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John Calipari previews Kentucky Wildcats vs UCLA Bruins

Coach Cal talked about press defense, building recruiting relationships, and even LaVar Ball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs UCLA Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are getting set for a big matchup with the UCLA Bruins in New Orleans.

Ahead of the game, John Calipari met with the media to preview the game, discuss his team, talk press defense, and talk about the significance of playing in New Orleans, where he won his one and only national championship.

Here is everything Coach Cal had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On using the 2-2-1 press from 10 years ago …

“It’s the only one I knew. My stuff is very basic and that’s a little bit different. We’re just trying to tweak it to make it this team’s press. I’ve had different kinds of teams that – this team is a little different. We’re just working on some different stuff right now to see what fits them and experiment as we go.”

On using the press going forward …

“I don’t think we can do it, you know, for a game. I think there’s spots in the game where we should do it. The reason is, we’re playing eight guys. When you’re playing eight guys it’s hard. I mean, I had a team at UMass where I played five and six guys. So, we’d press early in the game and then only if we needed it because we just didn’t have enough bodies to go and fly around the court when the other guy is playing eight, nine, 10 guys.”

On using the press to force turnovers …

“Just to get us more aggressive. Teams, if you get us in the half court and space us the right way, these kids will be confused at some point because they’re all freshmen. So if we can, you know, make us the aggressor, it reverses them in having us on our heels. I think it’s better for this team.”

On if he’ll use the press against UCLA …

“No. They space different. They’re whole thing is OK, ‘Where are you coming from?’ And we’ll throw it to that guy behind us and you come from there and we’ll – they space the court really wide. That’s what they do. When you play that way with this kind of press, it’s not going to be as effective. Sometimes you’re pressing and the only one you’re wearing out is yourself. You’re not wearing them out you’re wearing yourself out. This may be a team that we don’t press much against.”

On his relationship with players’ fathers …

“Well, they’ve trusted me with their sons. And it’s mothers, too. I don’t go in and tell a bunch of you this is how we’re going to play. That’s not what we do. I mean, I keep it real, and we undersell and over deliver. We talk about their son and whatever his dreams are we’re chasing them with him. The parents have all trusted us. Now, the ones that did not trust us because whether they were told something and they believed it, they don’t send their sons here. So, that’s basically why. If they don’t believe what we’re saying we are – ‘Don’t believe that; that’s not true; he’ll platoon you; you can’t be the man’ – and they don’t trust that we’re going to do what is right for their son along with other sons, they don’t come here. They go somewhere else.”

On dealing with a parent resembling Lavar Ball …

“I don’t know. Probably if I was in that situation, I would think about it. The one thing that I want you all to understand, the way he presents stuff I may not agree with, but what I do love is he loves his sons. He is a father who loves, loves his sons. And you’ve gotta respect that. I mean, there are many kids out there who would love to have a father who paid that much attention to him. So, how he presents some things maybe I don’t agree with, but there are some other people in the country presenting things in ways that I don’t agree with either.”

On helping football recruit and the impact of the department working together as a whole …

“I think, again, I say when you’re in the seat that I’m in, it’s important that (volleyball head coach) Craig Skinner comes by with recruits, that we have (sports psychologist) Bob Rotella meet with our team and then both golf teams, that we enlist our baseball coach. (Baseball head coach) Nick (Mingione) was in there the other day. I go to the baseball games. When I watch (football head coach) Mark (Stoops), we’re here to help each other because this is really hard. (Track and field) coach (Edrick) Floreal worked with our guys. If I have the best track coach in the country and my guys are struggling to run the right way, why wouldn’t I just ask him? And you know what? He worked every afternoon with some of our guys that needed it. And that’s how it’s supposed to be here. I’m not up in that office, watching tape and not coming around. I apologized to Mark because I met with Vince (Marrow) and the three kids and we took them through the practice facility in the new locker room. I said, ‘This isn’t as nice as football but this is nice.’ And he laughed about it. But the other players didn’t get to the locker room, and I called Mark and I apologized and said I had to get out to the game, and he said, ‘Nah, we had trouble with tickets,’ and so on. I’m happy for their ability to sign 20 guys. Some guys, if they hadn’t signed, would’ve been poached later. Somebody would’ve missed somebody and then they come after our guys. So now we got them. If there are three or four guys in this that we would not have gotten, then this is really worth it.”

On UCLA …

“They really create havoc in their spacing with pick-and-rolls, and they’re different. They’re more of a pick-and-pop team. But their big kid now is way stronger. They’ll go four around the post and throw it to him. He’s a terrific passer but maybe their best shooter. So now, he’ll step out on the floor for 3s, they’ll put him in pick-andpops, they’ll run cuts off him to step him back. They’re going to create havoc for us. I’m watching games and it’s just like, OK, I can’t go over everything with this team. There’s things that are going to happen in the game and we’re just going to have to react to it and do our best. That’s the issue with where we are. I’m trying to zone in on three or four things in the last couple of days. That’s it. I can’t do 12 things, so there are three or four things that I’m trying to do. As long as we do that, if they do something else – I tell them all the time, that if they do something that confuses you and we haven’t worked on it, then I’m not going to blame these guys. I’m just not. Again, we’re a bunch of freshmen. We’re getting better and trending the right way. The question I had for them yesterday – and my whole day was, ‘How can I do a better job to keep these guys going in the right direction?’ Their question to themselves needs to be, ‘Am I in the right frame of mind where I’m walking in every day to get better?’ ‘My body hurts.’ Oh, you’re going to get better that day. ‘This is crazy. We’re going again?’ You’re really going to improve that day. ‘I can’t wait until I’m done with this because I’m going to go back and play –,’ Oh, you’re going to be great today and get better. How do you stay engaged throughout a practice? My job is to hold you accountable. We got on Hami (Diallo) the other day. Kenny Payne said something to him and I said, ‘Wait a minute. Does everybody here think we like Hami, that we want what’s best for him? So anything we’re saying to you is to help you. You don’t have to act like you’re mad about us saying something. We’re here for you. The best thing for you guys is that not a staff member is afraid to coach you. None of us are intimidated by you. None of us are impressed with you and we’re not afraid to coach you. And at the end of the day, I hope you respect that. If you’re mad about that, sometimes it’s better to be peed off than be peed on.’ ”

On the significance of playing in New Orleans …

“We played in 2010, and I remember Eric Bledsoe having a great game. I think my teams have played probably eight or nine games in New Orleans before I got here. Then we played those three games, those two games, and then we played two other games and won. Then we played Vanderbilt. What’s the significance of the Vanderbilt game? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came in and said, ‘Start Darius (Miller) in my place.’ The biggest game in the history of this program may have been that loss because that lesson will go on and on and on because of what he did for his teammates. And what happened? We won the national championship because of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Then we come back – who did we beat in the semifinals? [Reporter says Kansas.] Louisville. You were wrong, Jerry (Tipton). [Laughter from media.] Make sure you mark that down. He had an excuse but he was wrong. I want you to print that he said that, but when I looked it up, he was wrong. Please do that. Who was the final game? The final game was Kansas.”

On recent tax legislation going through Congress effecting taxation of his salary …

“I haven’t (looked at it). What are you going through the tax bill already? You’re asking me about a tax bill; I’m trying to hold onto this team. I’ve got a noose around my neck, my feet are dangling, my hands are bleeding, my eyes are bugging out of my head and he’s asking me about a tax bill. Are you crazy? So tell me what it is? [Reporter responds with the details of the tax bill.] Wow. Let’s see if we can work something out. [Laugher from media.]”

On traveling for a game for just the third time this season …

“They’ve been great. You know the experience in Chicago, the experience in New York City. I thought they were ready for that game. I thought the Kansas game they were ready for, and now this game we’ll see how we play. We get right into the league play and we’ve got a couple really tough road games so we’ll know. It’s not as though we’ve played every game in this building even though I petitioned the NCAA to see if they’d let us. This is a young team. This is a bunch of freshmen. When you say to me, ‘How do you think they’re gonna play,’ your guess is as good as my guess. I mean, they’re young. I can only tell you that they’re trying every day. I’m walking out of practice feeling good. Don’t know what that means. Does that mean we’re good enough to beat UCLA? I don’t know. When I watch the tape, I’m scared to death. Steve (Alford) does a great job. We’ve played against each other a bunch now. We’ve coached against each other a bunch. He’s a good friend. The sad thing is one of us has to – can we tie in this game? Are there any ties? Someone’s gotta go to Christmas feeling sad. I hope it’s him, but it could be me.”

On UCLA’s Thomas Welsh

“Yeah, it’s a tough matchup because Sacha (Killeya-Jones), he’s going to try to take Sacha next to the basket and bang him, and he’ll try to take Nick (Richards) outside. I imagine that’s what they’re going to try to do based on who’s guarding them. And then how do we play? Do we scramble the game up? Do you double team, which makes the game easier for some of these guys? How do you play pick-and-roll? Do you really help so that kid can get shots? Do you trap and then he slides? I mean, how are you really going to play this to give yourself a chance? And again, can we honestly come in with like, ‘OK, there’s four ways we’re going to play pick-and-roll?’ Come on. There’s one way and maybe a backup, and if those two don’t work, who’s our next game? I mean, it’s where we are right now. Like I said, we’re getting better. When I say we, I’m saying individual players are improving, which means our ceiling continues to rise. And again, I know we’re not getting the respect nationally. That’s OK, I get it. But as each of these players gets better, the ceiling for this team starts to get higher and higher. The one thing – and this game may be the one where we’re exploited a little bit – we guard fairly good. The last game was a hard one for us, but we turned them over, which is defense. And we outrebounded them, which is defense. But they shot a high percentage. But guess what? I think in the country they were one or two. I’ll be corrected on that, but I think they were one or two in 3-point shooting and 2-point shooting. So we played a really good team and happy to win the game.”