic helped Massey a ton. He also said Sacha Killeya-Jones and Quade Jones are likely to play on Saturday.

Speaking of injuries, Calipari said Jarred Vanderbilt is making progress, according to assistant coach Kenny Payne.

When talking about Knox’s struggles last time out, Calipari said that Knox is still getting better and he’s had to hear how poorly he played against Monmouth a lot this week.

When game planning against Virginia Tech, Calipari talked about defending them out on the perimeter, as they’re a dangerous 3-point shooting team. Cal said what will help is that the Cats can play small now and defend the perimeter if VT goes small.

Now here’s everything Cal said at his pre-Va Tech presser.

On student manager Kevin Massey’s graduation …

“First of all let me tell you, I’m getting a lot more credit than I deserve. I did go see (him). I went back up to see him. I did tell him, ‘You get healthy (and) you come here.’ We helped him with the school, but the day-to-day stuff is what John Robic did. If I’m John, this is one of my best accomplishments, if I’m John Robic. I look it as though, he’s willed himself, Kevin Massey but he couldn’t do it himself. He needed his cousin. He needed his sister. The daily care and he needed someone like John that can be on top of it and I didn’t have that kind of time. Now I was always there to perk him up and grab the dog, see him at practice and I prayed for him every day. But John did an unbelievable job for him. He’s a miracle, Kevin Massey and a blessing because if you ever feel down or if you have been wronged or fate has intervened in a negative way in your life, go sit with him for an hour. You’ll be mad at yourself. Haven’t told him yet, but he already has a job offer. Somebody watched the video. It’s sitting on my desk, you get emotional with it, it’s in another city but they may be able to do something in Indianapolis. But, it’ll be neat when he gets it and when I see what his face and his family (looks like). You know it’s how this is supposed to be. This program is bigger than me. It’s bigger than any of you in this room. Why not leverage what we are doing here to help other people, not just basketball players, others? And I say it all the time, you cheat this position, whoever is in it, whoever is in this seat, you cheat this position if all you worry about is game tape, basketball, social media and news. You just cheat the position. This thing is a juggernaut that can be used for good.”

On if Sacha Killeya-Jones and Quade Green are able to play …

“I believe so. I believe so. Yes, but until game time - something could happen today. It’s funny they both got better and everything was going good and then they got to take a step back. The good news is we saw that Tai (Wynyard) can play, that Tai is good enough to do what he needs to do. And then the other thing is we went small and it didn’t look bad. So, we were able to see that. Quade’s ability to score - without him it hurts us. It is more than everybody understands. He is a consistent guy that can get buckets, it’s just in his DNA. That and not being there puts us in a tough position going into this game. Virginia Tech first of all, Buzz (Williams) does an unbelievable job. He’s been a good friend for a long time. Second thing is this team is the best 3-point shooting team we will face all year. Third thing, they draw fouls because they put their head down and they go at that basket. The other thing they do is they are going to press us. They are not going to come in here with all this respect and go back and play a zone or sag. They are going to press us. They are playing fast. Now we have been in these kind of games and two teams playing fast and it’s pretty fun to watch. They want to stretch the court. We aren’t walking it up, ‘here we come’ and that’s how they’ll play. They beat Washington by 30-20 somebody will give me the exact score. Twenty-five maybe, 26? And Washington beat Kansas on the road by 16, I believe. They went and beat them pretty good. So, you are talking a really good team. They beat Ole Miss on the road, down at Ole Miss. This will be a hard game. Look we are at that stage with this team, we win or we learn. That’s where we are. I’m not taking it any other way. We win or we’ll learn. And we are going to learn as individual players where guys are and as a team where we are.”

On how Virginia Tech can be in the top ranks in the country of getting to the free throw line, but also shoot a lot of threes …

“They drive the ball and they space out. They have three or four guys that can absolutely make threes. They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for threes and they’re getting to the line because of it. They have veteran guys. They have one freshman, but this is a veteran team that has done this in the ACC. They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

On Jarred Vanderbilt’s workouts with Kenny Payne and the progress he’s making …

“He (Kenny) said he is (making progress). I saw Jarred yesterday. We didn’t really speak. I’ll just say it again - he’s not playing to help us win. We’re not going to do that. If I don’t think he’s capable of playing to the level he needs to play, then I won’t play him, whether he begs me to go in. We’re not just trying to put a guy in that’s going to damage him to win more games. I won’t do that. He’s going to have to be able to prove to me that he’s going to be able to go. I’m not saying he’s 107 percent, I’m just saying that he can go and compete at a high level and not damage himself.”

On the bigs defending out on the floor and perimeter against Virginia Tech …

“Well they may go small and now we know we can go small because we’ve done it. They have the one big kid where they sometimes take him out, now all of a sudden they’re 6’7’’, 6’7’’, 6’7’’, 6’6’’ – but we’re okay. We can play that way too. Nick (Richards) has proven – the kids on this team are not getting the kind of respect nationally that they deserve and that’s okay. I don’t know if it’s peoples’ opinion or their hope. But as this season goes on, just like other seasons, you’re going to have players that are going to be those kinds of guys. What we’ve got to get them to do – my message yesterday was great players make really difficult plays look easy. Bad players try to make easy plays look difficult. Part of our issues with turnovers is that second statement. You have an easy play, why would you try to do that other? You’re making it look more difficult than it is. A great player makes a play and everybody goes, ‘Did he just do that? Play the tape back.’ That’s what great players do. We have players here that are still in that high school mode: ‘How difficult can I make this? I need to get an ‘ooh’ and an ‘ahh’ from the crowd. Oh man, did you see that?’ Well, it was a turnover. ‘But it looked good!’ We’re still in that mode, which is why we turn it over. I remember in 2010 when we turned it over like this, we were exactly the same. I had to sit John Wall down and say, ‘John, you don’t have to make 12 good plays. You can make one play. Make it normal and you’ll be on SportsCenter.’ Next game he was 1 for 9, made one play, ran down the middle, dunked the ball and that was the number one play on SportsCenter. The team cracked up. He was 1 for 9. When you’re that talented, you don’t have to make things difficult. You want everything to look simple and easy. We’re not there yet. We make a layup and think it’s a degree of difficulty – you have a breakaway layup.”

On Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wanting to be coached …

“The best thing is, and I don’t know if it’s Canadian kids or what, but the kid has a smile on his face every day. Jamal (Murray) had a smile on his face. Mychal (Mulder) had a smile on his face. Trey Lyles had a smile on his face. The kid comes in with an absolute – ‘I’m ready to go.’ He’s in the gym at night working. He knows he has to be more consistent shooting. The team needs that from him. When you have him, Quade (Green), Wenyen (Gabriel), Kevin Knox, and now P.J. (Washington) shooting the ball better – all that other stuff. Let’s worry about defense now. Let’s worry about rebounding. You have to be able to make shots, and he’s one of them. His decision-making right now – he doesn’t understand who he’s playing against sometimes. Instead of just shooting the ball, the easiest thing you can do is shoot it. If you miss it, there’s one of two things that can happen. What would they be? (Reporter answers: It could go in or you get the rebound). Or they get it. There would be three. We make it, miss it, and they rebound it. We rebound it, so two of the three are good. Shoot the ball. Quit trying to make wrap around passes. Just get it off the backboard. That’s a daily statement to him. They have habits that we’re trying to create new ones. His new habit is instead of a wrap-around (pass), he’s going to shoot it. But he’s getting better. This will be hard one for him because this team – downhill runs. He’s always been able to use his length and just turn and run with the guy. You can’t now. Now you have to stay in front of people. Now you have to retreat and make it a tough two. It’s all stuff we’ve worked on, but this game is going to show where we are on the dribble drive. Where are we guarding the three? Where are we making easy plays? Where are we when a team presses us? What are the things we need to work on?”

On how Kevin Knox has responded after going 1 for 9 and if it was good for the soul for him …

“And seven turnovers. Well, this week he heard it maybe 15 times. ‘That’s how hard you go. Do you understand you were 1 for 9 and seven turnovers? It was against Monmouth. I’ll give that to you. But you were 1 for 9 and seven turnovers.’ Here’s the thing about what I love about coaching where I am: Like, these kids are held to a high standard here and these kids are held accountable and they’re called out and we keep it real. We protect them. If they lose a game, you know I’m not going to blame a player. You guys know how I am. But, to be able to really go right to the jugular and say, ‘You better start changing.’ When they leave us, that’s not how this stuff works. Either you’re good enough or you’re not, and if you’re not good enough it’s somebody else. Their chance right now to be absolutely challenged amongst each other – like, my thing is, if you care about the team you’re going to push your teammate. If you don’t care about the team you’re going to try to joke around and make everything light because you don’t understand. If you care about the team, you’re going to push each other. Every day is like having to give them new stuff. But I’ll tell you what, they’re trying to please us, they’re trying to please me, they’re trying to do what we’re asking them to do. Some of them are seeing their self. Like Wenyen (Gabriel), he’s playing like Derek Willis now. Now all of a sudden he’s a different player. You’re not John Wall; you’re more like Derek Willis. But defend and rebound on top of doing that kind of stuff that he’s doing. Hopefully, like I said, hard game for us to win. Really hard. And this team is a tough-grinded, fly up and down, shoot 3s, get to the rim, come at you, try to be the aggressor, and we’ll see. We’ll know after the game where we are.”

On how much Knox ran this week after the mistakes he made vs. Monmouth …

“No, he’s getting better. Look, when you think – it’s kind of like golf. The minute you think you have this thing licked, then all of a sudden, ‘I can’t make a putt. I made every putt last week. I can’t make …” And then all of a sudden you look and you’re like, ‘Uh oh, I’ve got a tap-in,’ and your partner says, ‘Why don’t you just tap that one in. Just go ahead, you’ve got it. It’s one foot, you’ll make that.’ And all of a sudden you pull the one-footer. Now all of a sudden you’re like wigging out. Well, this game is that way, and that’s why you always respect the game. And if you’re going good, you fight like heck and try to get better. Thanks. ”