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UK Basketball: John Calipari previews LSU Tigers

Cal talks LSU, his concerns, Trae Young, Tremont Waters, and playing in a road game for the first time.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats will have their first SEC road game on Wednesday when they travel to face the LSU Tigers.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari met with the media on Tuesday to preview what’s actually UK’s first true road game. With this being a freshman-heavy team, that has fans a little nervous about how the Cats will perform on the road in primetime, but Calipari isn’t concerned with that.

He’s more worried about his team’s growth in general, whether it’s at home or on the road.

“I guess it’s the first game on somebody’s home court, but we’ve been away from home, had to travel, and they’ve performed. I’m not so worried about that. I’m worried about if we will talk more on defense, because if we don’t talk more, then we can’t get better and we’re going to be stuck where we are,” said Calipari. “Can we create shots for each other versus can I get my own shot?

“I’m more concerned about that kind of stuff than playing on the road, and that’s why I take them away from here – we go on the road and stay a couple of days. Obviously, our last road game wasn’t real good and did not perform. I’m more concerned about us, like I am normally – just how do we get better?”

Here is a recap of everything else Calipari had to say, courtesy of UK AthleticS:

On why he thinks the team hasn’t communicated as well to this point at times …

“Mostly, you have guys – and this is understandable – they’re concerned about how they’re playing, personally. That’s the first step to being a heck of a team player. You have to be comfortable in your own skin, you have to be comfortable with how you’re playing, and when you don’t talk and don’t share, then you’re really not comfortable with how you’re playing.

“So, you’re kind of into you, and I’m trying to get them to come in here, worry about great preparation and then just play for each other. It’s funny, guys that don’t worry about offense, the ball finds them. Guys that are really concerned about offense, it just looks bad. You can see – why did he do that? He’s concerned about offense. There’s things they’re still learning and that’s the great thing about watching tape and showing and explaining it. The tape doesn’t lie. ‘I don’t know why he took me out.’ OK, well let’s watch these three straight plays. Do you know now? ‘He did it too.’ What? ‘What about when he does it?’

“What? No, that’s not how this works. You asked why you came out and I just showed you. There’s where you came out. This stuff is just fight and energy. We have enough stuff that we can play – whether it’s man and zone in late game, we have enough stuff. None of it’s great, but we have enough stuff. Now we just have to create easy shots. The job for each individual player – you have a question: ‘How do I make this game easier for my teammates?’

“And that’s both on offense and defense. Defensively, you just talk and let them know where you are and really be the help on the ball. You’re putting great pressure so that their job is easier because you’re pressuring the ball so much they’re not so apt to be beat. Then, on offense, how do I make this game easy? Well, you create good plays and opportunities for other people.”

On the team dropping one spot in the rankings despite two wins …

“I just said, ‘Look, if we go to LSU and they beat us by 40, then they were all right. If we go down there and win, then maybe they’re not right. It probably won’t change things, but we’ll have to keep proving what we are.’

“And we basically haven’t. It’s not who we’ve played. Our schedule is basically a top-20 schedule. So it’s not who we’ve played; it’s that people watch us and really don’t think we’re that good. I said, ‘Either they don’t think you guys are that good or they don’t think I can coach. Or how about this one: Maybe it’s both. They don’t think I can coach or you can play.’

“You just use it as fuel. I’ve done this so long. I’ve seen us overrated at times and I’ve seen us underrated at times. Fans will get into it. I just want them (the players) to know you’re not getting the respect, but that means you’re going to have to earn it. You haven’t gotten it yet.”

On if the conference should be getting more respect for some of its nonconference wins …

“The conference wins, you mean? I had a call from a good friend, one of the top coaches, and he said, ‘The Georgia win, to do what you did with as a young team against a rival team and then the follow-up game a day and a half later and your kids performed and won playing poorly, that was a …’

“But no one kind of looked at it like (that). It was kind of, ‘Well, Georgia.’ Georgia is really good. They were 9-2. One of the games they shouldn’t have lost. I watched. You got this team, they lost early in Maui and they’ve lost one game since then. Maui, I believe, is November. So LSU. Alabama is playing good. Texas A&M had two of their best players, their two guards, out that last game so they’re going to be fine. Tennessee and Arkansas.

“They (Tennessee) had Arkansas beat at Arkansas, which tells you how good they are even though they lost that game in overtime. You know, you go right around and you look at the teams in here, I mean, there’s no easy games. You go on the road, it’s going to be hard.”

On the impact Will Wade has had on LSU …

“They’re playing more of an open game. They post it, but they’re more pick-and-roll and open the court. They’re making 10 3s a game. The last five games they’re over 10 3s a game. So they’re playing wide open. They’re playing fast. They’re scoring probably about 90 a game.

“And I say they play fast, they don’t play as fast as you think. They’ll throw it ahead, but if they don’t get it there, they’re more, ‘Alright, let’s get this in some sort of pick-and-roll and get them out of position. He’s done a good job, I’ll tell you. Watching their tape – I’ve watched probably five of their games – he’s done a good job.

“They’re defending, playing some zone, 2-3. They play a 1-3-1 at times. Their man-to-man, they’re getting their hands on a lot of balls. He’s done a really good job.”

On if he’s surprised with how Oklahoma’s Trae Young is playing after recruiting him …

“I told Sean (Farnham) – I don’t know if he mentioned it on the TV broadcast (last game) – I knew how good he was, but I didn’t even realize he was this good. The biggest thing in this, and it’s a great lesson, Lon Kruger, who I have unbelievable respect for, basically said, ‘We’re going to play through you. It’s all going through you. You’re going to shoot when you want.’

“And he did not lie. He did not lie. What he told that kids – it’s kind of like Bobby Cremins, who used to recruit at Georgia Tech. He would tell a kid what he was going to do and then he did it. My (thing) is, ‘You’re not going to be the only guy here. You’ve got to share the ball.’ Hopefully if he had come here I would have realized early, this kid needs a little more room than some other guys that I’ve had. Hopefully I would have realized that.

“But I knew he was good, which is why we recruited him so long, but I didn’t realize he would be able to do what he is doing, which is basically 80 percent of their baskets, 70 percent of their baskets, he either scores or assists. That’s a ridiculous number. And he’s got teammates that are letting him play and it’s helping them and they’re winning.

“And he’s got a coach who, again, one of the best in our business. Said, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do,’ and he went out and did it for the kid. So I’m happy for Trae. I hope we don’t have to play him, but happy for him. He’s a great kid from a great family. I undersell, over deliver.”

On Canada producing so many good basketball players …

“Canada obviously was hockey for all those years. Toronto Raptors went to Toronto and all of the sudden Toronto is like a basketball town, and the Raptors did it. The Raptors brought basketball to Canada and now you’re seeing their national team if those guys all play should be in the Olympics.

“Then probably, in my opinion, medal in an eight-year period, 12-year period because they’ve got guys. You’re not doing it because your name is Canada. You’ve got players. The thing that’s happened for most of them, like the kids I have have not been overhyped Canadian kids, including Trey Lyles who’s playing really well right now in Denver. Haven’t been overhyped, and they come in with a little different mentality.

“I’m happy for Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). He’s a great kid. Every day a smile. I just told the guys, ‘You guys got to feed off of him a little bit, you know. So he’s done really well.”

On preparing freshmen for a true road game atmosphere …

“They’ve played. I mean, this is a totally different era of where they go play, who they play, the events they play in, the show games they play in. I’m telling you, my concern is how we’re playing, not where we’re playing. I would play on I-95. Put two hoops up, shut the traffic down for a couple hours, let’s play. Doesn’t matter to me.

“Going on the road, this team, we weren’t ready for some of the stuff early, but we did leave here to play away from this building because this can lull you to sleep when you’re 24,000 (at home). You lead the nation in attendance, and the people at the Georgia game – our fans were great at the Georgia game and the Louisville game. I mean, kind of lull you to sleep, so we’ve had some road games. Some of them we’ve played well, others we haven’t.

“I imagine LSU fans are gonna be there and it’s gonna be a hostile environment. It’ll be a great learning experience, but you won’t believe this – when I watch the tape I won’t have the sound on. I’m gonna watch the tape and the only thing I see is between the lines. And I’m just concerned, are we talking more? Are we sharing more? Are we playing desperate? Are we grinding it out at the end? Are we attacking to make plays for each other?

“You know, those kind of things.”

On how concerned he is about LSU guard Tremont Waters

“Dangerous if you watch him. Great with the ball, finds people, has a green light to shoot to the NBA line so he’ll go back there and shoot NBA 3s. Gets to the rim. When he’s getting to the rim, he’ll find you. He’s tough, he’s good. Good foul shooter. He’s a handful.”