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John Calipari and Jacob Toppin preview Auburn

Calipari compared Sharife Cooper to UK great Tyler Ulis.

Jacob Toppin. UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats will look to rebound from their first SEC as they hit the road to face the Auburn Tigers.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and sophomore forward Jacob Toppin met with the media to preview the game. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On how he blocks out all the “noise” …

“Yeah, the social media has made it a lot different. You almost have to shut it down. What I tell them is, if you’re going to read the good stuff, you need to read the bad stuff. You can’t just shut it down because all of a sudden they’re attacking. If you’re going to shut it down, you shut it down. I call it poison, all that stuff, from all forms of media or outside people. It’s poison. And whether, again, the poison of, ‘You’re this, you’re that,’ all of a sudden you become an arrogant player and then you get your head handed to you. The other guy plays harder. He’s in a dogfight. You think you’re cute and playing that way because you’re drinking that poison. But it’s not easy. Trying to keep everything away from them. But, you know, it’s part of this. When you’re at Kentucky, it’s 10 times that. It can be the best then, and then it can turn on you and be the worst thing – if you let it. If you ignore both the good and the bad, you just keep marching on.”

On his impressions of Auburn’s Sharife Cooper and what he does for Auburn …

“He’s played two games and they’re scoring like 25 points per game more. They’re scoring 15 in transition with him at point, and the reason is, like some of the great guards I’ve had, that ball hits his hands and it may be out of his hands in a half second up the court. What would that do to people on your team? That means they’re flying because if they get a two-step lead, he will throw it. So, the biggest thing has been that. The second thing is he really sees things before they happen. He knows about what’s going to happen whether it’s a pass to a lob, whether it’s a skip. He’s a terrific player. And we recruited him, so I know how good he is. He’s a special (player). He’s got a special talent.”

On Auburn’s Justin Powell and his impressions of him before he got hurt …

“He is a terrific scorer. And he scores—I know how he’s shooting the ball. He’s probably their highest percentage 3-point shooter. But, they had him at point and he was fine. He was scoring all kinds of different ways for them. I think with Sharife there, he’ll be pushed back a little bit, but I think he’ll get minutes because he can shoot. But, you know, he’s another one. He’s a good player. Their young guys can shoot it, they’re athletic. They’re good.”

On dealing with things coming at him every week and if he wanted to clarify his stance on his players protesting …

“The stuff of being under fire, there’s always people who are going to question. That’s what coaching is. It doesn’t mater what you do, there’s people going to say you can do it better or do it a different way. You could be playing man and be one of the best defensive teams in the country and you should be playing zone. You have a big team, but you should play like you have small guys. You have a small team, why don’t you post it? I mean, it’s just, if I listened to what’s coming out of the stands and I listened to it, I’ll be up there shortly. You just coach your team. When you focus on your team and you coach your team and that’s your focus, that stuff doesn’t affect you. I know that I must be getting hit somewhere when I’m walking out of mass in the morning and a guy says, ‘Stay strong, Coach. Coach, you’re going to be fine.’ I’m like, what happened? Who said what? And so, most of the stuff I don’t see. You guys could say I’m under total fire, I wouldn’t know that. If there is something I need to deal with I’ll ask the guys, Eric (Lindsey), TJ (Beisner) and all the guys. ‘What’s out there? Is there something I need to deal with?’ And the only reason I responded – and you guys know I don’t respond to that kind of stuff that’s out there – the core of who I am is caring about kids, and when that is questioned I’ve got to, you know. Anybody that knows me knows what I stand for and knows my beliefs. And it doesn’t matter if I’m living in California, Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Boston, my beliefs are what they are. I made the statement, ‘I stand by these kids. I believe in these kids.’ And they know that. You just, again, you march on. You do what you think is right. Normally what’s right isn’t always popular and doing what’s popular is not always right, and that’s why you’ve got to fall back on your faith and your belief system.”

On Auburn’s rim protection and if that makes perimeter shooting more important …

“They come at it, and again, their rim protection is more than one guy. It’s like three or four. They’ll go block shots. It’s how they play. But it’s not like you can’t go at them. The spacing of the court and other things matter in this game. Being strong at the rim matters in this game. But they’re, you know, I think they block shots, and I hate to tell you, I think we usually block shots too. Both of us.”

On if Cooper reminds him of Tyler Ulis …

“I thought of that too. Like, he plays a lot like he played. Tyler had a little different kind of game to him, but they have similarities.”

On wearing his sport jacket the last four games and if the suit and tie is coming back and how should coaches be dressed on the sidelines …

“I would tell you whatever makes them comfortable. I won’t do any suit and tie, but I just felt—I needed to feel like I was coaching again, and I was kind of feeling like this was all pick-up basketball. I wanted to feel like I was coaching. That’s why I did it. I didn’t do it for any other reason. I would tell any coach, whatever makes you comfortable. Coaches dress different. If they’re comfortable in a sweatsuit or a T-shirt or a pullover shirt, be comfortable. I’m just more comfortable with a sport coat and a pair of jeans, which is what I’ve been wearing.”

On Brandon Boston Jr. and Cooper being close friends and if that concerns him that Boston might try to keep up with his friend and play outside himself trying to match Cooper …

“We talked about it, so I’ve already addressed it with BJ. I said, ‘You know, you are getting better. Stay the course. You are getting better. Stay the course.’ For all my guys, I keep saying, if you’re not playing well offensively, do what Anthony Davis did. Do what Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) did. They didn’t worry about it. They got it in other ways. They rebounded, they blocked shots, they would get it in transition. They weren’t worried about that. And then they would come back the next week, ‘Let me work on this so I can feel more comfortable.’ But BJ, he’s working, he’s trying. This has really been hard because some of his habits are not habits that will work at this level or the next level. They just won’t. And he knows it. He knows he’s not playing as well as he needs to.”

On adding Oscar Tshiebwe and Bob Huggins not being thrilled with his departure …

“Bob and I have talked. I texted him. The people that we had talked to with Oscar were Bob Huggins fans. So, that’s why I never picked up the phone and called him, but since then we have talked by phone. Just being in that environment, being coached by Bob, who is, in my mind, a Hall of Famer, and having that background before he comes here is good. I loved Oscar out of high school. We recruited him. Loved his effort, his intensity, all his fight. I just said, ‘That’s what you’ve got to bring here. The most important thing will be that. You bring all that and we’ll try to help in any way we can. We’ll be about you. You be about these guys. You be about elevating everything around you here.’ So, it was a pretty direct conversation. There was no, ‘You’re going to do this, we’re going to have you do this.’ Basically, none of that. It was about what this culture is about here. We’re excited. I’m excited to have him here.”

On what kind of role he envisions Tshiebwe having this season in practice while he can’t play …

“He’s not here yet. He’ll be here probably within the next five days, but he’s not here yet. But we talked about that. I talked about what Enes (Kanter) did and how he got Josh Harrellson to another level. We even talked about, ‘I had another guy come in to help Nick (Richards), Ben Jordan. He had a job to toughen up Nick, to get physical, to do things to make sure your length, you’re all over Nick.’ And now I told him, ‘Your job will be, how do I help these guys?’ And again, maybe with him, I take five guys and those five are playing the top seven or eight guys and we start scrimmaging that way, even though it’s late in the season. It’s something that I’ve thought about when we get him.”

On road teams having success this season and how that’s happening …

“No fans. You know, I talked about the NBA Bubble. No fans. No home advantage. You play all season to get that home court advantage and it had no bearing and hurt some teams that would have had home court. For us, our building you just don’t win many games in Rupp Arena, opponents don’t. Now, even though we have 3,000 the building is a 24, 25,000 people and you’re down to 3,000. It’s a big difference. The same with Florida and the same with – it’s different. But the other side of it is every game we play is a Super Bowl. The way Alabama played physically, emotionally, being total focused, laser-focused to beat us. When we had a chance to get back into the game, they just didn’t let us. They just fought. That’s what happens when we are played, it’s not – we expect it to be a physical, hand-to-hand combat, you know – energy, focused game. At Auburn, whether it was at home, on I-95, at Auburn, at Rupp, in Nashville. It doesn’t matter. So, without fans it’s just man-o-man-o. It’s what it becomes.”

Jacob Toppin

On if the team’s performance against Alabama can be equated to an off night …

“We all knew that was an off night. It was definitely an off night and that’s it. In practice yesterday, we were all going at each other and making each other better. We took a step back during that game, but now we’re taking a few steps forward and we’ve just got to keep preparing for the next game.”

On if the team feels pressure to win now since the team got off to a slow start to begin the season …

“I don’t think there’s any pressure for us. We’re human beings. We make mistakes. Sometimes we have off nights. Sometimes we have great nights. We’ve just to deal with those. Moving forward, we’ve got to definitely prepare more for games. We have to be more focused, and I think that’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve very prepared and we’ve very focused for this next game, because we want to do good and we’ve just got to make up for that loss that we had.”

On the team’s reactions to the criticism Coach Calipari has taken after his press conference Tuesday night …

“Coach Cal loves his players. He treats us like we’re his sons. So, he’s never going to be against us. He’s always for us and he’s always supporting us no matter what it is. That was nonsense (the criticism Calipari took). He’s definitely helped us through all of this. He’s definitely been there for us through all of this. He’s a great guy. He’s a great coach. So, anything else, it’s not good.”

On what he knows about Auburn …

“We definitely watched a lot of film on Auburn. We know they’re a similar team to Alabama. We know they like to run the floor a lot. And these practices are just preparing for that. We didn’t do a very good job against Alabama, but we’re looking to do a better job against Auburn and that’s with preparation. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

On Auburn’s Sharife Cooper …

“We just treat him like any other point guard that we’re going to play against. He pushes the ball. He looks ahead. We’ve just got to stick to the scouting report. We’ve got to stay focused and we’ve just got to know our personnel.”

On how he’s developed defensively this season …

“I’ve definitely taken a lot more pride in my defense this year. It’s keeping me on the court, so I’m going to play defense. I take pride in that, and whoever Coach needs me to play defense on I’m going to play defense on them. And I’m going to try my hardest to stop them. Just moving forward, whoever is my assignment that’s who I’m going to go at and that’s who I’m going to stop on defense.”

On Coach Calipari supporting the team and whether the team discussed the criticism at all …

“There were no conversations, but we’ve seen what was said about our coach and we didn’t like it because that’s a false narrative about him. He’s a great guy, like I said. He’s a great coach and he’s always going to support us no matter what.”

On how he would compare road games from last year to this year without fans …

“I mean, definitely having fans at the games brings a lot more energy. We get a lot more hype. But with the year that we’ve had so far with no fans, with limited fans, even having a little bit of fans adds something each game. It helps a little bit. I’m not really worried about the fans, but they definitely help in some way.”

On if it is easier to win on the road with limited fans …

“I guess in a way it can be. But we’re focusing on each team and each team is going to come at us no matter what whether there’s fans or not. So, we’ve just go to play to the best of our abilities.”