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John Calipari previews Mississippi State, takes jab at Duke recruiting

Cal wants to remind everyone he’s not selling recruits on the ‘you’ll be set for life’ pitch.

State Farm Champions Classic Kentucky v Duke Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

John Calipari has been under fire in recent weeks for a variety of reasons.

Mainly, it’s been due to his team’s two-game losing streak, which is part of a 5-4 stretch his young Cats have endured after a 9-1 start.

However, Calipari is also catching flack for missing out on Zion Williamson, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2018, who shocked everyone when he picked Duke.

It’s no secret that Duke has the upper hand in recruiting recently, and while Calipari is fine with players choosing other schools, he’s not fine with the message Duke is putting out, which is ‘you’ll be set for life.’

“I don’t sell, when you come here: ‘The university and the state will take care of you for the rest of your life.’ You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property and some swampland down in Florida to sell you too,” said Calipari during Monday’s Q&A session.

“Every one of us in this country is based on, you have to take care of your self, prepare yourself, and then when you make it you make sure you’re helping and along the way you’re bringing other people with you. That’s what we’re trying to do: just give these guys the best opportunity.

“We’re not trying to say that this university or state will take care of you for the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is you have to go do it and we’re going to help you do it. Some like that, some don’t like that.”

Well said.

Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say during his preview of Tuesday’s matchup with Mississippi State, courtesy of UK Athletics:

On scaling back the offense for Jarred Vanderbilt

“We’re now starting to get where he is now catching up. When he just walked in, we hadn’t scrimmaged or done anything. So now all of a sudden there are things he has not run through or talked to him about. You can’t run him through that stuff. He didn’t practice when he was out. He may have been in there watching but he wasn’t practicing. No, he is not going to slow us down.

On how Vanderbilt stayed in shape …

“He was doing things inside the tub in there, zero gravity machine. You’ve got all the stuff here, so he was fine.”

On Vanderbilt looking winded early …

“They all do. It’s an anxiety too. I mean, he went up and down the court the first time down at South Carolina, (it) was almost hysterical. He lasted about 30 seconds, but that’s as much anxiety as it is conditioning. And it’s normal stuff.”

On if Vanderbilt feels pressured to be the missing piece to the team …

“No, he shouldn’t feel that. And my message today to them, if we defend and do some of the stuff we did and play, rebound and do some of that stuff, the other stuff is all fixable. I’ll just give you an example: We’ve got to lower some turnovers. Can’t have 16. Six of them walks. What? Ten to 11 is fine. You guys know I say, if we have four, five or six we are not being aggressive enough. So it’s 10 or 11, not 16. Second thing is you have got to create shots so we can have easier baskets for each other. Lastly, I would say we’ve got to make six to seven 3s a game. That means between 15-18 3s and you’ve got to make six or seven 3s. Who are the guys making them? We make those, we are fine if you defend and do the stuff we did. Just gotta kind of keep playing a little faster. Playing more people should help that. But it’s all fixable. Look, I’m the coach at Kentucky. This is what you deal with. I’m not shying away from it. It’s not overwhelming me. I’m not panicked. I will say every game we play, including Mississippi State, they are capable of beating us. Just how it is. We are also capable of winning, but they are capable of beating us every game here on out. The league is way tougher. I think our strength of schedule is 12th. I may be corrected on that because you could look at something else, but that’s what the NCAA goes by: 12th. We are 14-5. I’m not panicked. I mean, I coach at Kentucky. I always have young guys. I don’t have them this young. They are really young. They are learning to trust each other. I’ve got to get them to trust each other on both sides of the ball and it may take more time. There have been years it has taken us to the end of February, and guess what? I woke up every morning, got ready to go, did my thing, coached my team and eventually they got it. I fully expect that from this team, but there are growing pains. This may be the youngest team in the history of the NCAA trying to do something unique and special. There have been teams this young and they’ve been like 3-25.”

On Vanderbilt’s potential as a leader …

“He’s a little bit of a leader. But you can’t lead from the tub. You can’t. It’s hard to lead from the bench. You gotta be in the court. You’ve gotta be performing and then you’ve got that chance. So, he’s starting. He’s a great kid. He wants to make plays for his teammates. We just – there’s a lot of stuff. Like we’re still – we played with six, seven guys. Brad (Calipari) being eight. Now, with two days practice, we’re back to playing with a full roster. And one of those guys is Jarred. And it’s the youngest team in the country. I can’t expect these guys to get this right away. No one else should. Now you can expect that they play hard. You can expect that they play unselfish. You can expect that they compete until the horn blows. That’s all normal stuff and they do. These are great kids. But, you know, I’m with them. I haven’t lost any faith in them. Individually or collectively. It’s just hard. And it’s harder than they thought it would be. To be honest, at the end of the year I forget how hard it is as you’re going through it. So, it’s hard on all of us. It’s just a tough deal.”

On this team compared to the 2013-14 team …

“I don’t know. I mean Julius (Randle) physically gave you something that maybe this team doesn’t have. He could just bulldoze you. PJ (Washington) at times does the same, gives you some of that. The twins (Harrisons) had come in and didn’t get it until late February. When they got it, they were pretty good. We’ll see how this plays out. James Young and Dakari (Johnson) and Willie (Cauley-Stein) – but we had some veteran guys too, Alex (Poythress). They’re all different. You guys should know every team I have here is different and it’s a different process. It’s different steps. The lesson plan at the end of the year is thrown out. (We) start with a new lesson plan. And then as you’re going through the lesson plan – I don’t like this. We’ve gotta try something different. They’re not getting it. So you go in another direction. And then they’re still quite not getting it. Then let’s try some of this. You tweak some stuff. You try some stuff. And you look and you say, ‘Man, they’re way better.’ We’re way better defensively than where we were. But, again let’s understand. We’ve got a team, Mississippi State, coming in here 14 wins, playing really good basketball. They’ve lost some games, but they’ve been in every game. Alabama had them down 20 and they came back and should have won the game. At Alabama. So, again – they’re really good. I’m concerned about my team. Let’s just get our stuff right and if that’s not good enough we move on to the next weekend.”

On if his recruiting class is complete …“Don’t know yet. Don’t know.”

On how the recruiting landscape has changed …

“I don’t think it has. I mean, there are some classes that are really good classes. And then there are other classes that are OK classes. It’s just how it is. We don’t get every kid. I’ve said that all along. We get the ones that need to come here. Others chose not to and that’s fine. That’s their choice. Obviously, the kids who have come here are worth over a billion dollars. Seventeen have graduated. Thirty-five, or whatever, got drafted. Three No. 1 (picks). I mean, kids who have come here belonged here. It doesn’t mean that everybody needs to come here. I don’t think it’s changed much at all.”

On what he saw with the six traveling violations in the Florida game …

“Some of it was in the post. I didn’t think Shai’s (Gilgeous-Alexander) was a walk, and the other three were Kevin Knox. We worked on it over and over and over and over and he’s not really ready to break that habit. It’s a habit he’s had, and they’re walks. You can’t have six walks in a basketball game because if you took the six walks away, we’re at nine, 10 turnovers, which is fine. You’re good. If we’re at six, I’m saying we’re not aggressive enough. If we’re at 16, you’re too sloppy and a little bit undisciplined.”

On why he would like to have six or seven made 3-pointers every game …

“Because we’re capable of that, and I think that’s not an unreal number. What happens is when you’re making four to five and (opposing teams) are making three more, we don’t have enough of a gap this year. We need to narrow that gap, lower the turnovers, create better shots, keep playing how we’re playing, and let’s just get used to each other. That’s, in a simple sense, why I’m looking at this and saying I’m fine. We competed against one of the best offensive teams in the country in Florida and they’re good, but we’re OK. South Carolina, we had our chance. We let that one slip. Now we have another tough one. This is a young team. So now, we’re going to find out, have they grown up a little bit or where are they when the adversity hits? Like I said, I’m with them.”