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Calipari, Allen & Richards preview Georgia Tech

Allen spoke with the media for the first time since coming to UK.

Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are set for a big test Saturday when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets invade Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the matchup, head coach John Calipari met with the media to preview UK’s first Power 5 opponent since Michigan State in the season opener.

In addition, for the first time since coming to UK, freshman wing Dontaie Allen spoke with the media. While he won’t play Saturday, he will be honored with a ring for winning Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball award for the 2018-19 high school season. The ceremony will take place about 15 minutes before the game.

Here is a recap of what Allen, Calipari and junior center Nick Richards had to say today via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On Johnny Juzang’s efficiency …

“I had to tell my son, first two games he played he was 0 for 7 and he played five minutes and seven minutes. And I said to my son, ‘It’s a bad position to be in, but it’s real. If you make shots, you’re going to play more. If you make a lot of misses, you’re going to play less.’ So, the next game he made and next game he made and you won’t believe this, now he’s playing 25-30 minutes a game. He played five minutes – it’s hard. It’s what it is. Maybe a guy that we’re expecting to rebound can’t get a rebound, well you’re going to play less minutes. But, Johnny’s working hard. All these kids playing together trying to figure each other out, trying to figure themselves out makes it even more difficult. But we need him – we need Kahlil (Whitney) to play better. I mean, we do. We’ve got guys, for us to be one of those teams which we are not right now, for us to be one of those teams he’s got to play well and Johnny’s got to make a couple shots.”

On what improvements Kahlil Whitney needs to do make …

“How he played at Michigan State where he was like a defensive, jeez he was all over the place. He was active, go get rebounds. Again, I keep trying to tell all these kids if your offense is what gets you going, it’s going to be like this (up and down hand gesture) because everybody’s offense in the country. It’s – you can’t have emotional ups and downs based on offense, it should be based on defense, but we’re still learning.”

On what he feels has been accomplished during extra practice time and what areas still need improvement …

“Still the two: fight and we’ve really worked and spent some time on finishing games. This team we’re playing tomorrow, Georgia Tech, Josh (Pastner) has done great job. They’re playing zone. They’re playing a really high wing zone. They’ll trap corners. They’ll go and flip into a 1-3-1, if you drive they collapse. My guess is they’ll make us shoot 3s. I come back to, I think we are a really good 3-point shooting team that hasn’t made shots right now. I was up at Notre Dame and I went and saw Mike Brey after the game and I go, ‘You made 20 3s. What? How? My team in four games can’t make 20 3s, five games.’ And he said, ‘We were shooting 28% and we’re making them in practice, we just couldn’t seem to make them in games.’ And that’s us. So I said, ‘Well what did you say?’ ‘I didn’t say anything.’ Well I guess I won’t say anything, I don’t know.”

On how much emphasis he puts on getting to the free-throw line…

“I just tell them, ‘Some of you guys are shooting 90%, why wouldn’t you get fouled? Why would you ever fade away on a shot? Why don’t you play through people and get fouled?’ We had a guy come in yesterday and ask the question, ‘Why isn’t Nick (Richards) rebounding more? Like, why isn’t he rebounding more?’ Well, you might say, ‘He’s getting 10 to 11.’ And I’m telling you, ‘Why not get 15? Why not go after every ball with two hands? Why not create space?’ (We’re) getting Ashton, ‘Ashton, the way you shoot free throws, keep getting fouled. Ball fake. Don’t just throw your body into a guy to get fouled. They may not give that to you, ball fake, make it obvious. But Immanuel Quickley’s making them, I mean Tyrese (Maxey) the same. We’ve worked on Tyrese the last three days on, you can’t run away from the contact. You clip the guy. When you drive, you create it you don’t run from him. But, it’s hard for these guys because they’ve played a certain way.”

On if this team is making more free throws than previous teams …

“I don’t know that. I don’t know, I just know that we’re making more. I’m not doing anything different than I’ve done in the past. Probably recruited better free-throw shooters, I guess.”

On Dontaie (Allen)’s progression and if he’s close to playing in games …

“No, he’s ways away. He had an ACL. He’ll practice and then in two days he can’t practice after trying. And when he practices it’s probably about 75%. But, I’m glad he’s on the floor some.”

On Dontaie Allen being around and on the floor means for his development …

“Here’s the thing, there were times yesterday, we were running something and he didn’t know it. ‘Well stop, you’re on the side what are you doing? You’re not doing anything else, what are you looking at the lights? Come on.’ I mean you should know all this stuff because you’re sitting there watching it. But he’s a great kid. Ben’s (Jordan) been out. He’s been hurt, so we’ve had to practice without Ben.”

On Ben Jordan’s injury …

“I’ll have to ask the trainer. He had a head injury or something.”

On Bubba Parham’s previous performance in Rupp Arena …

“Thirty-five. Thirty-five. He hasn’t slept in two days waiting on this game. Their team will shoot 3’s, but they also run great offense. They put themselves in the best position. Whether it was Georgia or Arkansas, could’ve easily won both games. (They) Beat NC State pretty good. They’ve played a terrific schedule now, so they’re not coming in like, ‘Okay, we’re playing Kentucky.’ They’ve played a schedule already. They’ve played at Syracuse, so they’ve played teams.”

On being worried about Georgia Tech being hungrier after coming off a disappointing loss …

“I’ll be honest, I’m worried about my team. Do people watch us and say, ‘Wow they’re finally getting out and running? Wow, they are fighting for balls.’ You see that we put an emphasis on creating shots for each other. We’ve been at 20 assists in the last three or four games. Do they continue to create shots for each other? Are individual players beginning to play better? Are they breaking through individually? Because the only way we get to where we’re trying to go is if individual players keep getting better. EJ’s (Montgomery) scoring the ball good now, let’s go rebound and play better defense. Keep scoring, but let’s do that too. Again, we’re never going to be satisfied. That’s okay. What’s the next step up for these kids? We’ve got a tough road here. This is a hard game, anxious to see where we are at this point. It’s December, early December, so we’re still trying to figure ourselves out. You need games like this to do it.”

On Ashton Hagans attacking the middle of the zone …

“They will match down a little bit, so wherever we put him they’ll probably end up playing a man-to-man. We need more than one guy penetrating. We’ve got a lot of guys just touch and go. You’ve got to see that there’s gaps and you’ve got to take it in. Now, they’re going to collapse, which means you’ve gotta be strong with the ball and create shots for your teammate. Can’t be just one guy. We’ve got other guys that are capable of doing it. We’ve been emphasizing, you’ve got to be able to go at zones. You don’t just play along the perimeter. You either throw it in there, post or high, or you drive it in there. Either one is good, but you can’t just throw it around the perimeter.”

On ever thinking he’d have to talk to Nick Richards about not being arrogant …

“You’re humble and hungry. That’s what we always talk about. You’re humble and hungry because this thing, if any of you are golfers, you know it can flip in two seconds. I’m the best putter in the world and then you can’t make a putt because you said it. I’ve been driving the ball great. Good. Now you’ve rolled four off the tee and hooked one into the trees. How about that for your driver? So, you just stay hungry. You keep training. You want to fall back on your training. Well, when I walk in here, if his training is lazy catches, one-handed rebounds, I’m not fighting for a position. The shot goes up. I run from my man. Well, that’s what you’re going to do in the games. The minute you go down that road, it’s not what I say, it’s what you’re saying to yourself. You take away your own confidence, and when you build your confidence through the process, through training, no one takes it away. No one. I can’t take it away, an official, another teammate. But, if you take your own confidence away by how you’re training and you walk in a game and you start playing that way, you did it to yourself. We’ve got great kids. The people watching, we’re holding them accountable. It’s what we’re trying to do, and just saying, ‘here’s how we’re playing.’ Probably been tougher in practice than I had all year for three days. A couple days I was really tough. Tough meaning it’s a high standard, what we’re expecting.

On if he will get any face time with the United Nations Security Council this weekend (they are visiting Kentucky this weekend) …

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I think so. They are supposed to come to the game, I hope I get the chance to meet them. I said I’ve met a few presidents and I’m looking forward to meeting the Queen (of England).”

On if the team shoots 3s better in transition …

“Maybe. I also think it’s because they are better passes. We are giving guys that have 3s passes all over the place versus in their wheelhouse where you catch it and let it go. Also, those guys are probably more ready in transition because they can see everything in front of them and the ball comes to them. The other way, you’re looking maybe away from the basket and it is taking more time, but this should be a team that can make seven, eight 3s. Sometimes more, sometimes a couple less, but it shouldn’t be a team that is making one or two. The good news is we do not rely on 3s, where other teams are shooting 30 3s. If they shoot 30 and they make three, they are losing. We are not relying. If we have a big day shooting 3s, we are normally going to win that game by a margin, but it’s not what we rely on.”

#11, Dontaie Allen, Fr., G

On how close he is to game action …

“I’m not really sure. I’m just taking it day by day right now.”

On how he decides when he practices …

“It’s really just how my knee’s feeling. If it’s sore or if it swells up a little bit, which is part of the process, then it’s really dependent on that.”

On being named Kentucky Mr. Basketball …

“It felt great because I worked for it my whole life. To be able to finally receive it on the Rupp floor tomorrow at the game is going to be a blessing.”

On the disappointment of not being able to play all of last season …

“Looking back on it, I do wish I could have had more games to showcase my talent and get my team to Rupp at the end of the season, but I’m just looking forward to the next chapter.”

On what he thinks he can contribute this year …

“I think my biggest thing right now is just getting stronger and learning everything in practice and then going from there.”

On whether he feels rusty …

“I think coming back you’re going to feel a little bit slower, but that’s just something I gotta work on and I’m going to be fine.”

On how it felt to get back on the floor …

“It felt really good. I was just running around, jumping around. It was really fun and my love for the game hasn’t left. I’m just really excited for the next steps.”

On getting past the injury mentally and if that has been the hardest part …

“I think a little bit, but my love for the game hasn’t wavered. I’m always going to be alright.”

On how hard it’s been to be hurt …

“It’s been really difficult. I’m just really excited to get back.”

On how much he has learned from watching in practice …

“I think really – when you say about the learning from Cal and things like that – it’s so much different from high school. Level of play, defense, strategies, things like that. So it’s always good to learn.”

On what went through his head when he got hurt …

“When it happened, I thought it was just general knee soreness, but as we found out maybe a month later that it was ACL, it hurt. My family let me know it wasn’t the end of the road and just to keep pushing.”

On how he has felt on the floor …

“It’s been good. I’m coming back a little bit rusty and a little bit slow, but that’s just something I’m going to have to work with training to get back.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On Saturday’s game …

“I’m pretty excited about it. Just another chance to show how much we’ve improved the past week. Coach has been emphasized fight and finish. We’re just going to show everybody how much we’ve improved on that.”

On if he prefers one game per week …

“I’m not even going to lie, I like playing more than practicing. That’s every basketball player. The fact that we had this whole entire week off, just to get better as a team, get better individually as players, we’re just going to take advantage of that time.”

On Georgia Tech …

“From what I saw myself, they try to post up their bigs a lot. They run a lot of screens. They are a very fast-paced team. They sprint the court on offense, then they try to get back on defense a lot. It’s going to be a real challenge for us. It’s going to be a real test for us, and we’re just going to learn from this game, whether we win or lose.”

On if the team is ready for a tough upcoming schedule …

“We’re focused on these next, next four games, including Louisville. It’s going to be a real test for us, a chance for us to show the world how good we could be.”

On EJ Montgomery’s play in the last two games …

“EJ has been really down that he got hurt. Just to see him come back and play that well those past two games, everybody on the team got really excited and happy for him. We’re all excited about his game. He’s really improved from last year to this year and he’s showing it.”

On Georgia Tech’s Bubba Parham’s performance for VMI last year in Rupp Arena …

“We’re just going to figure it out. We know his game, we know what he’s trying to do. As a team, we’re just going to try to, collectively, guard their entire team, not just one individual player.”

On if he is used to Coach Calipari asking more from him …

“Just to have a coach like that to push me even more, just shows that he sees something in me that he wants and he wants to bring it out in me. He’s obviously right. I’ve just got to be better as a player, just try to push myself and bring more to this team.”

On how much time the team spends shooting free throws …

“We spend a lot of time shooting free throws. We have a goal – how many times can you get 10 in a row. So that’s one of the things that Coach wants us to do in practice and we’ve done it every day.”