The Kentucky Wildcats had their first competitive action Friday night in the annual Blue-White Game.
After the game, head coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to talk about the team scrimmage, the upcoming season, and more.
Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics:
Q. An assumption that Nate (Sestina) was coming in from Bucknell as a veteran voice in the locker room. I don’t know how much else was expected. I was just wondering how much he’s played his way into a role on the court.
COACH CALIPARI: I had three people stop me in the way in who are basketball people and said, ‘That kid works so hard and has so much energy and toughness that he’s going to play himself into minutes. And he is. He’s a little bit like Derek Willis where you can stretch out that guy. He’s a big guy that you can stretch the ball with but he has a little more physical presence and Derek was longer. So he can do that for us.
Our guard play was fairly good. Look, it is what it is. Randomness of the game. Some guys played better than others. Some guys showed some stuff. But I’ll watch the tape and figure some stuff out. We’ll probably do tape work on Sunday. The same guy he was a year ago and -- he’s stronger, he ha
Q. John, how did you feel about Immanuel playing with purpose?
COACH CALIPARI: He played good. He played good. You’re all seeing what I’ve been telling you that he’s not even the same guy he was a year ago. It’s because he’s freed up his mind. There’s less anxiety. He’s in better condition. He’s stronger and has a better idea what we do and what we want him to do. It was good.
Q. You added a big man (Ben Jordan) from the baseball team today. Just wanted to get some thoughts on how much you needed another body, I guess.
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, we just -- what we figured out is we’re fine unless someone gets hurt and then we need one or two more guys. You know, Zan (Payne) and Dontaie (Allen) are both out right now, and so we said, why don’t we add Michael Jordan to our team. So we couldn’t get him so we took Ben Jordan. And he’s 6-9 and he’s got a great way about him, a great disposition, and obviously I keep telling EJ (Montgomery), as soon as he gets in a little better shape he’s going to be dunking on you.
But he’s big, 6-9, long-armed, pretty good basketball savvy, feel. He’s the leading rebounder and shot-blocker in his (high) school’s history, like eighth-leading scorer in his school’s history, Basketball. Obviously really good baseball player.
Q. Wanted to ask about Nick Richards. How comfortable did he look? How confident do you think he was today from what you saw on the court?
COACH CALIPARI: He was better. Now in the end he got tired and then he kind of reverted and just told him that it shows you what you have to do.
I told the guys after, ‘Look, I’m going to learn about you, but you’ve got to learn about yourself, too. Some of you guys have to know the way I’m trying to get you to play, you fought it a little bit, and you turned it over and lost balls and missed shots. You’ve got to understand that you have to look at it and don’t blame anybody. Look within and say, OK, I’ve got to do this a little different.’
We had some guys that have just flown with it and try to do the right stuff, and I’ll be honest with you, they all look pretty good. For that setting with us -- like the zone offense looked bad. You know why? Because we put it in yesterday. Three out, two in. How about that zone offense? We didn’t have anything else we went with. We didn’t, so there were times that didn’t look real good and it kind of slowed us down.
Q. How much does something like tonight -- how well does that translate into what’s going to happen in the regular season.
COACH CALIPARI: You don’t know, but here is what it does. You get -- the kids smell popcorn, there’s numbers on their backs and there’s people in the seats. Now we have some guys that missed a lot of shots. They have been making shots, but uh-oh, smell the popcorn, numbers on your back, people in the seats. It’s a little different. I got on Tyrese (Maxey); he banked-missed the free throw. You kidding me? You bank-missed that free throw.
‘It came off.’
What do you mean it came off? You bank-missed a free throw.
Again, these kids are excited. You could see that they are together. I mean, if you watch them on the court, they are. We’ve got to get a couple more guys at the level that Nate is playing at intensity wise. Just be more intense. Be more tough. Go after balls. We will look at rebound attempts. We are going to have some guys in the 50s, 50 percent. You didn’t even try. How you going to rebound?
And they will be able to learn from this. That’s what this becomes. You know, it’s about learning, and like I said, we really did not run anything. We didn’t. It was more of a random, you know, some pick-and-rolls, some elbows, some throwing at a head swing and trying to post at some.
Q. It was great seeing the alumni back this weekend. It’s obvious you realize the importance of having them back to the tradition of the program. This past summer when there was that little dust-up, were you upset about how --
COACH CALIPARI: What dust-up?
Q. About this or that player feeling uncomfortable about coming back.
COACH CALIPARI: I didn’t know that. Was I supposed to know that? I’m not here in the summer, so I don’t know what they saying and are doing. Anyway, somebody said they weren’t comfortable coming back?
Q. Yeah, coming back to practice.
COACH CALIPARI: I’ve done this a long time and the former coaches and former players, know -- now, if there’s a reason you’re mad because of somebody else, and they are making you mad, I can’t do anything about that.
But me personally, every -- we’re going to have 500 people at our practice tomorrow and they are going to be alums. So it’s not an issue with us in our team in this program.
But you know, I would tell you every player that has played here -- I just was in there with Reggie (Warrd) and his wife, (Marisa). Reggie Warford, they know that I’m here, if I can help, if you want to come to practice. But this is -- you know, this is -- sometimes you realize it’s about these players now. That’s sometimes hard. But you know, always welcome here.
Q. That has to be hard so coordinate. Obviously a priority in your mind to have these guys back.
COACH CALIPARI: Most of it’s handled by DeWayne (Peevy), or people in my office. It’s hard for me to do it personally, but I think that everyone knows my stance in this, and you know, we’re going to do whatever we can.
This program, you know, when you talk family -- and you have to understand now, I’ve said from day one, this program did not start with me. Like OK, it only became a program when I came here, and I never was that way. I haven’t been.
This program started with Coach (Adolph) Rupp, who coached here 45 years, and then it went to another great one, Coach Joe B. Hall, who is a dear friend who was in practice three days ago, came in.
I’m kind of like this seat -- I rent this seat. This is not me. I just happen to be this guy in line. I’ve always felt that way about every job I’ve had. Didn’t start with me, whether it was Jack Leaman at UMass, whether it was Gene Bartow at Memphis.
But I didn’t know that. Hopefully -- I’ll ask more questions in the back about who, what, where, why.
Q. A few 3-point shots, maybe not by design this early on. What have you noticed from the team with the new 3-point line and the spacing and how they have taken that?
COACH CALIPARI: You know, Johnny (Juzang) missed all four and we are expecting him to make shots. I told him he’s flat-footed. You can’t shoot them flat-footed. You have to jump. You have to shoot the same way every time and that means go meet the ball and let it go.
You know, Tyrese missed some shots. So when you talk those two being 1-for-whatever they were, that’s not good for us. Now, we’re not a team that wants to shoot 30 3s, but when you look at the combined 3s, we shot 41, which is, you know, it’s all our guys, 20 and 20. 41 is not bad, and then we went to the zone and then we started moving it more. But we will shoot some 3s from our bigs, especially Nate, because he can do it.
Q. How does it strike you that there’s a full house for Madness, which is more of a show, and yet tonight is basketball more so and there’s a lot of empty seats.
COACH CALIPARI: Geez, I thought there were 13,000 and our students weren’t here. I will say this: If you go around the country and say it’s your home games, you would average 13,000, there’s about 250 programs that say, ‘Let me sign on the dotted line.’ And this is an exhibition against ourselves when I thought we might be playing 4-on-4 because of the injuries, because I couldn’t get Ben to play. He didn’t start practicing with us.
So this is crazy. I mean, they paid to see us scrimmage. This wasn’t people just walking off the street now. They had to pay to get a ticket to come to the game and 13,000 come; only here could that happen. Only here.
Q. How do you think Ashton (Hagans) played tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: I thought he played good. He’s got a better feel. He’s shooting the ball better. His decision-making is good. He’s trying to get people involved. You can talk to him. He understands things. I had to go out on the court one time with Tyrese because there are things that he was doing that we had not talked about, and I didn’t want him to keep doing some different things.
But Ashton I thought did good.
Q. What was the -- did you bring Ben in, work him out, get a good look to have an idea of whether he can --
COACH CALIPARI: No, we just figured out he was a former high school basketball player and, you know, and he was 6-9. I said -- and we need another big guy. We’re one shot. Brennan (Canada), it’s not fair for him to go inside and have to be playing against Nick and Nate. It’s just not.
Q. Have you guys figured out what to do in the spring when baseball starts up?
COACH CALIPARI: He’s a baseball player. You know, I wish we were -- I wish it was like high school roles where two or three days a week we could scrimmage, because I have enough guys for that. Like bring in another team and let’s scrimmage, and let’s go this weekend and scrimmage, and I’d be fine with the numbers.
The problem is, if you know me, I like to go competitive and it’s five-on-five. So we’ve been doing four-on-four, not all bad for this team because there’s still habits that get a break, and they are going to have to figure out.
#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., Guard
On what was it like playing in Rupp for the first time…
“It felt great. I had a lot of fun playing at Rupp period, the feeling and the energy felt great.”
On the potential of a lineup featuring him, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley …
“I think we are three different guards. Ashton (Hagans) is very good defensively which makes Immanuel and I better at practice since he’s going at us. Immanuel is a really good shooter and really good scorer in transition. He really proved that today. I’m a balance of a little bit of everything. I play pretty good defense sometimes. I can score in transition and give my teammates the ball. Overall, it felt great. We go at each other at practice and make each other better. It feels good to see each other shine and do well.”
On his biggest improvement …
“I think being able to get my teammates involved and being able to be a really good lead guard. Coach KP (Kenny Payne) and Coach Cal have been really on me about getting my teammates involved, getting into the lane and getting assists. They want me to get other people going because I can score. That’s really the biggest improvement I’ve made.”
#5, Immanuel Quickley, Soph., Guard
On being a totally different guy this year …
“I feel really good on the floor. My teammates did a good job giving me a spot that I feel confident and a really good job putting me in positions that I can succeed in.”
On a breakthrough moment that unlocked his growth this summer …
“I started putting God first more, daily devotion every single day, continue working hard, getting up in the morning and working out before class and things like that. But really just putting God first was pretty much the breakthrough.”
On getting stronger …
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger. You can ask my weightlifting coach, Rob Harris. I’m lifting a lot more than last year and I’ve gotten a lot stronger than last year, so I think that’s good and helping me on the floor getting down and on defense as well, so I think it’s helped a lot.”
On if it’s an advantage playing three point guards …
“Absolutely. With myself, Ashton (Hagans,) and Tyrese (Maxey), even though we’re all quote-un- quote, point guards, I don’t think that a label means how we play together because at the end of the day we’re all basketball players and we’re very versatile so you don’t lose anything. Especially with Ashton and Tyrese, they’re really good on defense. Ashton’s Defensive Player of the Year for the SEC and so we aren’t losing anything on the defensive end. On offense you have a lot more space.”
#1, Nate Sestina, Graduate Student, Forward
On his confidence level …
“It’s grown a lot. When I first got here it was a little shaky. I was kind of nervous about playing with these guys and being able to mesh with them.”
On where he gets his intensity …
“I love playing basketball. You get to play in front of 20,000 people every day. That’s the motivation, playing for my family and for myself and playing for the name on the front and back of my jersey.”
On feeding off energy once he was able to knock down a few shots …
“When you see a couple shots go in, the rim gets bigger and your confidence level raises up. So, for me being able to put the ball in the hoop a couple times got my confidence going and seeing my teammates make plays and doing the same thing just gets everybody going.”