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Calipari talks Georgia Tech and Terrence Clarke potentially at point guard

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Could this help ignite Kentucky’s struggling offense?

Kentucky Bluegrass Showcase Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2020-21 Kentucky Wildcats are off to a rocky start after losing their last two games.

While there’s been plenty of blame to go around for the Cats’ growing pains, one issue that must improve is the point guard play. Devin Askew simply doesn’t look ready to be the lead guard for a team capable of making a deep NCAA Tournament run, while Davion Mintz has also struggled when running the offense.

One idea John Calipari has to get more production out of that spot is to have shooting guard Terrence Clarke initiate the offense.

During his Friday meeting with the media, Calipari discussed the idea of having Clarke run the point more after he’s mainly played off the ball through the first three games. It would be similar to what Calipari did during the 2008-09 season at Memphis with Tyreke Evans, who was recruited as a shooting guard but eventually moved to the point and thrived in the role.

Here is a recap of what Calipari and sophomore forward Jacob Toppin had to say today via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On the challenges having limited or no fans has on a young team …

“I was talking to a friend of mine today. If you have an experienced team, not playing exhibitions, not having your normal ‘buy’ games to learn and figure it out, get their feet wet, having no fans in a building – maybe you’re like us where it has a big effect on a game – if you have a veteran team, it’s not that big of a deal. And that’s why the guys that have veteran teams are like, ‘Let’s play.’ And so, it’s had an effect, but our thing, again, we had a chance to win both games we lost. We had a chance to be up 12, maybe more both teams we played against. You guys will come back and say, ‘Well, they’re just not making shots.’ Well, like, a fan would say that. That’s just because that’s all you are is a fan. Not you guys, because you’re really not a fan. A couple of you are really not a fan. But it goes deeper. Why are you laughing, Larry (Vaught)? Some other guys aren’t laughing. You’ve got to say, ‘Are the right guys getting the shots, perimeter shots? Are they getting them in rhythm? Are we playing in a way that would lead to that?’ And that’s what I come back to because in practice, they shoot it well. So, then you say, ‘Well, the game.’ No. No. What’s happening in my mind is–and here at Kentucky, everything is in pencil. You can look at last year’s practice plan as a teacher, but I’m putting in drills now for this team, OK, that we’ve never done before. This is a different group that needs something different. I’ve got to light a fire for them to play differently than they’ve ever played. I also tell you, that you all know how much I hate to lose. It takes me 24 hours of grieving to get over the loss, but there were things that came out of our last game – five point, or five minutes to go we’ve got a four-point lead with the ball twice. Now you guys have watched my teams, historically do we lose that game? Normally no. So, then you’ve got to say, ‘Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about that.’ But we can’t get away from what’s the best thing that we’re doing. We’re defending, we’re rebounding, we’re blocking shots, we’re scrambling. There are things that we are going to try and do, but we can’t get away from what I said at the beginning. This has to be a defensive team. They roughed us up in the second half and we weren’t able to combat it. So, we made practices a little rougher. But there are a couple of things that we’re doing yesterday and today, that you can see. I showed them tape. This is another team that needs to show tape. Here’s how I want you to play. We cannot have ball stoppers. You can’t think that you’re just going to dribble and you’re playing one-on-one with four or five guys watching. You’re not playing that way here. The maturity of the team – sometimes, the lack of maturity – like, we’ve got great kids. These kids are good young people, but they’re immature. Their response to things isn’t always what a mature player would do, but that’s normal here. So, we’ve got work to do.”

On John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins reuniting in Houston and why they have a chance to be successful …

“Well, first of all, they care about each other. They have a bond. They’re family and that’s going to help the process. Second thing is, they’re both playing for something and they know that they need each other for each of them to get what they’re trying to get out of the situation. They want to win. They understand winning matters. They understood that here. As they go forward, when they’re healthy, they’re both All-Stars. It’s just what it is. They care about one another. They’re playing for something. They’re playing to win. They’re playing to prove. Now, for both of them, people in Houston should understand it’s not going to be right away because they haven’t played for a while. It’s going to take them a little time to get the rust off, but I think they’re fine. They’re both good people. Both of them have emotions about them, but you kind of want that. Like, ‘We want to win. Let’s do this together.’ “

On Jacob Toppin and what he did vs. Kansas to earn his way into the rotation …

“Made plays. Ran. Played with great energy. When you bring a guy off the bench, he’s got to lift your team, not take your team back. If you’re playing for yourself and you’re not thinking in those terms, you’ll come in and try to just get yours. You can’t play that way coming off the bench. You go and you try and lift us and then you come in practice and you look at the guys that are in front of you and you say, ‘I want to start. I’m going to play harder than this guy. I’m going to be more efficient than this guy. Let him come off the bench.’ And that’s what I told him and the other guys. I’m here to coach everybody. So, we’ve got to do this together. You’ve got to accept how you have to play for our team to win and for you to be effective. But, the other side of it is like every year that I’ve done this, it’s kind of been the same. There have been guys that have started early, but as the year went on and you looked and you said, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve got to do what we’re seeing.’ The other thing that happens, which I already talked about at length, every season there is something new that I have to do. We’re making new drills that a team has an area that if they get better in this area, we’re going to be fine. But they’ve got to get better in this area. So, there are things like that, but Jacob gave us great energy. Again, the energy that you’re going to have in these games is coming from within. There are no fans and we had 3,000 in our game with Richmond, and literally because the building is so big, you didn’t know that we had any fans. It’s just how it is. So, that energy’s got to come from within, and if you’re walking into the game like you’re cool, then the other guy plays hard and you’re behind him. It’s just how it is. Or, ‘I’ve got to show this or that.’ Just go and fight and play. I’ll be honest with you, that’ll change as we go forward. It will.”

On what his vision is for the team …

“Well, none of us know. I mean, look, last year we lost to Evansville, should have lost to Utah Valley State. Down at half. Lost to Utah, and they spanked us out in Vegas. Lost to Ohio State but played better. It gave us hope. Sometimes teams have to hit rock bottom before they listen, especially if they’re immature. I’m not afraid of that. I’ve got to figure out how do I help them get better? How do I help them mature? How do I hold them accountable to a standard that an adult adheres to? Not a child. How do we get them–they want to move into a man’s world, but you can’t be a child moving into a man’s world. And so, there are things, aside from basketball, that we’ve got to do. I look at this and my whole thought process is, ‘OK. Here’s where we’ve got to go.’ Let me just give you this example: I told you, we spent so much time just wanting to look organized. We had 10 new guys. So, a lot of this stuff were actions to get us started. OK, we ran the action and it got us started. They didn’t know what to do after that. Because I said, ‘Play!’ Do you know what play means to them, Larry? Catch the ball, dribble it twice and do a fade-away. That’s playing to them. That’s their workout guy. They do that. They pick up the tennis ball. They kick the volleyball and they do a step-back 3. That bank misses. But that’s OK. It’s just a workout. I am now saying, ‘OK. Here’s an action to get us started and here’s how you play basketball.’ I did it with tape work yesterday to show them. They watched our team last year and literally they laughed. They know that when they watch that and see how we’re playing. But again, we were the same last year. We were so unsure of ourselves. I’m the one that usually forgets because the staff has to remind me. We were the same way last year. So, just know that we were the same way and the year before, and the year before, and the year before, except the year that we had all of those kids and we did the platoon. We smashed everybody until the shot-clock violation wasn’t called, but we were smashing everybody. Why are you laughing, Jerry (Tipton)? No, that’s what it is. Come on, you were at that game. So, you look at that and you say, ‘All right, how do we do this?’ I’m not afraid of it. I’m not sure, Larry, where it ends up going. But I know where I want it to go, know what I want us to look like. A great defensive team, a fast team that’s unselfish, and in the half court an execution team that sets screens. We set none against Richmond and very few against Kansas. A team that can throw it to the post. We have post presence. Folks, if you don’t have post presence, your team is a fraud. If you can’t throw it to that post at times. We can. Now, the other thing is, how do we get them to play together? We demand it. How do you do that? I’m doing some different drill work. We’re putting in different things to make them and it basically forces them to play the right way. And then when they’re playing the right way, you’re encouraging them. They do it the other way, it’s a turnover. Go the other team gets it.”

On Marquis Teague and how he compares in development to Devin Askew …

“Marquis Teague had a scorer’s mentality, if you remember. Everything was him trying to get baskets. He held the ball too long. He picked up his dribble. He turned it over at a high rate. What does that sound like? And I’ve told the team. And even Davion (Mintz), how we’re going to play him. How do we play if I want to go with a bigger guard? Can we play Terrence (Clarke)? Does he have the self-discipline to play the position? The hard thing–Tom Izzo and I talked last night. He looked at our schedule and went nuts. ‘You are out of your mind playing all of these people going forward.’ And I’m going to talk to the team again about it today. It is what it is. This is who we play. So, now it becomes how do we get better as we do this? How do we know that we’re improving and stay the course? Now, I told them and I’ve done this over the years and you guys know this, you guys will come and say, ‘You won eight in a row.’ And I’ll tell you what? Yeah, but we’re 4-4 in those games. Like, we’re 4-4. We ain’t 8-0. Four of those games we should have lost. Well, there are other games that we lose, I’ll grieve for 24 hours and you know what? My mindset is that we beat Kansas. How would I feel now? If we had done this and that and we had won, the Kansas game would that have overshadowed our issues? Probably. But I still want to feel like, OK, we won that game. Now, where are my emotions? Where is my mindset? How do I stay positive? And I want my team to do the same.”

On if he’s considered putting Terrence Clarke at point guard similar to what he did with Tyreke Evans at Memphis …

“It’s there, but Tyreke was a great layup shooter – great layup shooter. He didn’t miss layups. The thing that was—and I’ll just give you the story: When we flipped it, I watched the tape of the game and I had the staff together and I said, ‘Guys, you want the good news or the bad news?’ They said, ‘Well, give us the bad news.’ ‘Well, the bad news is we put him at point guard and 75% of the time Tyreke had the ball in his hands.’ And they said, ‘Well, what’s the good news?’ ‘Well, after watching that, he needs it 85% of the time.’ And so, it’s every team, you figure it out as you go. I don’t have a lesson plan. Everything is in pencil, all of the drills. Some of them are made up, that we just make up a drill and we work on it to get better. Position, last year, we didn’t start Immanuel Quickley, the 25th pick of the draft, player of the year in our league going away. And when you play games—I’m not going to panic. I mean, I’m not thrilled with our start. I’m not thrilled with our schedule. But both are what they are. So, OK, my job is, how do we better? How do I get through to some immature guys that, ‘The way you’re playing is not going to work for you or us. Can’t play that way now.’ All right, well, if I’m asking them to play different, how are my drills getting them to understand and feel it? It can’t just be telling, talk. Do they feel what you’re saying? And, not how I’m saying it. I’m loud. I mean, the individual meetings we had, you know, it’s probably the first time guys heard the truth about how they’re playing. Ever. Or were told you can’t lead if you don’t care about the other guys. You can’t lead when you have any disrespect. If they don’t respect you, they’re not going to follow. This isn’t high school and you’re the best player and whether they like you or not they follow. Those days are done. And so, are you the first into practice or last? If you’re the last into practice, no one’s following you. They see you—‘I’m not going to follow him.’ Are you going to be the first into practice? All this stuff. One of the player said, ‘I would like to lead but I don’t know how.’ And you know what you find out? None of them know how to lead. They don’t know that you serve everybody else. As a leader, you’re there for your team. You’re the first. You show it in practice. You lead by example. You pick guys up. You help guys get better. They’ll all follow you. But if you’re about yourself and how I can get mine and I’m the best player, you’re not getting followed. So that’s my job also. Every year, I want 12 guys to learn what it means to be a leader. A leader, that you make a difference for everybody. Then you can speak and do your stuff. I was hoping that would be Keion (Brooks Jr.), but you know what? After the last game he did take a little bit of a leadership role. For the time being it’s probably going to be staff driven. But if we’re ever going to be a team I think we can become, they have to be enabled and it has to be player drive. But you’ve gotta have leaders. You can’t have everybody (be like), ‘Let me get mine.’ You can’t play that way.”

Jacob Toppin

On putting himself in a position to get more minutes …

“At this point, I’m just trying to do anything to help my team succeed and win. Whether that’s hustle plays, whether that’s scoring, whether that’s rebounding, I’m just there to help my team win.”

On his brother, Obi Toppin, saying he could envision him joining him in the NBA at some point and what that meant to him …

“I mean, it means a lot because that’s my brother and I look up to him. I’m just trying to work every day, getting better in the gym and hopefully one day that dream can come true.”

On how much somebody needs to step up in the post right now to help Olivier Sarr with Keion Brooks Jr. still unavailable …

“Right now we’re just trying to do anything we can to help each other. We’re working every day in practice trying to better ourselves individually and as a team, so we’re going to get there.”

On how he feels his younger teammates have handled back-to-back losses and what potential this team has despite the losses …

“Like you said, we are young. We have a lot of learning to do, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. Every day in practice we’re learning, we’re getting better. I don’t think we’re dwelling too much on these losses because, again, it’s only the third game of the season. We’re just preparing for the next one.”

On if it he was more comfortable in that environment vs. Kansas than his younger teammates …

“I can say I was a little more comfortable than maybe the younger guys. I just wanted to step up for my teammates. I wanted to do anything to help my teammates get that W. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it, but we’re just worried about the next game, and whatever they need me to do the next game, that’s what I’m going to do.”

On the bench needing to provide energy with no fans …

“Yeah, Coach is always telling us we gotta bring our own energy because we don’t have as much fans. We don’t have that energy coming from the fans, so we’ve gotta find it within ourselves. We definitely need to do a better job of it, but we’re getting there. We’ve gotta start having energy for one another. We’re going to start playing for another and we’re going to start just being there for each other throughout it all. We’re going to get there.”

On how big of a New York Knicks fan he’s going to be with his brother now on that team …

“I’m from New York so I was always really a New York Knicks fan. And that’s big for my brother because he was a Knicks fan too, so to be able to play for the Knicks, that’s big time. I’m going to try to watch all the games because I want to see my brother play. I want to see his development and how he does. So, I’m definitely looking forward to that. I’m just going to keep working every day and hopefully I can get to that point.”

On how good of a player his dad was …

“I used to watch him play all the time when I was younger whether it was in streetball games or whether it was in the city playing at parks. He is – he was – a great player. He was very energetic like me and my brother and he was very athletic.”

On what he thinks is going on with the 3-point shooting the last couple of games …

“We are in a little slump. It’s obvious from the numbers. In practice we’re working on our shots. We’re putting up shots and we’re making shots; we just have to find a way to translate that into the game.”

On John Calipari saying Kansas ‘punked’ Kentucky …

“Mentally that doesn’t affect us at all because we’re all dogs. We just gotta find our rhythm and find a way to play with each other. Once we find that rhythm, we’re going to start playing tougher, we’re going to start playing better and it’ll come.”

On how long he thinks it will take for the younger guys to get comfortable in this atmosphere …

“I wouldn’t stay they’re uncomfortable right now. They’re just learning and trying to better themselves each day. It just takes time. So, as we play more games, as they get that experience, they’ll become more comfortable on the court.”

On specifically why the 3-point shooting isn’t translating over from practice to the games …

“Probably in game it’s more fast paced, so maybe in practice we’re not going as hard as we’re supposed to. We’re going to get there in practice. Like, these past few practices we’re starting to go a lot more, we’re starting to run a lot more. So, we’re getting into that game shape. As time goes, as we play more games, shots are going to start to fall.”

On what the biggest thing missing is right now that would lead to winning …

“We need to start playing more as a team. We need to share the ball more. And that’s really the biggest thing: We need to share the ball. Once we start sharing the ball with each other, we’re definitely going to start playing better.”