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Calipari talks Evansville, James Wiseman, Anthony Davis & more

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Cal had a lot to discuss ahead of Kentucky’s matchup with Evansville.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

On Tuesday, the Kentucky Wildcats will play host to Evansville before getting a much-needed week off.

The Purple Aces are led by former Wildcats forward Walter McCarty, who is now in his second season as the head man following a nine-year stint as an NBA assistant. McCarty’s 1995-96 UK team actually faced Calipari’s UMass team twice that season, so this isn’t the first time they’ve faced off on the court.

Ahead of the game, UK head coach John Calipari met with the media to preview Tuesday’s matchup while also discussing some of the biggest topics in basketball.

One of them is Memphis freshman James Wiseman, who is facing eligibility issues and may not be playing much longer. Wiseman was someone Calipari spent a lot of time recruiting in high school, and he wants to see the stud center back on the court.

“I hope the kid can play, because he’s a great kid. He really is,” Calipari said of Wiseman.

Another hot topic is former UK star Anthony Davis, who has helped the Lakers become a legitimate title contender in his first year in Los Angeles.

“Anthony (Davis), what he’s doing. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the league,” Calipari stated.

Here is a recap of everything Calipari had to say via UK Athletics:

On if the approach is any different Evansville’s head Walter McCarty, a former player …

“I’ve known Walter for a long time, so it won’t change how I play the game but I’m happy for him. Watching his team, he’s doing some good stuff. I’m always happy when we can bring guys back here. Bringing them coaching teams, we’ve done it before. I think it’s a great thing. You just want them to know, in Walter’s case, you won a national title here. You’re a part of the history of this program. And I think our fans, he’ll feel that coming back.”

On if remembers trying to match up with him in the 1996 Final Four …

“I don’t, but Tony Delk was upstairs and I said to Tony, ‘We’re a little short in practice. We may need you. He said, ‘I can stand in that corner. I said, ‘No, I’ve seen that one.’ I said, ‘How many did you make in that game? Six? He goes, ‘Seven.’ He still knows exactly how many he made. It’s good that those guys are back. They’re good guys. They have always been kind to me. This program is a part of their family.”

On if the guys have bought in earlier to defense than his other teams …

“Well, it’s not that it’s earlier. What you had is, the teams that I’ve had have had a bunch of veterans come back and understand, drag other people along. When you don’t have that, it’s the coaches dragging that along, and that becomes a longer process. It also will take away from your offense because you’re playing so hard that you’ll back up and it takes more time. But I would say having Nate (Sestina) talk, and our guard play defensively is so good I said that from day one. When you can guard the ball and you have some shot blockers behind, you’ve got a chance to be good.”

On Kahlil Whitney’s performance over the past two games…

“He was unbelievable. People that watched him in high school couldn’t believe it was the same guy. So, it becomes if you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you will get it every time. We are very demanding, and they’re demanding of each other and all of the sudden you’re seeing this guy that defensively –and again, the great thing for him is when you guard that way, even if the offense isn’t going you can leave that guy on the court because he’s may not—he may not score a basket, he might turn it over every once in a while, but if he guards and rebounds. When he’s doing both, he becomes one of the best.”

On Whitney saying he never gave any thought to defense in high school …

“That’s very true. How about this? How about not being delusional? Like self-evaluating at his age. Wow! They don’t. And the people around them are telling them they’re the best, and you’re this, and its everybody else, and enabling, It’s not happening there. When I talked to him about what I’m looking for and he and I have a conversation, I walk out of the room and I go, ‘Wow, really smart kid. Really smart.”

On Nick Richards maturity from freshman year to now …

“He’s getting better. I mean, I still want more. Somebody said, ‘Well, you know, if he plays that way.’ Well, he could’ve played better. There were more baskets. There were more rebounds. A couple more defensive things that he kind of backed up on, but what it is is he’s showing confidence based on competence and conditioning. He’s showing confidence. And you can’t do it for him. You wish you could. You wish you could build up everybody in the world and make the world feel good. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. And so, I’m proud of him though. I’m really proud of him.”

On if EJ Montgomery will be available for the game against Evansville …

“I doubt it. It’s day-to-day but I would say doubtful.”

On if there is any update on Dontaie Allen

“Doubtful. He hasn’t practiced yet.”

On if there’s a plus to guys being hurt and it opening up opportunities for other players …

“One guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity, but we’re still not as good of a team without him, obviously. He’s one of our better players. But you want him healthy. You don’t want guys—their bodies is their castle. You try to tell them at an early stage that you have to listen to your body and if it tells you to stop, you stop. And so in this case, the doctors and everybody else, it’s day-to-day and they are making sure to keep an eye on him.”

On how this team will handle being ranked No. 1 …

“What I’ve seen after last game, the start of last game and and how we played, if you guard and you contest shots and you’ll rebound, you’ll have a chance to win every game. The issues that we’re coming back to is, OK, how do we play offensively and how do we keep all these guys engaged when you’re playing random? In other words, it’s not like just rolling a ball out and playing, but it means you’re running an action that ends up in something that ends up in a drive, a play, a kickback, a post that the rest of that is random. If a guy can’t engage himself in that, then you may have to run stuff for him to get him engaged in the game, especially offensively. But it’s just going to take time. I’m not at all surprised by it.”

On thoughts on James Wiseman …

“I don’t really have an idea of any of the insides of it, but I hope the kid can play because he’s a great kid. He really is. So I hope they work through it.”

On where this year’s team is in terms of player empowerment …

“They are way far ahead. But again, we have veterans. So now I have a point guard (Ashton Hagans) and Immanuel Quickley. And I told the veterans, even EJ and Nick, I said, ‘Am I coaching you a little different?’ Because they know what I expect, and if they want me to get after them, they know the action that I would stop. I’m pretty consistent. Like, that ain’t happening. They know to stay away from that stuff. Young kids don’t. So, you’re coaching the older guys--they have an idea of what you’re looking for and what you want. And the younger guys, like right now, the two that I’m on the hardest, I would say are both Tyrese (Maxey] and Kahlil Whitney. I’m on them harder than anybody. But you have older veteran players that understand, and you have Nate.”

On why players need to adjust to playing random …

“Because that’s where the game is going, if you’re watching the game. I said before, driving the ball, dribble-drive, which is a random form of playing, and I talked probably five or six years ago about position-less. There is not going to be point guards and big guys; there’s just going to be basketball players. You better know how to play the game. And now what they’ve done, is it is positon-less and it is random. So they may run an action where people move, the the ball moves, and then it becomes spacing and here we go. It’s random from that point. That’s where I see the game going. But, even that being the case, these guys aren’t quite ready for all the randomness of the game. It’s gotta be a little more structured for these guys. Look, if we play a pressing game. You know that I’ll tell my team, ‘If they press, we are trying to score 100.’ It’s what I’ve always--if they press, get it in and go and we’re trying to score. So the game was pretty random against Eastern Kentucky. But they pressed 40 minutes. They pressed after missed free throws. They pressed, which meant they spread the floor, which meant we had a few more turnovers than we wanted, but the game was fast. So Four of the guys came in and said, ‘Coach we’d would really like to play that way.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’ve got to make a call. I’m going to call Eastern Kentucky and see if we can play them 30 times.’ Because unless the defense plays that way--what if they play pack-line defense? What if they play a zone? And that’s why we play all kinds of different teams. We want to feel a zone, we want to feel a press, we want to feel a pack-line, we want to feel a team that is trying to shoot a ball in 25 seconds on the shot clock. How do we play? It is important for these guys to feel all of that.”

On how much do they have to earn his trust to play random …

“I am going to give you a random play that Immanuel could have never made. In the last game, the ball swung to him. He was at the top. Before he caught it, he saw the lane and ke took it to his right hand and shot the runner and got fouled. There was no catch and square up and foot fake. He was just caught it and went. He couldn’t have done that a year ago. He would have caught the ball and squared up and they would’ve jumped him. So seeing that kind of stuff makes me feel good. Like I said, I’d like all these guys—I mean, we’ve got great kids. They’re in a great frame of mind. They want to guard. They’ree counting on us to figure out offensively how we play. So we will see.”

On how Brad Calipari preformed in his first game for Detroit Mercy …

“He did good. He played like 14, 15 minutes. He took a charge. He lunged and took a charge on a guy. He smashed their big guy in the back to make sure we could get a rebound. He tipped a ball free. He ran hard. He looked good. He missed some shots. I told him, ‘There’s some guys that if they defend they stay in. There are other guys that if they make shots they stay in longer. You just didn’t make any. You missed a couple. If you made one or two, you probably would have played more. Not to be pressured, but just understand that is the situation you are in.’ They were down 14 with two minutes to go. I was screaming. I was so high. I was on the second level in a box. No one even really knew I was there, except I screamed at the officials a little bit. The one guy, I saw him look up like, ‘I have heard that voice.’ [Laughter.]”

On how if any former players have caught his attention in the NBA …

“A bunch of them. But you know who I’m really proud of? Devin Booker. Now, we can all talk stats. Like, his numbers are ridiculous. Fifty-something percent, 50% 3, 90 from the 2. But how about Phoenix is 6-3? Now that makes me feel good – that he gets what he’s doing is about winning. Couldn’t be more proud of him. I shouldn’t start down that road because there’s 30 of them that are, you know.

“PJ (Washington). How about PJ? Come on. This guy, he had 16 last night again. I mean, he’s just--it shows that everybody’s on a different path. Get yourself prepared mentally and physically and if it’s after one, two or three years. It’s like Nick right now. Nick wasn’t ready to leave after year one. Certainly wasn’t ready to leave last year because we walked in and told me. ‘I don’t even want to look. I know I’m not ready.’

“Now you look at him now and you say, ‘Wow.’ They’re all on different paths and what they want to do, but there’s a bunch of the guys, Anthony (Davis), what he’s doing. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the league. And I know a couple of my other guys will be mad I said not them, but I would tell you he is a generational kind of player. He just is. He’s got the heart of a lion and he wants to win, which really means something to him. It’s not just playing to him. I know him. It is, he wants to win. And it appears as he and LeBron (James)--LeBron in understanding who he is and he’s going to let him be who he is, and LeBron is being who he is. So that could be scary, too.

“How about Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). I mean, don’t get me started, but come on [media laughs]. Here’s a kid, I mean, he didn’t start his first 10 games here and he did just what Tyrese just said to me. I said, “Feeling comfortable but you’re fine, blah, blah, blah.’ He said, ‘Coach, I trust you.’ It’s exactly what Shai said to me. ‘I trust you. I know. I got you.’ Here he. You’re look at him like, whew.”