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John Calipari talks Georgetown, secret scrimmages, new 3-point line & more

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Cal was pretty blunt on why UK doesn’t have secret scrimmages with Power 5 teams.

Calipari Chris Humphrey - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats open exhibition play Sunday when Georgetown College comes to Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari met with the media to discuss his team as the regular season is just over a week away. Among the topics he discussed was how his team is learning toughness, why UK doesn’t take part in secret scrimmages, the new 3-point line, and what he thinks of his team as they face their first real opponent.

Here is a recap of everything Cal had to say via UK Athletics.

On the starting lineup …

“Don’t know yet. We’ve still got a couple of days, and really it doesn’t matter. I’m trying different combinations now in practice. I’ll tell you who has really helped is Ben Jordan, because now Keion (Brooks Jr.) can get work at three and EJ (Montgomery) gets to go against Nate (Sestina), which helps them. And Ben gets to beat up on Nick (Richards). So, Keion can be four some too to stretch the court. I had he and Kahlil (Whitney) on the court together the other day and they looked good with Nick. That lineup looked good. Having Tyrese (Maxey) and Ashton (Hagans) together has looked good. Immanuel (Quickley) has played well. We’re just trying different things. Really, half of the practice is them developing habits, which takes away from the team stuff that we – my staff’s all over me: ‘We still gotta do this … this … this.’ I said, ‘Look, until they get these habits down it doesn’t matter.’ ”

On Jordan’s matchup with Nick Richards and if he was brought in to be physical with Richards …

“Not really. He’s trying to figure out how to play. It was funny – he said to me yesterday – I had them come up in the office and after the practice I said, ‘How much did Ben help us today?’ The guys went crazy. He said – I’m probably breaking his confidence, but it’s OK – he said, ‘I went home and we had people crying, and there were T-shirts for me. I’m like, what? ‘Coach, I was a really good pitcher. Like I’m an All-American in baseball and no one has said anything and I go back with this and said, ‘I’m just one of the guys on the team. And they’re doing jerseys for me.’ He laughed. My hope is he benefits by this whole experience. Nick and I talked, Mingione, yesterday. I gave him (Jordan) one of the books that I’m giving the guys to read. The Stillness (is the Key) book (by Ryan Holiday) and I think – I told him, ‘I think it’ll be great for you, being a pitcher and being on that mound by yourself.’ So, I’m hoping this helps him. Obviously he’s helping us.”

On if he’d be in favor of a closed scrimmage instead of two exhibition games …

“There’s two things that I’m trying to push in college basketball: One of them is playing in August and making it like spring football. Spending 10 days, two weeks and let each of us get five or six days during that period of time to practice and maybe play games and play games against each other like we’re doing in these first scrimmages, but sell them and let them be on TV. Do them on weekends so you’re not missing class. Whoever travels, their expenses are paid for by the other team. Now you have content for August for the SEC Network and now all of the other Power 5s have networks. I think on a lot of fronts it would be good. The issue for us of doing that scrimmage is solely money. I’d like to scrimmage versus having two exhibitions. But I also have the feel of what the athletic department needs and if they ever said, ‘Hey, we’re good because we have an extra home game and if you want to do it we would do it.’ ”

On how a Power 5 team wouldn’t have the funds to be able to do away with an exhibition game …

“It becomes money that is budgeted – these many home games, this many exhibitions and it’s budgeted. In that setting, and I’ll just throw a number, let’s say it’s a million dollars. Well, it’s coming from something. So, is it coming from swimming? Is it coming from the volleyball team? Where is it coming from? Baseball? It’s coming from something. I get it and if we weren’t hurting anything to go play an exhibition game – most teams don’t make what we do on a home game. They may have a building where they make very little on a home game, where that’s not the case with us.”

On recognizing toughness …

“Well, toughness is not just pushing and shoving. It’s not what your body looks like. Toughness is a mental toughness of you can be pushed and you don’t cave in. That toughness. A toughness of playing somebody before they catch the ball because you’re alert and you’re in it even though you’re tired. How about playing before you catch the ball? Knowing where your teammates are. Being alert mentally. It’s as much mental toughness as it is physical. Physical is part of it. If you are standing up and not in a stance, you can’t be physically tough here. You’ll get pushed around. So, all of the things that – like last year with Reid (Travis) and PJ (Washington), there was a toughness and a mental toughness that they had. We’re expecting EJ and Nick and Nate to do the same things, and Keion. The best thing that’s happened to Keion is that he’s working out with the big guys almost exclusively, especially pre-practice and getting like knocked around and having to figure out like how do I hold my own? It doesn’t mean he pushes back. It means you leverage. You’ve gotta play before the catch, so all of those toughness – are you tough enough to get free when the man is ready to throw you the ball? Are you tough enough under pressure to deliver a ball to a wing? Are you tough enough? Are you tough enough going to the basket (that) when you get touched, does the ball come loose? Or do you hold the ball as you get pinned a little bit and grabbed and still make a layup? Are you tough enough that when there is contact to still make a basket when they’re not going to make a call because they’re going to say verticality? Or are you not tough enough? I can go on and on, but my question was with this team are we going to have it? On the ball, shot-blocking, length – they’re going to miss shots. Are we tough enough to go get balls? Are we tough enough to mix it up? Are we tough enough to catch it in the post with two hands and hold our position? Or you’re not tough enough. In the post you can face, or when your man starts to run around you – you can move to keep them behind you or can go like this (gestures to the ground) and say, ‘Throw it right here.’ That’s toughness. Holding positions. Catching balls with two hands. A shot goes up, do you know what the tough thing to do is? Go find somebody and do it body-to-body. Hit somebody. You know what the not-so-tough thing to do is? The shot goes up and I run under the rim. Well, why would you do that? Well, you tell me what’s easier? Hitting this guy and fighting and going and getting the ball or just running under the basket and maybe just getting the one that goes under the net. I mean, it’s all stuff that we’re doing. An NBA exec came in yesterday and said – two days ago – and said, ‘Your practices have been more aggressive and physically tougher than other practices I’ve seen.’ And I said, ‘We’ve got no choice. I’m trying to figure this out.’ Well, what’s the ball you’re juggling? Your nine scholarship players go ahead let two get hurt. You can’t even have a warmup line. So, we’re juggling balls but we’re trying to say let’s keep this to the forefront.”

On who the toughest guy is on the team right now that he will hold up as an example to the others …

“We don’t know. It will develop. My question – and I forgot I had the same question last year – where do you get a basket? Like last year, where do you get a basket? Now all of you knew in November that Tyler Herro was going to be this good [sarcastic]. Well, none of us knew. I didn’t either. We didn’t know Keldon (Johnson) would be that aggressive. We didn’t know that PJ until January was going to do what he did. We knew that Reid was physically strong, but we had to make him quicker to the ball and quicker to rebound and less gathering and more quickness. We did not know. To be honest, right now I don’t know with this team. If we really needed a basket right now, where do we go? I don’t know. But that will—[Reporter interjects: It’s not Tyrese?] No. It’s not right now. But the great thing for all of us and how we do this, they will tell us who it is. They will tell us. Tyrese is doing fine. Now, I’m on him hard. It’s a different game when possession matter more than ever in your entire life. And the reason possessions don’t matter as much as a high school player is because you’re going to have 30 of them one way or another whether you’re bad, good, indifferent. I’m the best player and I’m getting 30 looks. I’m getting 25 shots. Well now, every possession matters a little bit more. A pass to the wing with pressure on you matters more. The open jump shot, you’re not getting 25. You’re going to get eight, nine, 10. They matter more. So all that kind of stuff is one of those habits that we’ve got to teach these young kids. And it’s not just him. Kahlil is the same way. So is Johnny (Juzang). So is Keion. They’re all in the same boat.”

On if there is a balance with someone like Maxey staying free and loose and not feeling the pressure with every possession matters …

“Well, you want them to feel pressure, especially now to see how he responds. And so some of it will be me creating pressure to see how he responds. And then kind of being sarcastic at times when he does not respond to make him respond to that. But I’m doing it with Kahlil; I’m doing the same thing. I’m trying to bring pressure to the practice and them personally and how they’re playing. But I think they’re responding great. I mean, Immanuel Quickley – Immanuel laughs now, but he went through it last year. It was really hard for him. Now you’re seeing a different guy out there and how he plays and how he responds to things.”

On if the change in the 3-point line has had any impact …

“We’re stepping on it a lot more. I see that. I’m just leaving it go right now. I’m not emphasizing it. But my guess since they moved it back – how much? A foot? Fourteen inches? Fifteen inches? My guess is it will come down a percentage or two. I don’t think it’s going to come down 10. But let me say this: If it goes up, then the balls got smaller. Something happened. So my guess would be is it’s going to go down a little bit.”

On if the extended 3-point line is opening up things offensively …

“I don’t think so. I mean, you know, for the fantasy camp we put down the 4-point line. It never came into play until the semifinals and a guy, down four with 15 seconds, made a 4-pointer. The coach didn’t even know. He was like, ‘Why would you take that?’ And the guy says, ‘Because it was a 4-pointer.’ He says, ‘What 4-pointer?’ He didn’t even know. He made it. What did the other team do? Now it’s 15 seconds to go, they think they’re down one because (they thought) it was a 3. It was a 4. They foul and the kid misses the free throw and they come down and get fouled and win the game – the team that was down four. I think we should go with a 4-point play. I like the 4-point play. It was exciting. I was just sitting there not knowing and screaming and yelling and it was a 30-footer at the end that I thought was in coming the other way that was going to end the game.”