clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Calipari & Cats talk Fairleigh Dickinson, London game, injuries & more

Kentucky returns to Rupp for the beginning of what will be a critical month for the Cats.

Calipari Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to host Fairleigh Dickinson this Saturday inside Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the game, John Calipari and select players met with the media to preview the matchup. Also discussed was the news that Kentucky will head to London next season for a clash with Michigan.

In addition, Calipari gave several injury updates on Wildcats who will be sidelined this week and likely for a few more weeks in senior forward Nate Sestina and freshman forward Dontaie Allen.

Here is a recap of what Calipari and his Cats had to say via UK Athletics:

John Calipari

On London deal with Michigan …

“There’s a couple things, just so you know. when Juwan Howard was hired at Michigan, I called him and I just said, ‘Listen, ff there’s any way I can help you or your program. We can talk scheduling, and that’s something I don’t do lightly but with you I will.’ The reason is he took Bam (Adebayo) under his wing. So you had Kenny (Payne) doing what he did; he (Adebayo) went right to that culture and had Juwan Howard take him under his wing, and look at what he’s doing now. Got a chance for defensive player of the year. He’s got a chance for an all-star (selection). It’s crazy. And I said, ‘You took care of one of mine so if I can help you in this.’ Now I didn’t know they would be this good. [Media laughs.] So that’s where it started. And so then we got together with a neutral and a home-and-home so it should be a good three-year thing for both programs. It should be good.”

On looking ahead at games against Ohio State and Louisville, who are both playing well …

“I’m worried about today’s practice. All I’m trying to do–how good can we get. I said publicly, if we don’t become an unbelievable defensive team, we will not be playing late in March. We will not. If we are that and we rebound and have some toughness about us, fight, then we’ll have our chances to advance and do what we want to do. The teams that are winning right now are playing great defense. Most of them have veterans. I mean, that’s what it is. You’ve gotta guard and you got to have some veteran leadership so we’re--the two words that all I’m focused on for the next two weeks: fight. Fight for rebounds. You fight harder than he’s fighting. You’re try to get open. He’s fighting you to keeping from getting it. You fight harder than he is. You’re trying to fight for post position. You fight harder than he is to try to keep you from catching it, and if he’s in there, you fight harder than him. Fight. You’re fighting over a screen, fight. Run him into the screen. He’s fighting to keep you from catching it. Everything is on every possession, fight. The second word is finish. Last four minutes of games we have been atrocious, but we were last year too. And so now I’m working on how we finish the last four minutes of games, what we’re going to do, what’s your mentality. And so (the) last two days, whew. Really last three practices were like, literally we might as well put helmets on. And today I got–if you grab and hold I’m going to let you do it twice; on the third one we’re running because they are like–literally, it’s like lacrosse. I might as well give them sticks. But it’s been good. We’re still shorthanded but I’m like, forget it, I don’t care, let’s go. I’ve done this before with six and seven guys so let’s go. It’s not like I haven’t done it. I’m not panicked. I feel good. I feel good about my team, but we’re nowhere near some of these other teams. We’re not. But there are other teams that were ranked there and I said they’re not that good either, and it’s proven to be true.”

On Nate Sestina’s status

“He’s still two weeks, maybe three away from us figuring out if he can play. Watches practice. Does his treatments. Conditions so that when he comes back–the good news is it’s his left hand. Not going to affect shooting. May even help his shooting, so now you’re really that way vs. anything using this [left] hand, not involved at all.”

On Dontaie Allen’s status …

“He practiced and then he’s out for two more days. So yesterday and today, knee soreness. He’s not nearly ready. He practiced one day, half of the practice maybe.”

On what he’s seen from Fairleigh Dickinson on tape …

“They’re a team that–a lot of switching, a lot of taking their fours and fives out on the floor and trying to beat you on the bounce. You know, they’re another capable team that’s coming in here. You’re seeing now there are no, ‘Alright, we just show up and we play.’ You can’t. Every game is, OK, use the day to prepare to play great. Use the shootaround to prepare to play great. Everything is based on that game day, and so the game is a little bit earlier, but we need this time, this practice time. We need to have another opponent. And then it goes to Georgia Tech, I believe, and then it goes to Utah and then it goes to Ohio State and then I believe the next game would be Louisville. Now all of a sudden, you’re talking holy cow. Like, this is--and at the end of the day, we may have the No. 1 schedule in the country. Now, it’s not where some of you like it to be, but at the end of the day, we still got to go to Texas Tech.”

On the Evansville loss being a turning point …

“It helped me, and it got my mind right where we need to go because sometimes we all–like, I’ve done it. You get carried away where you think you play in your mind what your team is and sometimes you put your head in the sand, and I don’t want to deal with it because we’re winning, No. 1 in the country, and that one woke me up. Again, we got a long ways to go. Like, a long ways to go. Individual players have a long ways to go, but at yesterday’s practice, I had so much fun. I was screaming, yelling, and I think I was in bed by 8. I told them, ‘I’m having a ball.’ Held them accountable, put them on the line, was not–if anybody was talking, ‘I’m talking. Get on the line. Let’s go. We’re here to be professional. We got work to do. I’m not wasting my time.’ And it was like, alright. And they’re great kids. If you demand a lot, you’ll get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re getting it every single time, especially as a basketball coach, especially with young kids that have had their own way to do whatever they wanted. Now, you’ve got to raise the bar. They’re all capable of reaching what I’m asking them to do, but they’ve never had to. Most of the time their offense dictates their emotion, their spirit, their enthusiasm. They miss three shots or don’t get the ball or someone else takes two and all of a sudden that’s how–you can’t be that guy and especially not on this team. I mean, the good news is we’ve never had anybody taken 50% of the shots, no one else shoots or two guys take 60% of the shots and no one else shoots. This thing is you’re all getting your opportunity, let’s create good shots for each other and let’s play.”

On this team reflecting his personality …

“I watched Brad (Calipari) and I told him—I said, ‘You’re starting for a Division I program. You’re playing 30 minutes a game. You’re shooting balls. You’re making baskets. You’re better than I ever was. You have more courage than I ever had. You have more fight. You have more toughness and you’re going to be a better coach than I ever thought about being because of this experience.’ I’ve been blessed to be put into certain situations. Hopefully, I care enough about kids that it’s helped me do my job. And I’ve put that –I t’s always on my mind, which is some of these kids – how are they feeling right now? I can’t worry about how I’m feeling. Look, I’m 48 years old [sarcastic], I can deal with this. But when you’re talking about these kids, they’re young. They’re 18 and 19. I can’t worry about how I’m feeling. I’ve gotta worry about how are they feeling? How are they taking this? Where’s their anxiety? The kid doesn’t look like he’s sleeping. He’s probably not. He’s anxious. ‘I can’t believe this is this hard. Am I ever going to be there? Maybe I’m not as good as I thought. Oh my God.’ Now he’s not eating. ‘You’ve lost eight pounds. What’s going on with you?’ ‘Come on, run!’ What? Haven’t slept. Haven’t--I’ve gotta really look at this in a different light and maybe being the guy that was coming into the game with two minutes to go gives you some compassion. Which, late in the game if a kid doesn’t want to go in, I’ve got no issue. I’ll ask, ‘Do you want to go in?’ ‘No.’ ‘Fine.’ I never take it personal. You know what the worst one is? You go up and the clock keeps running – I did this – and the clock keeps running and there’s four seconds and you check into the game. You tell me what’s worse than that. Come on. ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re good.’ If a kid tells me he doesn’t want to go in late, I’m good. I get it. No, I don’t (think this team takes on my personality). I was a gym rat like some of these guys. So, I think I got as good as I could be. I was way more athletic than Brad, by the way. Way more. He got that from his mom, I guess. She can’t move. Can’t dance either. Whew. Woof.”

On players naturally being rabid vs. trying to channel their rabidness …

“Look, the minds of the kids operate different. So some guys, kids, their minds go so fast that you’ve got to get them to slow down – their mind. You don’t want them to slow down their feet; you just want them to slow down their mind. Other guys, their mind moves slower and they don’t react to things as quick and you try to speed it up because they really never had to do it that way because they were always the best player and whatever I do is good enough. It’s who I am. The thing that is hard, you can’t give a kid a ‘why.’ He’s gotta create his own why. What are you doing this for? Is it ego? That goes away. What moves you? What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to take this and why? All of the things that we do off the court, the Thanksgiving and the Christmas, is trying to show them the impact that you can have on other people. If you become that, then use it. I’ve had kids from Haiti say, ‘I want to start an orphanage in Haiti.’ Well then get real good and do well, make a lot of money, and go back there and do what you want to do. That’s a great why. Other kids talk about their mothers, but like I said, this is, for us--I’ve got on my wall, ‘Coach your team.’ That’s all I’m doing. I’m really not watching many other games. I’ll watch five minutes of it. But I was at Brad’s game (Tuesday. I may catch cores, like who won and who lost.”

On what it takes for this team to be great defensively …

“We don’t fight. We have a lot of guys who don’t fight. They give up on screens, they get hung up on screens, they don’t go put themselves – a body on people – because they don’t want that contact. They avoid contact. You can’t avoid contact in these practices. Literally, you go at him or he’s running you over. That’s what these have become. It’s based on that’s what this team needs. Some guys will back up and their defense mechanism is, ‘I’m good enough. I’m good. I’m good.’ ‘No. You’re not good. You’re getting your butt beat by him. You’re not good. Why do you think you’re good?’ That’s the kind of stuff. Let them come to terms and let them self-evaluate. I had a guy walk in the office and say–I said, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘You know. I know I’m not playing well. I know I’m not comfortable on the court. This is all on me. This is not on anybody else. This is on me.’ I hugged the kid. How many kids at that age (would say that) when they’re here and it’s always somebody else? ‘If he did this, and what if you played like? If you did this, and …’ You’ve gotta hear that and yet you’ve gotta self-evaluate and say, ‘I’ve gotta get this right. It’s just taking some time. More than I thought, but I’m good.’ We’ve got a good group of kids. We’ll just see where it goes.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On having a week between games …

“I’m kind of used to it because of last year, but it gives us a chance to get better with a game a week. We gotta take advantage of this opportunity to take practice really serious and use this December to get better.”

On why they improved a lot this time last year …

“I really think practice. This time last year, it was really like the Camp Cal where two-a-days start, classes are over and all we’re doing it going in the morning, going in the evening, going out to dinner and then restarting every single day. We spend time with each other. we get real familiar with each other and that’s a chance for us to get better.”

On whether they are watching future opponents like Louisville and Ohio State …

“We see the scores and see the games a little bit, but right now we’re just kind of worried about one game at a time knowing that any team can beat you. We got Fairleigh Dickinson coming up and they’re a really good team so we gotta get ready for them.”

On his vocal leadership …

“This being my sophomore year, I learned a lot from guys like PJ (Washington), Reid (Travis) and the older guys like that, just showing me what it takes to be a leader. I’m just trying to take that into this year and help us get wins.”

On whether they are aware of happenings in college basketball …

“Individually, yeah, definitely. I’m just a basketball fan. So whether it’s college, NBA, I’m always watching basketball. That’s just something I love to watch, so, yeah, especially the teams we got coming up. You see everybody’s doing pretty good so you know we gotta be on our Ps and Qs and ready to play.”

On what Cal has been preaching …

“Two words have been fight and finish. These next games coming up, we’re playing some pretty tough teams and we’re going to have to fight a little bit harder. And then finishing games. The last five, four minutes of the game, he’s been preaching that we gotta stay locked in, stay focused.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On Coach Calipari saying he has learned to fight …

“That’s probably one of those things that’s probably easier for him to decipher. Speaking on me, I think the big thing for me, this whole year, has been keep your head down and keep working and putting out and trying to find ways to contribute to the team. For me, as one of the guys who is not playing a lot, it’s like, OK, I’ve got to do a lot of the small things and maybe that’s what he means. Just trying to find ways to contribute to the team and impact the game. Just putting out effort and being a good teammate, just things like that have been really big for me this year and something I’ll always stand by.”

On how much Calipari talks about fight …

“It has been a big emphasis on it, especially the last week or two. So that’s been a really big thing for us. I didn’t think we were putting away teams as well as we probably could’ve. So there’s been an emphasis on it more than usual.”

On how he feels about his shot right now …

“It’s been feeling really good actually. It’s not something I’m worried about. At the end of the day, the numbers will balance out. I’m not worried about it. I know I can shoot the ball and it’s been feeling good.”

On going from being a volume shooter to being more selective …

“I was definitely – I don’t like to admit it – but in high school, I was a volume shooter. But it’s definitely an adjustment, but it’s a good adjustment because here you have to learn to play efficient, come in and make an immediate impact, and the big thing is efficiency. Also, going to the next level. Going there, you’re probably not going come in shooting 20 shots a game, so you’ve go to learn to be efficient there as well. So it’s a good adjustment, a great learning experience.”

On who taught him how to shoot …

“I’ve been blessed with some great trainers, but I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s fully responsible for it. I’ve always had a good touch, I would say. But I’ve had some great coaches who have helped me, some great trainers.”

On what he has learned about himself so far this season …

“A lot. I would say one of the bigger things is finding comfort in your growth and your process and not harping too much on the results. Keeping your faith that it’s going to work out, keep working hard and doing what you do and focus on your process rather than how it’s working out for you at that moment. Your time will come, you just don’t know when that is.”