clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tony Barbee & Wildcats talk Missouri, Kahlil Whitney, SEC play & more

The Cats are still expecting big things from Whitney.

Greg Goins - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to open SEC play Saturday against the Missouri Tigers.

Ahead of the game, assistant coach Tony Barbee and select players met with the media to preview their first SEC matchup. One of the big talking points was freshman forward Kahlil Whitney, a former five-star top-15 recruit who has struggled adjusting to the college game.

But that hasn’t hurt the confidence of his coaches and teammates, as they believe a breakout is coming.

“He’s a typical freshman. We’ve had so many atypical freshman that people think that’s the norm; that’s the standard. Those guys that we’ve had that have come in and produced like they have right away, that’s not normal. He’s as talented as those guys, he’s just struggling with some areas of the game and he’s working his tail off in the video room, on the practice floor before and after, so his breakthrough is coming.”

Here is a recap of everything Barbee and the Cats said via UK Athletics:

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On coaches wanting him to be in attack mode rather than going with the flow …

“I am (understanding that more). Just trying to be more aggressive, stay aggressive for my teammates, play hard defensively.”

On playing well on big stages and translating that to other games …

“Just staying focused, staying locked in, staying with the task at hand, which is always winning the game, and, like you said, stay focused.”

On Camp Cal …

“We’ve been going pretty hard, going at each other like we always do. But it’s been really good for us. Competition is always good in practice because we have really good players going against other really good players. So, when it’s time for the game we’re ready to play.”

On whether there has been a change in confidence since the Louisville win …

“Yeah, a little bit more confident and just focused. We want to win, so we gotta get focused, get ready for this SEC play coming up.”

On his message to Kahlil Whitney …

“Just stay focused, stay locked in, which he’s done a really good job of staying motivated. Coach Cal said he was probably the happiest one during the Louisville game on the bench just cheering for his teammates, which means a lot to us. We really want him to succeed as well and I’m very proud of him.”

On Missouri’s defense …

“They’re very physical. They play really hard. They’re never going to give up. Coach said if get up 15, get up 12 they’re not going to go away. They’re very resilient.”

On the challenge of playing consistently as a freshman …

“It’s different, of course. It’s your first year of college coming from the high school level. Players are better, competition’s a lot harder, gotta respond to coaching. But we just try—this whole freshman group, we’ve been trying to stay consistent and trying to get better every day.”

On SEC play and what veterans have told them about it …

“They just say the atmosphere is a lot crazier. Going on the road is different. But they just say you gotta stay locked in. We’re just going to be watching a lot more film, staying locked in, staying more focused and just trying to win every game. Every game counts.”

On Coach Cal making practices more intense …

“The plan—he always says the plan in practice is not to just get through it. It’s to beat the practice. So, I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing these last couple days, is beating the practice. He puts together a tough practice plan and we just go at it and we go out and attack it and try to beat it.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On Coach Barbee saying he wants Richards to play more aggressively …

“He always talks about, he wants me to be the complete opposite of my personality. He wants me to be more aggressive, more physical, meaner, tougher.”

On whether he felt like a different person in the overtime against Louisville …

“I wouldn’t say that. I would probably just say I took it up a notch, got to a different level because I knew it was a very important game for Kentucky, especially just to win that one game.”

On if he thinks of anyone in particular to get inspired …

“I play for my family. They always motivate me to play hard and play to the best of my abilities.”

On what he remembers about playing against Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon last season …

“He’s a good, physical big, plays really aggressive. He tries to crash the boards every now and then, he’s a really big body to pull around. It’s going to be a good game for everybody to watch.”

On whether his basketball progress mirrors his growing into a more mature adult …

“I guess you could say that. Everybody, once they have been in college this long, you start to see their growth process throughout everything on the court and off the court.”

On the one thing he hopes to take from the Louisville game as the season moves forward …

“This team has a will to win. No matter what we do, we’re always going to try to find a way and we’re always going to fight through it. We just showed the world that we could play together as one.”

On Coach Calipari continuing to raise the bar, asking more from him …

“He’s just trying to get you better as a player. He’s never really going to be satisfied in what you do. He always thinks you have more in the tank. That’s just him being a good coach.”

On if there’s a different feeling when SEC play starts …

“Definitely. It’s conference play, everybody tries to play their best. This is where everybody tries to get into the (NCAA) Tournament.”

On what has impressed him most about Kahlil Whitney …

“To me, I think it’s his determination. He never gives up. And his positivity. He’s always staying positive, no matter what, whether he’s having good games or bad games, he always stays that same consistent, positive guy.”

Tony Barbee

On practice comparing to John Calipari’s UMass days …

“He needs to revisit his visiting of his UMass days because it wasn’t quite close to how he was back then, but they’ve been intense and physical. You know, you want to--you’re starting fresh. What you did in the nonconference does not matter when you start conference play. Doesn’t matter who you played, doesn’t matter their records, the schedules. You throw them out the window and anybody can beat anybody on any night on any court, home or away, so he just wanted to get these guys back refocused coming off a good win against Louisville, and now we just wanted to move on to what’s ahead of us, and that starts with Missouri.”

On Calipari talking about his UMass days and being laser focused …

“I think it’s always been his kind of philosophy that after a win like we had, you don’t want to let the guys rest on their laurels and get too comfortable. So, he wanted to maintain their attention as we head into conference play, and I think that was the biggest thing he was trying to get across. We’ve got to move on from that last game and now focus on what’s ahead and not get carried away with reading our news clips, so to speak.”

On Kahlil Whitney’s development …

“He’s been great and he’s working his tail off. He’s a typical freshman. We’ve had so many atypical freshmen that people think that’s the norm and that’s the standard. Those guys that we’ve had that have come in and produced like they have right away, that’s not normal, and he’s as talented as those guys. He’s just struggling with some areas of the game and he’s working his tail off in the video room, on the practice floor, before and after, so his breakthrough is coming. And his attitude has been great about it too because we need everybody on this team for us to achieve at a level we think we can, and he’s a big part of that.”

On what he would like to see more out of Whitney …

“It’s all across the board. There’s no specific area. It’s offense. It’s defense. It’s attention to detail things that maybe he wasn’t forced to think about before he got here, but those little details are now important because every possession matters, and you can’t let one possession slip on either end of the floor with say it’s a bad shot or broken down defensive assignment. Whatever the case is, you’ve got to be able to move on to the next play, so those are some of the things we’re working on with him.”

On EJ Montgomery getting meaner on the court …

“We’re working on it right now. This team needs it. We’ve been working on it. We’ve been talking to him about it, and I think with EJ he’s got to have a self-belief that we believe in him, and he’s got to look in that mirror and see what we think he should be, and sometimes I think he questions that. If he gets more confident, the proof is in the pudding. He did it the last five minutes of the game when you really needed it. He went and did it. He was physical. He reacted. He went and blocked shots out of nowhere. He defended a guy on the perimeter that was going by him to start the game and at the end of the game, the guy couldn’t get by him. He’s capable of it, so when we look at that and you say it’s a confidence deal with EJ. He’s got to believe he can do it for the majority of the time he’s out there.”

On if Montgomery’s mindset is different in crunch time …

“That could be it. I mean, I just think he’s--sometimes doing those things are uncomfortable but – you’ve heard around here a bunch – you’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and he likes to play in a comfort zone. He’s never--if you stay in a comfort zone, you’re never going to grow. For him to grow, he’s got to step out of that and do it all the time and do it full time.”

On what Mizzou brings to the table …

“It’s a Cuonzo Martin-coached team. I mean, they’re going to be physical, they’re going to be tough, they’re going to be hard-nosed. Obviously, you’ve got the veteran with (Jeremiah) Tilmon back in the middle, who’s as big and as physical presence as there is not just in our conference but in the country. They’ve got really good guard play. They played a really, really hard schedule, so it’s going to be a challenge, and I think Coach has done a good job of keeping the guys attention this week in-between games.”

On how conference play is different than nonconference action …

“There are so many veteran teams, veteran coaches in this league that when teams go on the road, they’re not intimidated by, say, our arena or our atmosphere or our tradition because they come here every year, as opposed to nonconference play. Missouri has some really good veterans, veteran players so they’re not going to be intimidated by what we bring to the table. So, our guys, if we play how we play we’ll be fine, but we can’t be looking backward and we can’t be looking ahead. We have to be focused on what is in front of you because they’re going to come to play.”

On Calipari’s level of intenseness at UMass …

“He was intense. More intense than he is now.”

On how Calipari showed that intensity …

“Just like the details that he might let go by in a game or in practice. He wants to rev it up. It’s every step you take. If there’s something you did wrong, he’s going to let you know about it. That’s how he gets your attention. We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve got to get better.”

On how difficult it was for him to adjust to when he played for Coach Calipari …

“I was hard-headed. He’ll tell you that.”

On Nick Richards in practice this week …

“He’s been good. He’s been good, but we need carryover. I think that’s one of the things that Nick has struggled with is consistency. He’s done it in spots, but to be the kind of player that he wants to be, where he’s trying to take himself to, his game to, where he wants to go in this game, he’s got to be able to do it on an everyday basis. That’s not just game-to-game, that’s practice-to-practice, and that’s what brings it out. This week he’s been great, and I think his confidence is building off of what he did against a really good Louisville team and really good big men he did it against.”

On what held Richards back against Utah and Ohio State …

“That’s a good question. Does Nick come out (to speak to the media) next? When Nick is out here you can ask him. He’ll have that answer.”

On the difference in Tyrese Maxey’s game against Louisville that he wasn’t earlier …

“Make shots.”

On if Maxey making shots is really the only difference …

“Yeah, he’s such a great kid that sometimes he just kind of goes with the flow. But that’s not the Tyrese that this team needs. We need him in attack mode every single game, every single possession. That doesn’t necessarily mean he shoots it every time because he is a willing passer. We just need him aggressive to make plays for this team.”

On if Maxey playing his best when the lights are the brightest compared to every game out is just part of the learning curve …

“It’s the consistency that we’re talking about. Freshmen come and go, and we’ve had some atypical freshmen who have been able to maintain that. But this year, we’ve got some more normal freshmen. We’re trying to help them grow and to understand what that means every day. That is comes with the habits you develop in practice. If you bring it every day in practice, it doesn’t mean you’re going to play great in terms of scoring every game, but you’re going to be there in terms of attention to detail.”

On Missouri …

“They’ve got a really good team all around. They will sometimes play you three and four guards at a time, which is a difficult matchup if we’re trying to play traditional with our bigs. Mark Smith is one of the best shooters in the country. All of their guards attack well off of the dribble. So, it’s going to be a hard matchup. We’ve been watching a lot of tape. We’ve been working on a lot of things in practice to try and get ready for Missouri because we know the challenge that they bring.”

On Nick Richards’ emotional play vs. Louisville …

“I keep saying a word – I think with Nick too – it’s been a confidence deal. It’s why he’s more reserved on the court, doesn’t want to step out, to put himself out there because now you’re accountable to do that every day. If we can get that Nick--and it wasn’t us throwing the ball to him every possession. He defended at a high level. He rebounded at a high level. Those offensive rebounds that he got in that game were huge. I think he felt that success which brought out that emotion. With performance comes reward, and we need more big performances like that from him.”

On if the coaching staff celebrated Richards’ breakthrough against Louisville …

“We were high-fiving and hugging him is what we were doing. He’s such a beautiful kid. You want him to babysit your kids. He’s that kind of kid. Everybody on campus loves him. But I’ve always said that in this game you’ve got to have an alter ego. When you step on the court you can be whatever you want out on that floor, but it can’t be a nice guy. He decided not to be so nice this last game.”