Another edition of UK Media Day is in the books.
For the 10th year in a row, John Calipari met with media the day before Big Blue Madness to preview the newest edition of Kentucky Wildcats Basketball.
This year’s team has just about as much potential as any team Calipari has had in Lexington. It’s one of the rare years that Calipari has a roster loaded with five-star talent and veteran experience, which has them getting preseason No. 1 rankings by several major outlets.
But you don’t get banners for being No. 1 in October, even if they did look really special during their four-game Bahamas tour. Calipari knows this will be a long journey for these Wildcats to reach their dreams, and it’s just now beginning.
Here is a recap of everything Calipari said Thursday, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. Any concern about Keldon’s ankle, any lingering --
JOHN CALIPARI: No, he’s full to go today.
Q. You published the notes from your very first press conference. Why did you hang on to those?
JOHN CALIPARI: I do hang on to -- probably anywhere that I’ve ever had to speak, I have it -- I put it together, and they’re more notes and I don’t read. They’re just bullet points. So I was cleaning my desk off, and I was going to throw a tablet out, and I lifted the -- and I had stuck it under there. I don’t have any idea when I did it or why. So I pulled it out and looked at it and smiled, and I sent a picture of it to TJ and Eric and just said, how about my notes from the first press conference. I can’t remember all of it, but I do know that what was on there I talked about.
The reason I kind of like that we sent it out was it’s kind of stuck true to what we talked about, you know, the culture that we were trying to develop and making it about the players first and competing for championships and getting -- holding players accountable, and all the things that we talked about there is kind of how we’ve pieced this together.
Q. Tell us about how the Bahamas trip helped the players develop.
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, the Bahamas -- again, I think we should be able to do something like football does in spring football. And again, I’ve been saying it for a number of years, why don’t we own the first two weeks of August, college basketball? Maybe you want to practice and bring foreign teams to you so you don’t have to travel. Bring them here. They can be televised or not televised. You could practice and not play anybody. It doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no cost to it. And if you choose to travel, maybe it’s every other year, you can take your team and go somewhere.
And the main reason is it’s good for the kids. All the college basketball -- it would be good for the kids. If we make rules that are based on that premise, is this good or bad for these players, the kids, you’re not going to make many mistakes when you say it’s good for them. For this basketball team, a lot of anxiety was wiped out. So now they can be more comfortable going into what they were about to face, because we can all say what we want to, when they’re 17 and 18 years old and they have a swagger but it’s a swagger that the minute the raindrop hits their shoulder, they’re, ooh -- they’re 17, 18 years old. To be able to go down there and do what they did, to share, to play together, to know that everybody is going to be involved in this, I think it helped.
It did put us ahead more than I want to be. You guys know that have heard me talk. I don’t want us to look like it’s January in November because you can’t get better. You can’t -- your team can’t keep improving. What we’ve tried to do here every year is play our best basketball in March. If you look and say, wow, by the end of the year, that’s when they’re playing their best, well, if you’re playing like this in November, how in the world are you going to get better? And if it is, it’s going to be just a little bit.
But the anxiety, bringing the team together, having a spirit about them, having an ability to say, I get it, I know where he’s trying to take this now, it was all really good.
Q. The non-conference is loaded, also the SEC schedule is going to be tough. From top to bottom, is this the toughest you’ve seen the SEC since you’ve been here?
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, yeah. Somebody went up to watch Vanderbilt and one of the pro scouts hit back and just said, they’re good. They’re good. They’re better than we thought they would be. They’re good. You start talking Vanderbilt, we play them twice. You know Florida twice. You know Tennessee twice. You know -- whoever the best teams are, we’re playing twice. Let me just put it that way.
And so I’m happy for the league. It makes it tougher for us every game we play. Every road game we play will be hard to win. Doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s going to be a ridiculously hard game.
So last year, how many teams did we get in last year? And if you remember me talking about that for the five years, and now it becomes -- keep getting teams in and keep advancing those teams.
Q. Roy Williams caught a fair amount of flak for saying he was dumbfounded for the allegations and testimony in the trial. For a coach at your level with your experience, are you surprised by anything that’s going on?
JOHN CALIPARI: I haven’t -- I’ve been going like crazy. If you guys know, I got in last night about 3:30 in the morning, so I haven’t followed all the stuff. It is a black eye. It’s not good for basketball. I hope the decisions we’re making out of this are all based on what’s best for the kids, not to change just for change’s sake. But I do think it brought the outliers in, that this has brought light to, like, this can’t be done.
Other than that, I’m really literally not -- I don’t know what’s been said or -- I’m like in, and I just got in a little while ago. You won’t believe this. I didn’t come in at 8:00 this morning since I got in at 3:30, 4:00. This thing that we’re all doing, hopefully it brings about bringing this stuff together. Let’s just not make decisions that aren’t good for these kids, and our evaluation of them or whatever else that may be.
Q. You said the Bahamas trip got you guys maybe farther ahead than what you want to be at this particular time. Can you slow growth of a team down? Do you have markers throughout the course of a year where you want to see them at?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we haven’t started scrimmaging yet, and I thought this would be a scrimmage team, but I didn’t want to start down that road yet. So we haven’t done anything with zone, offense or defense. Very little. And we’re going to have to because I think the first four or five games you’re going to have teams playing us a majority zone.
And the other side of this is the pressing. This should be a pressing team. Well, we haven’t really done that yet. So I’ve zeroed in on four or five things where I’m trying to create habits of individual players and then habits of our pace of game. So that’s what I’ve zeroed in on. In other words, we’re flying, but you don’t play real fast. You’re still in control. You’re having poise, and what does that mean and what does it look like? So that’s what we’re trying to do right now and not get ahead to where we’re a full-blown -- I think we did a walk-through before the first combine, and I said, let’s take it out on the baseline.
What did we do in the Bahamas? I don’t even remember. They did. What did we do on the sideline? They went and got in -- it’s the first time we even talked about sideline, baseline. Haven’t talked about press attack.
So I’m not slowing down like not working, but I’m slowing down what I’m giving them to master right now, and let’s master this individually.
And it’s good because we have still young kids that we’re going to be relying on.
Q. Opening with Duke, it’s an unusual opening game. How does that impact preparation and the whole thing?
JOHN CALIPARI: You would know. I’m not -- we agreed to do it, but it’s just a hard game -- it’s a hard game for Duke, too. They’ve got young guys. It’s just a hard game out of the gate playing a program that has really good players and is really well-coached and is not intimidated by the scenery, and that’s who we play right out of the gate.
But it also wakes you up early in the morning. You’ve got to -- you just know that let’s not get too far ahead. And at this point, I can’t tell you exactly what we’ll have in. We won’t have everything in. It’s going to be November whatever. But we’re going to have enough to try to say, this is how we’ll play this game, and hopefully we have enough in that we can compete with that team playing with what we have in.
Q. There are reports out there that you’re really, really enamored with this particular team. First of all, can you confirm those reports, and secondly, if so, what do you attribute the energy and enthusiasm on your part to?
JOHN CALIPARI: This -- the guys that did the combine, the NBA crew that came in, all those coaches, they looked and said, it looks as though Cal is really enjoying coaching this group. Well, when you don’t have to coach effort, when you don’t have to coach the enthusiasm, the passion you have to play with, when you don’t have to coach a competitive spirit, fight, go, come on, dive on that, I don’t have to coach that with this team. So now you know what you’re coaching? Basketball. So now you coach basketball, and I love coaching basketball.
That other stuff is like having to take the guy to the dentist, open your mouth, take the needle -- I mean, it’s painful for them and it’s painful for me. This is going to hurt me much more than it hurts you. But the reality of it is when you’re coaching basketball and they’re trying to do what you’re asking them to do and they’re literally -- these dudes are like, we’re having to kind of get in between, like stop. But after it’s over, they’re great.
But that’s what you look -- fight like heck on this court. Make each other better, compete. You try to beat him every day, he’s trying to beat you every day. If he’s beating you, you’d better get in the gym more because eventually he’s going to leave you in the dust, yet when it’s over, we’re all together. We’re family. And that’s how they’ve been doing it.
So yeah, I am excited that way. We still need a couple guys, and I don’t know who they’re going to be, to be those separators, to be those catalysts. Who is going to be that guy? No one knew it would be Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) last year. No one knew. I didn’t know. And so it develops. We all know why it was Shai. He was here at 7:00 in the morning shooting. He watched video of himself and other people. He was in the weight room. He was unbelievable. He never missed a class, never missed a tutor, did everything he was supposed to, was wired to say, I’ve just got to get better, and he makes himself a lottery pick and looks like he’s starting for the Clippers. What? They were like, who is this kid? He’s long, he’s -- yeah, he’s pretty good. Where is he from? Who was he? And now all of a sudden he does that. Well, guess what, now we’ve got six or seven guys in the gym.
I did say when we got off the plane to Kenny, I doubt if anybody is in there at this time because it was really late. But at 12:00, 11:00, if you drive by, those lights will be on out there, and those guys are in there.
I don’t know, sometimes it’s fear, not good enough, or sometimes it’s a chip on my shoulder, I’m going to prove that I’m better than everybody thinks. Sometimes it’s just a competitive spirit that it’s a habit you have. You want to see how good you can get.
You know, we try to recruit it. This thing -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe coming together was the start of that. Even DeMarcus (Cousins) coming when we had big guys here my first year. It proved that, look, I don’t care who’s here, we can play together, we can do this, plus we’ll get better because we’re playing against each other. Then you had Brandon Knight who would be in the gym at 11:00 at night in January. What are you in here for? He had the guy holding the rope and he’s running with the rope around his waist, the guy is holding him and he’s sweating. What are you doing? He said, just wanted to get a workout in. Why don’t you do it earlier? I had chemistry and I wanted to make sure I was studying for the test tomorrow. You’re leaving in three months! But he brought that here. Plus he was a straight-A student.
And then the kids, I don’t know, it was great, somebody showed me that there was an article out about the kids talking about how we approach them, that it’s not you’re going to start, you’re going to be the face, you’re going to be the best player, every shot is going through you, we’re going to showcase you. You’re going to be this, you’re going to be the one they look back to 30 years from now and say you built this program. We don’t do any of that. I’ve said it publicly. I’ve said it, and now all of a sudden they did it, each individual guy separately, and it kind of came back with what we do.
Now, you may ask, why would you give out trade secrets. Would you ask that? Why would you tell them what you’re doing? Who else would be stupid enough to recruit that way, to tell them it’s going to be really hard, we’re going to have really good players, I can’t give you anything, you’re going to have to earn it. I don’t know, I mean, are you good enough? If you’re not good enough, you shouldn’t do that. If anybody else wants to go down that route with us, I say have at it, let’s go.
But that culture has been built here, and it was fun to see every guy -- because I can remember the home visits. Even they talked about Reid (Travis), my comment to Reid, you averaged 20 points last year, how are you going to be if you’re averaging 13 or 14 or 12? You averaged 10 rebounds last year; can you average 12? Here’s where you’ve got to work. If you come here, here’s what we’re going to do to try to help you. Can I just say this? That’s why we don’t get everybody we recruit. That’s exactly why we don’t get everybody we recruit. Some kids want to know, it’s guaranteed that they’ve got this spot. We just don’t do it.
I would hope to think that’s why we have the guys that we have that came here. They want this challenge.
Q. At the end of the Bahamas trip you said you didn’t have a chance to do any individual work with Reid. I was wondering how that’s going and how much it’s changed his game?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first, I’ve got to tell you, he was a little bit heavy -- I don’t want to say heavy. He’s big boned. He was 262 pounds, and I said, you’ve got to lose 20 pounds. We’ve got to get you quick -- do you remember down in the Bahamas where he caught it and would gather and then he couldn’t get it to the rim and tried to play the bully -- well, if you watch him now, he’s getting away from that. He did jumping drills and he was jumping above the square -- you know that thing over the rim, that square? He was above the square standing flat-footed, and everybody is like, what? Who is this?
Well, I asked him, what’s your weight. He said, 245. I said, you know, maybe we try five more. Take off five more. Well, he kind of looked at me, and I said, what’s your body fat. He said, 5.4. Geez, you’ll have to take out a kidney, I guess. I don’t know what to do. (Laughter.)
So he is one that listens to everything I say, is focused in on what I’m doing, and then tries to take it out on the court. He’s not tried to take over this team. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s trying to get his stuff right, and I think what he’ll end up doing is as he becomes what he’s trying to do and the vision that we have of him, and I’m not trying to make him a two-guard. He is who he is. There were four or five things that I thought, for you to be what you’re trying to do, this is what they’ve got to see when they watch you.
Q. I hate to follow a body fat question --
JOHN CALIPARI: Mine is very high right now. I’ve been trying. I don’t know what to tell you. This late-night traveling and eating is a problem. Can you guys just take me from like here up? I’m not that bad when you just go from here up. (Laughter.)
Q. Two questions for you --
JOHN CALIPARI: I’m very flawed and I’m a sinner. Have I said that before? Just in case you didn’t know.
Q. How much have you enjoyed the football season?
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, it’s been great. Can I say this? I called Mark (Stoops) after the Texas A&M game, and if you’re a coach, when you lose, don’t call me and tell me it was good. I don’t want to hear that. Like and if I see somebody on my phone and I know that’s what they’re going to try to do, I hit the eat poop button, like no, I’m not talking to you, okay. (Laughter).
So I text to Mark what I saw, that the first touchdown they scored was, okay, your defense I thought balled, but they were on the field too long. It wasn’t your best game and you still went to overtime with a chance to win. Incredible. Best thing, the culture, everybody was mad and angry.
Do you remember where two years ago we’d be sad and disappointed? Wasn’t no sad now. Everybody, their staff was mad, their players were mad, our fans were mad, the culture has just changed in football. The best thing that came out of it was Benny (Snell). In basketball we call it touches. He didn’t get a whole lot of touches, and he is like a Heisman candidate.
Now, the game ends, they lose. The last play was -- okay, and Benny, I can’t imagine what he did in the locker room, but I know this, in front of the media, he said everything the right way because he was thinking about his team. That is big. Big, when you’re a Heisman candidate and you don’t get the touches and the team loses, because that kid wants to win, and he knew if I had the ball -- give me the ball twice in that situation, I don’t care, let the lineman fall down, but he never said a word, and I told Mark that. I said, you guys are in a great place, man. What you’ve done -- I said, keep reminding everybody it’s taken you six years. That wasn’t a two-year turnover. It’s been six years.
Q. How much do you make of some of the numbers that Jemarl (Baker) had at the combine?
JOHN CALIPARI: Who was --
JOHN CALIPARI: Jemarl Baker you’re talking about?
JOHN CALIPARI: The year off has affected him some, some of it confidence, some of it the competitive spirit. The year off has hurt him. But he’s making strides and he’s getting better. He’s getting better.
Q. What do you do when you’re given sass by the players?
JOHN CALIPARI: Sass? What is sass?
Q. Like attitude.
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, very good question. What’s your name?
JOHN CALIPARI: Okay, Elaysha, let me say what we do now because I have a team that talks -- I want a team to talk. Like the biggest issue we have, they don’t talk enough. The problem is when they talk at the other team, that’s a problem. That’s an attitude.
So we have a couple guys that start competing, and then they start jawing at each other. They start sassing, as you would say. So now we have attitude points. So if they’re competing and the score is 12-9 and Keldon scores and then starts to chest bump, boop, attitude point, the other team. Now it’s 13-10, and we keep playing. So we have attitude points this year.
My job is every year to try -- what is this team, what do they need from me. So to get them -- I want them to talk to each other. I just don’t want them to talk to the opponent. Leave them alone. Very good question. I gave up trade secrets, though (laughter).
Q. This is University of Kentucky basketball media day, and you’re talking about football, right --
JOHN CALIPARI: Can you imagine that? Funny story. You know I get coffee with -- I’ve got my little group of guys, we get coffee. You can’t believe the problems of the world we solve, okay. So I said, who do we play on November 9th, and I’m thinking he’s -- I want my schedule, basketball. He gives me the football game. I said, what the hell are you giving me football schedule for? Like we’re football -- you just think, three years ago it would have been easy. He would have given me who we play in basketball.
But it’s great. I’m happy for their staff and Mark, but I’m really happy for the guys that came back. I mean, Josh (Allen) is one of the best linebackers in all of college football. The guy is ridiculous. I mean, I love the fact that those veterans have got to prop up maybe our quarterback a little bit, maybe some of the guys on the defensive side. You’ve got to prop them up and help them.
But what he’s done, what Mark has done and what Benny and Josh and the guys have done to change the culture, and players ride the culture. It’s not like you say this is what it is and then they do what they want. They’ve got to ride it, which means we’re going to compete and fight like heck but we’re sticking together.
Q. Do you think on this team you’re going to have multiple leaders, and how do you compare this year’s team to last year’s team?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, if this team becomes empowered and it becomes their team, then this becomes scary. But they’ve got to be empowered. To be empowered they’ve got to have more than one leader, and those leaders will have to understand if you lead, you’re serving. It’s servant leadership. You’re going to be about everyone else. We need someone who’s going to bring us all together and pick everybody up, hold people accountable. Are you willing to hold somebody accountable who’s not doing right in this room? If you’re not, you’re not ready to be empowered. But we’re trying to play in a way that’s more random in what we’re doing that it goes to them.
Normally -- last year’s team, I’m not sure we ever became empowered. I mean, it was not -- we became a better team by the end of the year, but I’m not sure they ever became empowered where they thought it was their team. They looked to me or the staff for too much.
One of the reasons I didn’t coach in the Bahamas was because I didn’t want them thinking about me. Think about each other. Let the coaches stand up. Plus I wanted to see if maybe I could do that this year. I’m not sure. But I would be good in the seats looking down.
Q. Where have you seen the impact of what the scouts told PJ (Washington) that really pay off in this game?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, here’s what they loved: They loved his body, they loved his motion, movement. They loved his competitive spirit. They loved that we made him guard guards in front of them where he could see it. Now they’re saying he’s got to get more consistent skill-wise, and there’s one way to do that, and that’s get in the gym.
The message I’m giving this team more than any, your consistency builds your confidence, not me. If you’re not consistent -- it doesn’t mean you make every shot but you shoot them the same way. Well, how do you get to that point where every golf swing looks exactly the same? Do you just go out on the golf course and start playing? You get on the golf tee, you get on the tee box, you go and you say I’m at the driving range and I’m going to hit a thousand balls. Basketball is no different. How do you get to where you’re consistent?
As a ball handler, you can’t -- every once in a while the ball gets away from you on the left hand. You’re not going to be consistent. So if you’re not consistent, you’re not going to be confident, and I’m just -- PJ, we’re on it, here’s what we want you to look like, now this is what you’re working toward. You know, I’m loving -- just so you know, E.J. (Montgomery) has been okay until the NBA scouts came. He played out of his mind, like shooting hooks, blocking, like who is this guy, and they were all intrigued by him. Obviously, oh, so when the scouts are here you decided to play a little bit.
But Nick (Richards) is better, Reid is way better. Ashton (Hagans) and Reid are probably the most improved on the team since they’ve come to campus. Immanue (Quickley) l, guys loved him. Quade (Green), they see the body change, that he’s better, and then Keldon did not play the second day of the combine, and I announced to the coaches that I’m giving him today off. He wants to play, but we have Tuesday and Wednesday off so he’ll have three days, so I’m giving him off today. But it gives you a chance to evaluate Brad (Calipari), so that’s good for me.
Q. You’ve been a little hit or miss when it comes to trying to predict how good your team would be defensively. I remember a few years ago with the --
JOHN CALIPARI: You know Bam last night had 26-12-6 and he did it against Anthony Davis and Julius Randle. I hit him last night as we landed, he hit me this morning, and I said, who did you do it against, he said AD and Julius, just to make sure I knew. But anyway, what were you saying?
Q. How good is this team going to be defensively, and I guess why should we believe you this year?
JOHN CALIPARI: What did I say? What did I say? I don’t remember what I say to you guys ever. I said last year we would be bad?
Q. A couple years ago with Malik and Bam and that team, you said they would be great, and they were okay.
JOHN CALIPARI: We could have been in a Final Four with okay. (Laughter.) Let me say this: If we’re that good, I probably would be happy. But okay, go ahead.
Q. You sort of touched on (indiscernible) and ask you how does that impact your team?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s big. It’s big. He still -- see, they’re competing against each other, and he was going against Reid, so he was getting like just -- you’re getting smacked, hit, elbowed, kneed, and then he started worrying about him so much, he wasn’t blocking enough shots. Second thing is we have done no post-up until the day -- Monday, and then I left Tuesday, Wednesday, and back here today, and we’re going to do post-up. So we have not thrown the ball to the post much. Now we’re starting to. So Nick looked really good. He had left jump hooks to right jump hooks. He’s better because he’s more confident in himself. The first raindrop that hits him isn’t going to have him -- last year the first thing that went wrong, first, second thing, you knew, look at him, his eyes are down. He wasn’t confident in himself. Now he is.
And again, to hit on the defense, Ashton is a pit bull mauler on the ball. You can play he and Immanuel together. Tyler (Herro) is better than I thought defensively. I thought Keldon (Johnson) would be better than Tyler defensively. I’m not sure of that.
And our big guys can guard guards. So we can switch everything. We can scramble around. We can still press -- there’s a lot of stuff we’re going to be able to do. Right now I’m just trying to make them so you can guard your man and guard one other guy when you’re guarding your man. Let’s keep the ball out of the lane. Let’s contest shots, and when we close out, let’s make sure we stay in front. Tough twos. No lay-ups, no lobs, tough twos, and that’s what I’m trying to get mentality.
We haven’t moved to where we should be. But I wish we blocked more shots because the best teams that I’ve coached would block shots. That’s what made us what we were. Maybe we will when we’re not playing against each other.
Q. A two-parter, going back to the opening game. In terms of getting the guys attention, you’re not easing into this thing right off the bat, and I’m wondering come March, in the opening game, no matter what happens, how significant would it be?
JOHN CALIPARI: I would say that game will be just another game for us at that point unless we win. Then it’s huge. It’s a huge game. But the reality of it is, it is so early, it’s a game that we’ll learn about where we are at that point, and so will they. Where are they and where they need to go.
But you’d have to ask the guys. I mean, I’m not sure like what would Reid think about playing Duke? What would these young kids think about playing Duke? There’s not -- you know, the rivalry is probably because we’re two good programs, but I don’t see -- I just hate -- it didn’t matter if it was Duke or whoever it was, playing them that early. What does it mean in March? I don’t know. I betcha we’d be -- both of us, because we’re so young, we’ll be totally different teams by the time we play in March. It was kind of like playing UCLA here, and by the time we played them in Memphis, we were a totally different team and we could play different, we had figured ourselves out. We weren’t a bunch of young kids then.
Q. If a shoe company wants to pay a player $100,000, is there a reason why that’s morally wrong?
JOHN CALIPARI: If a shoe company wants to pay a player $100,000 while he is in school?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, let me go farther. What about if they’re in high school? What would you think of that?
Q. I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s the American system, capitalism.
JOHN CALIPARI: We’re in China -- no, we’re in America, you’re right.
The problem with this is that I don’t want this to lead to -- I think every kid owns their name and likeness. I’ve said it for years. They own their name and likeness. That’s the issue right now.
The Olympic model would allow some of that. I think that -- I think they’ve had kids in commercials, high school kids. I don’t know if they got money. I don’t know. But I think there’s things that we should think about again and touch on, and how do we want to do this, what do we want this to look like? We have 350 programs that we’re saying, okay, we’re all the same, and no one should have an advantage. Well, we’re Kentucky. They have a media day, don’t think they have a room like this. We have an advantage, and there’s never going to be a level playing field. So forget about level playing field. What do we do for these kids and how do we make it right for them and their families?
I don’t have the answer, and your question, if I hadn’t gotten in at 3:30 I’d probably be sharper right now to give you something better than I just did, but you know, every decision, even the Rice Commission, what does this do to the kids? What’s the unintended consequence to this, to the kids? This game, this university, this athletic department, this basketball program, whatever decisions they come up with to make this better, we’ll be fine with.
I think it all comes back to that. Just how do we make this better.
I’ll say this: I think players should be able to go right to the NBA, but I have an issue. This has opened up a chance for them to say, every kid should be in the G-League. I get absolutely mad, angry when someone said none of these kids belong on a college campus. I don’t like the overtones of that, and I’ve had five straight-A students come to this program. So it’s not true.
Well, these kids don’t want to be in college. Can I whisper something to you? I didn’t want to go to college. I was made to go to college by my parents, who said, you and your sisters will have a college education because that’s the only way to get a better life. You’re going, so don’t even start. And then the grades, listen, quit messing around. I’m no different than they were.
But do we really want to have all these kids think that as ninth and tenth graders -- how old are they then, ninth and tenth graders? 14? They’re ready to make a decision whether they should be academically sound or I’m going directly to the NBA. What decision are they going to make? Well, their families. Well, stop now. What are we talking about and who are we talking about?
We just had the highest graduation rate of basketball players in the history of our sport. We had the highest graduation rate of African-American players in the history of our sport. Just did it. So now we’re going to say, all those kids are going directly to the NBA, they’re going to the G-League, they’re not going to be paid much. They’re going to have two years to prove they should do it, and if not they’re roadkill. 92 percent will be roadkill. I may be wrong, it may be 93. Roadkill. What do we do with all those kids? Where are all those kids from? How will we -- that’s the unintended -- what, the NBA really is worried about government help and -- you didn’t make it. That was your choice to do this; you’re out.
My thing is every year there’s probably three or four or five kids that could go directly to the NBA, Kobe, LeBron, Kevin Garnett --
Q. Tracy McGrady?
JOHN CALIPARI: Tracy was close. He’s in the Hall of Fame so you’re probably right. But there’s probably three or four a year that could go directly to the NBA and be paid $15, $16 million, and if they don’t make it, fine. But the G-League paying -- where you leave the G-League in two years and you have maybe a little bit of money, $20,000 to go the rest of your life without an education? We give out lifetime education here. If they leave after a year or two they can come back and finish up.
So my thing is how do we get information to the kids that should go to the NBA to go. Probably through the Players’ Association. So they should have a combine for juniors and sophomores, and you are the kids that look like you’re going to be going. The rest of you need to go to college, and are you ready for this? If they go to college and they grow six inches in a year, let them go to the NBA after a year. Well, they don’t want that because it’s not good for the game. Is it good for the kids? If we do right by the kids, we will all be fine. If we’re all worried about the game and how I’m doing this -- so I think they should go, but I think we should give them the information to go.
There should be kids if some kids, want to go to the G-League or go to Europe, I just haven’t seen many make it. If they’re trying to create a new model where all the high school kids, the top 100 go to the G-League, and then you look, and of that 100, two or three will make it, but when they’re sophomores and juniors and ninth graders, how many of those kids will say, I’m not doing this math because I’m going directly to the NBA. Do we really want to go down that road? Who is going to take care of those kids? Where are those kids from? What’s the overtones we’re throwing out there where we don’t care -- I don’t want them on my college campus, they don’t belong here, let them do what they want, and this is America, they should be fine, their parents should have told them the right thing, and that’s not on me. Next thing, and I keep walking, and I’m in that tower looking down on everybody. Now, why did you guys get me started on that, because I didn’t want to go that route.
Q. We were talking about shoe contracts.
JOHN CALIPARI: I’ve been at meetings, and I’ve said, with all due respect to the people in this room, and there were NCAA and coaches and different groups, I said, I have to speak my mind so I can sleep at night, and I went through it, and I spoke my mind, and I said, now I can -- now you know how I feel.
And I also said, if I don’t agree with stuff, I will say it, that I’m against it. But I’ll be public, I’m not going to be anonymous. You’ll know that it was me saying it. It won’t be an anonymous guy saying this. And they said, just give us a chance to let this stuff work, and I said, I will. I will. But I do know I don’t like the overtones. I don’t like the direction. I don’t like what’s being said about these kids who -- how many kids -- last thing on this shoe contract stuff. How many kids went to college with the idea they were staying one year?
Q. A lot more than Duke.
JOHN CALIPARI: And they ended up staying four and getting a college degree. That is awful. Don’t ask me. Don’t call me and say, Cal, what do you think?
Q. He’s going around and spoken to a few teams --
JOHN CALIPARI: Who has?
Q. Rick Pitino, would you consider him coming in and speaking to your team, and are you a scheduled guest on his podcast?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’m not a scheduled guest. I’ve talked to him once. I may have talked to him twice, but I’ve texted him occasionally. But if he asked me I would probably do it because he did my podcast, so yeah, I would. Probably wouldn’t have him come talk to the team based on it would be the -- it would put North Korea on the back burner. Let me just say that. (Laughter). You can tell I didn’t sleep last night. Can you tell? (Laughter).
Q. Seth Greenberg said yesterday from being around you, he felt like this team reminds you of some of your old UMass teams, your old-school type of teams. If that’s true, in what way?
JOHN CALIPARI: The hardest thing to teach is a competitive spirit and a fight that they’re consistent with and a culture of, ‘I’m going to compete to get better, I’m going to be responsible for myself to get better,’ and this team has it.
Now, my UMass teams were that way, and they all had a chip on their shoulder because we were UMass and people, they never really got their due the players felt.
This team kind of feels that way, but I had those kids for three and four years when I was there, so I was coaching the same team. I coached one team for three -- four years, I coached another team for four years, and then the last team I coached those guys for three years. That’s basically where I was with the UMass stuff.
But they’re tough, hard-nosed guys, and we’ve got a lot of guys that -- they were rated high, but they think they’re better than so-and-so, and why they saying I’m not as good as him. I think that’s what he was saying.
Q. Can you discuss this depth and the luxury that provides?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, the depth -- here’s what’s great here. Numbers don’t matter here. They haven’t. You don’t have to average 20 points and 20 rebounds to really do something. I think Trey Lyles averaged seven points and five rebounds and was a lottery pick. Daniel Orton averaged three points and was a first rounder. I mean, they don’t matter here. It’s can you play?
So a group of guys can come together and be comfortable in their own skin knowing in 21 minutes -- Karl-Anthony Towns, you could be the No. 1 pick in the draft, in 21 minutes. Devin Booker, you can come off the bench and be a lottery pick and score 70 points in a pro game up in Boston and call me after and say, ‘Coach, did you see that 70 I got,’ and then text when it was his night for senior night and say, Coach, would you start me on senior night do you think if I had stayed? Because I didn’t start him. In other words, he’s kind of poking me, like do you know you didn’t start me. But you can do all that here, which means you can get depth, and the depth can be really good players, and they can play off of one another and compete for time. And I keep coming back to all these guys.
Your consistency is going to build your confidence, and there’s only one way to be more consistent; get in the gym, and not get in the gym and shoot tiptoe shots, get in the gym and work. You don’t need to be in there five hours, but go in for 45 minutes and get a great workout, shooting workout in, work on your skill set, work on your ball handling away from us. You don’t need us to do that.
This team has depth. We don’t have 12 -- do you remember when we had 12 guys and 11 and 12 were Dom (Hawkins) and Derek (Willis)? Think about that team. They were 11 and 12? That was -- was that the team that went 138-0? I mean, that’s depth.
This has 10 guys, maybe nine have separated themselves. It may go to eight, depending on -- because until you put the game -- jersey on the back, throw it up, you just don’t know.