clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John Calipari and Wildcats preview Winthrop, talk about state of UK recruiting

The Cats are working tirelessly to reach their potential.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are back in Rupp Arena on Wednesday to face the Winthrop Eagles.

Ahead of the game, John Calipari met with the media to discuss the game, as well as the state of recruiting. It’s been a rough few months for Kentucky, which came to a head today when James Wiseman picked Memphis.

But at the end of the day, Calipari is happy with who Kentucky is getting.

“We get the ones we are supposed to get. It just kind of plays out that way. It always has. It has not changed my approach to this.

“We still have some guys there. It’s funny how it always plays out. The staff’s working at it. There are things that happen. Things where all of sudden something changes. What happened there? It’s how recruiting is.”

As for his current teams, it’s been clear since Game 1 that this is a bigger work in progress than Calipari expected, but he’s embracing the challenge.

“It’s a process. This is never easy. It’s tiring. Like, it’s tiring, but I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather do than try and prepare a team. Again, for us, our goal every year is that we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year, you know. Obviously, we have a lot of upside right now.

“This team should be a great defensive team, a great rebounding team, a great post-up team that can shoot 3s. That’s what it should be, my vision of this team.”

Here is a recap of everything Calipari and select players had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On what it’s like recruiting against other top programs and coaches …

“The biggest thing is – I’ve said it all along – I think I’m overrated as a recruiter. We’ve had kids that made the decision to come here and it’s played out well for almost all of them. My thing is I want to be able to sleep at night. I want to make sure that I’m telling the truth. I want to make sure that I’m sticking with guys. A guy like Hami (Diallo): He started (a couple nights ago) and had 18 points. Everybody was going crazy. Knowing what our jobs are here means that we don’t get every kid. We get the ones we are supposed to get. It just kind of plays out that way. It always has. It has not changed my approach to this. Now, you know, maybe because of social media, video games and the stuff, there’s not as much on the playground and the pickup. Maybe they do one here that’s going to be easier. I come back to the same thing: I have to be able to sleep at night, knowing I’m being honest, not embellishing, I’m trying to be – ‘Here’s what it is.’ And I’m not saying that against anybody else. Everybody recruits the way they recruit, but you have good programs and good coaches and that’s why we don’t get everybody that we recruit. We’re not the only ones out there trying to get good players and trying to help kids.”

On if it’s exhausting working on this team while worrying about future rosters …

“The thing that is exhausting to me is that I don’t have a rearview mirror in my car and everything is that way so I don’t really look back and remember how hard it is when you’re going through a season. I remember the end of the run – the season ending and all of the other stuff. What tires you out is the grind of – I got to make sure I put these guys in the right spot. I got to make sure – who’s struggling? How do I bring them in? How do I get each individual playing better? How do I make this about this team? How do I get them to understand to be great teammates? How do, game to game, prepare them to get better in the process? And I tried to skip some steps early in the year. How did that work? Not real good. So now, here we’re playing Winthrop. And you may say, ‘Winthrop?’ Pat (Kelsey) has done a great job with this team. He’s got seniors. He’s got guards. One’s (Nych Smith, 19.3 points per game) averaging 20 (points) a game. The other’s averaging whatever. They’re shooting 30 threes a game. We’ve really guarded the 3 pretty well so far this year [Sarcasm]. They play fast, they drive the ball, they space the court: all stuff that we – it’s going to show us where we are now compared to two weeks ago, two and a half weeks ago. Like this game – VMI, ‘Oh, you’re going to bury VMI.’ Oh yeah? They made 19 of 38 3s.”

On what he can do in a practice to improve the 3-point defense …

“You keep drilling it and talking about it but there’s going to be game slippage. We talked about it showing the tape. ‘You left? How are we playing this? Why would you do this and not that?’ ‘I got it.’ Hands up. Stop the tape. There’s a guy playing like this. The guy released the ball and the guy went like that and said, ‘I had my hand up, I had my hand up!’ You didn’t have your hand up. Your hand was down. The ball went over your hand and then you went like that. You just drill it. You trick. (Whistles). Stop. On the baseline, run. They’re going to get it. You try to push it along, but they’re going to get it on their terms. That’s how this stuff goes. Like I tell them in the games, if someone’s not playing well, he’s not playing as much. We’ll deal with you in practice. It’s your responsibility to perform. If you’re playing well, you’re going to play more. That’s just how it is. Got to get a couple of guys playing better. Yesterday’s individual work I had a ball because I was able to get with small groups and really zone in on individual guys. It’s a process. This is never easy. It’s tiring. Like, it’s tiring, but I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather do than try and prepare a team. Again, for us, our goal every year is that we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the year, you know. Obviously, we have a lot of upside right now.”

On 3-point defense …

“The way teams are playing is a little different now. Now they have four guys out that can shoot, so it is a little different. But the idea of anticipating when you’re a high school player, you’re just worried where your man is. You’re not worried about what’s happening over here, so now to get them to see the ball, and then anticipate what’s coming next. If we had to leave or you have to leave, go. Then someone will get your man. The second part of that is trust. If I anticipate what’s happening, then I’ve got to trust that someone has my man if I leave. We’re not anticipating, and we don’t trust, but let’s see where we are compared to where we were. Let’s see where we are a month from now. This team should be a great defensive team, a great rebounding team, a great post-up team that can shoot 3s. That’s what it should be, my vision of this team.”

On if his offense has evolved as a modern game of offense has evolved …

“I’ve also played where we’ve thrown it to the post. I’ve played to the strength of the team. It has. Everything is now spaced. You may have a guy in the, they call it, the dunker spot, which is under the basket so that if you leave, they throw lobs. They’ve now gone to five out where that big guy trails and you’ve got everybody out., where back cuts and handoffs and space. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and it’s the one thing that shooting the ball is a premium. This team should be a good shooting team. I just don’t understand why we’ve got a couple guys that aren’t making shots. What we watch on tape, the biggest thing is Quade (Green) can get a shot off with a guy two steps from him. We have some other guys, literally, the guy’s in the lane, the ball comes to you and they’re not prepared. They’re having to process versus get that thing off. Shoot it. We’ve got a bunch of really good guys that listen. If you walked in to practice, they want to do this, it’s just not happening overnight. And this game that we’re playing, you’re at Kentucky and you’re supposed to win every game by 25. You have to deal with that. And it’s just not – it isn’t how this stuff happens.”

On Tyreese Maxey and Dontaie Allen …

“They’re going to be terrific here, both of them. I think Maxey gives you the size at guard and the play-making ability and shot-making ability. He defends. He rebounds. He’s one of those. This was a guy that I really felt, we really had to get that guy. And Dontaie, being in state, you always want to get that guy. You want to get a guy that, you know, this guy can make it, and he can make it here. A guy that wants to be here. You always want guys that want to be here. This is so hard that these guys are finding out – Bubba (Parham), the game before, was 0 for 4 (from 3). Then against us he went 10 for 19. He hit two lights, fell into the bench. That’s what happens. We’ve got to make it difficult so guys can’t do that. But they do it here, and those two guys I think are built for this. I’m happy about them.”

On finishing out this recruiting class …

“We still have some guys there. It’s funny how it always plays out. The staff’s working at it. There are things that happen. Things where all of sudden something changes. What happened there? It’s how recruiting is. I’ll say it again: Me personally – I don’t know about my staff; I think I’ve got a great recruiting staff – I’m overrated as a recruiter. I’m just trying to tell them how it is, and it’s hard. I want to undersell and overdeliver, and then I want kids to come in here like Hami (Diallo) and Isaiah Briscoe that have a basis to be able to go in that league when everybody says well there’s no way and they make it. Obviously, the stars, the Anthony’s (Davis) and others is fine, but it’s about the bigger picture of all of these kids being prepared.”

On stars coming in here and making an impact from the start …

“Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) did it after 10 or 12 games, and then Shai became that guy. Kevin Knox was – and then by the end of the year, so my hope is that’s what happens with this group because right now, it’s a consistency too now. Like, you can’t just be that every third game. You’ve got to be that guy. I’ve had it where it’s been a point guard, but we had Marquis Teague at point and that was not who he was. It was the other guys, so we’ve done it all kinds of different ways. I’m not budging. They’ll be as good as they want to be, and if they keep growing and getting better and they have great attitudes and they really do. We’ve thrown a tough schedule at them. To start, to get rocked and then to come back with the teams that can beat you and then play another team that can beat you, you’re like, woah.”

On Thanksgiving plans …

“We’ll do what we do every year with our team. We’ll be at the Salvation Army serving. I think it’s a great thing for these kids to be there and serve food and sign autographs and take pictures and touch people that are huge fans. I always say, only with God’s grace that’s not us. I talk to them a lot about think about where you’ve come from. Think about what door you could have walked out of, and that can be you. Only by the grace of God that it’s not me. I could tell you my background where I could have walked that way instead of walking that way, and that could have been me. And so, they get a chance to respect, be humble, and I think it’s good for the soul. Really good.”

Tyler Herro

On how practice has been since the VMI game …

“Practice has been real good. Since we lost the first game, we’ve kind of picked it up a little bit defensively, just working as a team. It’s been good. We’ve been working on our 3-point defense a little bit. Just continue to work defensively.”

On if shooting 3-pointers will be the plan for UK’s opponents …

“I’m not sure. The last game was, credit to them, the kid (Buddy Parham) hit I think 10 3-pointers. He hit some tough shots. I think we just continue to work on that and hopefully we’ll get better.”

On UK’s 3-point shooting …

“I think right now, we’re just still trying to find our stroke. Haven’t made many 3-point shots as a team and myself, really. But we’ll find it eventually. Just getting back to it and finding the speed of the game.”

On if missing shots has been frustrating to him …

“Not really. I know it will come eventually. It could be the next game or the next game after that. Who knows. But I know eventually I’ll start hitting shots.”

On what specifically the team is working on regarding 3-point defense …

“Just closing out to our man quicker. Coach always emphasizes not leaving corners because the corner 3 is one of the easiest shots to make. Just make sure we don’t leave the corners is something he’s focusing on.”

On the current stretch of games and how it can help the team …

“Just staying at it. Practice is just as important as these games. Just working defensively. The more we work at that, as you can see, we’re getting better each and every game on ball. Just keep working at that and we’ll get better.”

On what it takes to be a guy who steps in the lane to get steals …

“I think anticipating where the pass is coming. I think that’s a credit to our whole defense. I’ve just been in the right spots at the right time. All of us rotating as one, I think that’s what has put me in a good position to get some steals.”

On how he prepares for the grind of the season …

“Staying healthy, eating the right food, getting the right amount of sleep, staying in the treatment room to make sure to keep my body well.”

On Thanksgiving plans …

“My family will be here tomorrow for the game, then Thursday and Friday.”

On Wednesday’s early start …

“I think it will be a little bit different. We’ll have to start our shoot around earlier, pregame meal, stuff like that. So it will be a little bit different, but I think we’ll be alright.”

On if he has leaned on a particular veteran this season …

“I think they all, since day one, have told us how (John Calipari) coaches and the way that he approaches every game. Just leaning on them is one thing that all of our freshmen have done.”

Reid Travis

On his eye …

“It’s good. Feeling a lot better.”

On whether he will wear glasses …

“Yeah, I’ll be wearing glasses for the next couple days and the game. Kind of just protect that eye as it continues to heal.”

On whether playing with the glasses is an adjustment …

“Not really. When I went out there in the second half, I kind of just threw them on and went. Felt fine. Vision wasn’t that bad. They’re pretty well put together. You can ask Quade (Green), I’m sure he could tell you the same thing. He’s worn them longer than I have, but it’s not too bad.”

On coming off the bench …

“I didn’t mind it. That’s something with this team: It’s got a lot of unselfish guys. The rotations are going to be different all year as far as what we need energy wise from certain guys playing different minutes and things like that. I’m all about the team, all about us winning. It’s all going to shake out. You’re going to get your opportunities whether you start or you don’t start. For me that wasn’t too big of a deal.”

On the prospect of facing an up-tempo team like Winthrop and whether that fits UK …

“I think that’s one thing: We got the athletes, we got the talent to do it as far as getting the ball up the court, running, trying to sprint, getting easy lobs, get open shots, things like that. Up-tempo game, I don’t know if it favors us, but it’s the way we want to play. So if the other team’s doing that, it’s also going to put pressure on us to get back and play good transition defense. There comes challenges as well.”

On EJ Montgomery

“I think he’s doing a great job of just rebounding. I think’s the biggest thing he’s doing and just providing energy, blocking shots, and I think every game you’re just seeing him mature and progress as he starts to get more comfortable out there. He’s done a great job. He deserves more minutes like Coach said.”

On 3-point defense …

“Last game they made some great shots, some nice contested shots and things like that, but that’s not to say that our defense from the 3 can’t improve. I think that’s one thing that we’ll continue to work on is closing out on guys the right way, knowing who are the shooters, who we can rotate to better. I think if we just mature as a team and really get our schemes down, I think you’ll see those percentages drop as teams start to go against us.”

On the importance of two games in three days …

“It’s very important. Anytime we get to go out there and really just put on display what we’ve been putting in work on in practice, it’s beneficial to us. So to have these games kind of back to back, it gives us a lot to look forward to. It’s going to help us mature and progress as a team. We’re excited for this week. We’ve put in a lot of work in practice and it’s just another step for us to build on.”

On what he and bigs can do to help the 3-point defense …

“Just ball screens. I think there were a few times where we switched out on ball screens last game and the guard maybe did a move and got a 3 off of that. So the biggest thing for me is just keeping a hand up, trying to force those guys into tough penetration, tough drives, make them shoot maybe a tough 2. I think that’s a shot we need to (force the opponent) to take instead of as bigs letting them shoot a 3.”