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John Calipari and Davion Mintz preview Georgia

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“We’ve got to bust through.”

Mintz UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats are back in action Wednesday night in Athens as they take on the Georgia Bulldogs.

Ahead of the game, head coach John Calipari and senior guard Davion Mintz met with the media to preview the matchup. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On if he’s in a position to do anything out of the norm to get players out of isolation because of COVID protocols to “blow off steam” …

“Let me give you a couple of things I’ve done. Like, you guys know that we’ve gone a long time and haven’t had any issues here, and I keep coming back to we’re in a bubble here. The problem is we’re in a bubble here. But that’s why we’re safe. But the other side of it is we’re in a bubble. We rented out a movie theater. You and I know that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous. Having them come to my house. I didn’t have staff or managers come. We’ve done it three or four times. Guess what? If one of our guys gets it, we’re going to end up having to shut down because we’re doing stuff to bring them together. We’ve had some meals out. And again, trying to be at a social distance, but you’re eating meals, no mask. You’re in a room by yourselves. But again, it’s all dangerous, but it got to a point where I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do this. This isn’t just about playing basketball and not catching this virus; this has become bigger than that.’ It’s become how do we do this other stuff, be as safe as we can be – you’re not going to be perfect – but it’s as safe as you can be.”

On how underqualified he feels about handling this stuff when it comes to the mental health part of this …

“Oh! Oh! Well, other than my own mental health, which, I’ve got mental problems myself – always have – I am totally underqualified. I’ve talked a ton to Bob Rotella. We brought in the sports psychologist and he spent two or three days with the kids. They all have his numbers. We have a psychologist on campus that these kids can meet with and have. It’s just a different—I’ve had more coaches say, we’re all sensitive to how we approach what we do this year more than any other year, and the kids are a little more fragile across the country because of this. They’re missing what being on a college campus, what being in a college program, having fans, they’re missing all of that.”

On inconsistent play and how important it is for a coach to get a feel for what he’s going to get out of a player each game and how he develops that …

“Well, it’s the most important thing. Like, that’s the No. 1 thing that you know within 5% what this young man is going to give. We’re not there yet. We’ve got a couple guys but not enough. And the only way of getting that is demonstrated performance. How they are in the games is, you know, what do you bring every game? Are you overwhelmed by it? Are you excited about it? Are you focused and engaged? Are you into yourself? I mean, this is all the experience of learning to be a great teammate. Some of the stuff, again, we like to learn slower so that we’re not just thrown to the wolves, but it is what it is. And I mentioned again to them today, ‘Look, guys, we’re playing defense as well as anybody in the country. We’re not making baskets,’ and I said, ‘Why, Riley Welch?’ And he said, ‘Because our shot selection stinks.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ ‘Because everybody is trying to make baskets for themselves.’ And we just keep doing it. We talk about it. But again, it’s a key for us. Now, you could say, ‘Coach, you also miss wide-open shots and free throws.’ We do. We do. But we have too many tough shots we take when we shouldn’t, and it’s usually too early in the shot clock. But we’re working on it. We talked about it this morning. We’re going to have a practice a little bit later today. Like I said, we have one group that really guards — .5 points per possession. So then you would say, ‘Why don’t you just leave them in the whole time?’ OK, that group is scoring .6 points per possession. So now you say, ‘Well, you can’t leave them in because they can’t score.’ Well, slightly more than they’re giving up, but the game would be 42-41. Then you go and say, ‘Is there a way we can use that lineup different?’ We’re tweaking. We’re trying. And then there are other lineups that we got to get on the floor more because their points per possession are in that 1.2, 1.3 range, 1.35, which means that’s as good as they are in the country. And then you look back and say, ‘All right, how does that group defend and what have they given up?’ And so, this is tweaking, analyzing, looking at numbers. At the end of the day, I told them, ‘You guys could be as good as any team in the country. You got to get on a roll. That means you’ve got to score some baskets. You’ve got to stay defensively where you are. And now we’ve got to make easy plays for each other. We got to open up the court a little bit. But even then, you’re not doing it for you to just try to score. Sometimes it’s a drive and then it’s a pass, pass. And then maybe another drive. It isn’t drive, OK, my turn, OK, your turn, drive. We’re trying to get that feel.’ And I’m telling them, ‘You guys are listening because they’re really respectful, but you’re not hearing all the time.’ I did something with Andrew Harrison (in 2014), and you guys know, and he ended up scoring more points per game than he did prior to as his whole focus was on creating shots for somebody. And what had happened was, it became contagious. It was contagious. Now everybody passed. We had a pass-fest. And all of a sudden we went, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. It’s hard right now because we’ve got to get that first guy. ‘Well, why didn’t he want me to shoot?’ Oh my gosh. We’re trying to get this going and trying different things. But I keep saying, ‘You guys got to believe that we’re close. We’re there. No one wants us to bust through because all of a sudden we become a team that’s, ahh, you don’t want to play them now. But we got to do it on the court. We’ve got to bust through.’ ”

On what Brandon Boston Jr. is not doing well now that he was doing well in the recruiting process …

“Well, the competition is different, so you’re not playing now against high school players. You’re playing against somebody who is three years older than you. More physical, more trained. He had no summer here. The fall was, might as well throw it out. And so now you just start playing basketball, and what you do, the habits you need to create, he really hasn’t created yet. The ability to draw fouls versus avoid contact and flip balls. Which one are you seeing right now? The ability to get the ball by the man, which you can do, or, ‘I’m going to play with the ball.’ All of those kinds of habits that he’s got to have different habits. ‘I’m a downhill runner. I’m a free-throw drawing beast. I don’t have to be strong but I’m drawing free throws.’ And then, really consistent in how you train so that when you walk in the game it’s the same. It’s just taken him more time, and we’ve given a lot of room to go. He’s scoring points but they’re not in an efficient way. I haven’t given up on him. But he’s not playing the way he needs to play for himself or for us to win ballgames.”

On if the fans are feeling the same kind of frustrations because of everything that has gone on this past year outside of basketball and if that’s causing them to get frustrated quicker …

“It’s not just basketball. It’s everything included in this. And so, you have all the outside stuff that they’re dealing with too just like you and I. You have the corona stuff. You have their own life, whether there is job loss or money loss or this corona. ‘I can’t get out. I don’t believe. I do believe.’ All this stuff, there is a frustration out there, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s unacceptable where we are right now. Unacceptable. I’m trying to figure out everything I can because I am not happy. At all. But, on the flipside, I can’t do this in a normal way that I would, which is, I would be a little harder. I would be a little louder. I would be a little more aggressive. I would be a little more quicker to things. Wouldn’t worry how they’re feeling. ‘Grow up. Put your big-boy pants on.’ Well, you can’t do that. Coaches will tell you, if you have a veteran team, you can do about what you’ve been doing. But if you have young guys, new guys, none of us on this call have been through this experience that these kids are going through. And someone asked me earlier if I feel uneducated as far as what I’m worried about. Yes, I do. The mental health piece of this. The fragileness of this. I do feel unprepared. I’m not an expert in that. Many things I may be an expert in but I’m not that. If you ask my wife, she’d say I’m an expert in nothing. This is a different animal, and I’m not—someone would say, ‘Well, he’s just getting soft.’ I am different. I’m no softer. I’m still to the point. I’ve hit guys, but then I have to go grab them and hug them. When I say I hit a guy, I jump them pretty hard. I make it clear in front of his teammates. Then you’ve got to grab them and say, ‘Do you understand what I’m saying and why. Like, I believe in you but you can’t be this way. You’ve got to be this, this and this. But I believe in you. I know how good you are. You can’t be worried about yourself. Worry about our team. Let’s worry about being a better team. Do you get it? Come here and give me a hug.’ What? I mean, this is uncharted waters for everybody. You see coaches out there. I saw Vanderbilt (women’s team) say they’re done. They’re shutting it down. I heard the Baylor women’s coach saying. Well, if you were in the middle of this, you can understand why they would say those things as we fight on. I’m proud of the university and how we’ve set this up for the kids, but we’re also traveling. I worry when we get in planes. I worry when we go in hotels. I worry even when we’re walking in the other guys’ arena. I mean, I’m trying to make sure my first thing is, we keep going and keep these kids safe.”

On how he balances his statement about “taking someone’s heart” with other players who earned more time and deserve to start …

“Kyle (Tucker), you’ve watched me. What usually happens through the years. You’ve watched me coach. I’ve been here 11 years, done fairly good. What happens over the years over the course of the year? Does the cream rise here? [Reporter: Yes.] And that’s what’s going to happen now. Some guys will step up, some guys will take a step back. It’s not different. Now, because of our record, it’s like, ‘Do it now! Do it!’ This is basketball. This isn’t football where one loss, your season’s over. We just got to get this thing right and we’ve got to go on a run. And the only way we’re going to do that is have a team full of guys who are in a great frame of mind. ‘Listen, you’ve got to step back and you and I know why.’ ‘I got it. I got it, Coach. And I’m going to be ready.’ And now he steps back and the other steps forward. What none of us want to do is put so much on any of these kids that you hurt the kid. So now a kid that was in a great role or doing great, now you put him in some other role and now you hurt the kid. I don’t want to do that either. But, every kid deserves an opportunity to show, which we do every year. And so this is no different other than we didn’t have the exhibitions, the stuff upfront that we normally have, but 10 to 12 games is about normal here for us. You can’t—a kid comes here and three games you decide, well, he can play or not play. I can’t do that, and I’ve done this 35 years. It takes me time. Maybe you can or our fans can. I can’t. So, I’ve got to let it play out a little bit. Do I wish kids would jump up more? Yeah, I do. But, they’re not robots, they’re not computers. The cream also rises. It always does here. And sometimes it affects guys where, ‘OK, I’m not, I can’t,’ you know. But in most cases, they know we did this, everybody had an opportunity to show. So, Kyle, I hope that answers it, but again, you’ve seen me over the years. I’m not—I have one objective: to win. To win! You think I’m going to play somebody because I like them more? You know what I told guys when they come to see me? ‘I already like you so don’t say stuff in here to try to make me like you more. I already like you. Alright, let’s just be real.’ The other thing is, ‘Listen, I’ll have you come to my house. I love you. You can stay overnight. I’ll make you breakfast. Doesn’t mean you’re going to play more or less. That’s now what this is.’ And it’s not one child over another child. It’s, all right, now how about what I’m saying to you now? We’re looking at combinations. ‘Well, it’s not about a combination! It’s about this guy and that guy!’ Well, not so. What combinations in the last five game have played well offensively? What combinations have played well defensively? Combinations. It’s a team. And so you look at those numbers and now you say, ‘OK, then that combination needs to play a little better defense. What can we do? How are they getting scored on? They aren’t scoring at all but they’re stopping everybody. Well, is there another way we can play with that unit and play in a simple way? Not totally changing how we’re playing.’ But, I’m trying everything. I’m tweaking everything. I’m working out, running, sleeping, getting my rest. I’m in a fighting mood. I’m mad. I’m disappointed. I’m not happy in any way. But, these are our guys, and I’m going to say this to all of you and to our fans: We can’t trade them. This is who they are. And now I have a job to do: Keep them safe. How can I get each individual playing better? How can I make sure that I challenge without burying them, (i.e.) take their heart away? How do I do this and say, ‘Guys, what is the best team within this team look like? And who are they?’ And they start playing more. Like, if I said to you, ‘I’m only going to play six guys. That’s all I’m playing is six.’ Who would you say the six would be? ‘Well, you’ve got to play nine.’ It’s hard to play nine and 10. If I played six, who would they be? Have we even—is it more game-to-game right now? So now this guy plays well this game, that game this guy—we’re still, the consistency that we need from individuals, not quite there yet. But I’m not giving up on anything. Tough game at Georgia. They played well against Mississippi on the road. They added a new player similar to what Auburn did so they’re not the same team now. As a matter of fact, they had Auburn on the ropes and they beat Mississippi, so you know what, we’re going into another hard game for us. But, so what? We’ve got to break through at some point. If it’s not this week, this Wednesday, then it better be this weekend. Time to break through and make strides.”

Davion Mintz

On Coach Calipari demanding consistency from the team and why the team has struggled with that …

“I’m not sure. Coach, first of all, has to know. I mean, it makes his job easier. He can know what he is expecting. He will know what he’s going to get out of every guy before the game even tips off. I’m not sure why we’ve been having difficulties with consistency. It’s one of the parts we really need to pick up.”

On where he sees inconsistencies …

“Rebounding. Sometimes I think we’re a little, in the past, I’m not sure exactly, but the past couple of games we haven’t been leading the opposing team in offensive rebounding. It’s defensive miscues. For me, you know, just making shots to start the game. Everyone has their own individual cue and collectively, it’s hustle plays, 50-50 balls, just things like that.”

On the importance of understanding your individual role …

“I think it’s very important because that’s with everything. We have to have guys, players coming in knowing exactly what to expect. Like I said earlier, it makes everyone’s job – ours and the coaches – know, ‘OK, what is this guy going to give you today? What can I expect from him? Is he going to take certain shots I’ve asked him to take?’ Just to know what to expect which makes everyone else’s jobs easier for others, but also for yourself.”

On Coach Calipari challenging them to dominate in practice to earn a starting spot …

“He just talked about being desperate. Like, you have to play with some sort of desperation, especially with where we are right now in the season. He’s made it very clear that he’s only going to play the five guys that are going to go out there and play with desperation. At this point, everyone is trying to be that bull, chasing that flag at this point, trying to be one of those guys at this point.”

On how desperate do times seem right now for the players …

“Very. Very. It’s been a really tough season. I can’t lie. It’s been hard. We understand that we have a job to do. We obviously can’t give up. We’ve got a lot of people depending on us, a lot of people supporting us still. There’s no reason to put our heads down now. We’ve just got to keep pushing through it.”

On what is holding the team back defensively …

“With the offensive struggles, the problem is we’re getting the stops on defense. We’re holding teams to .5, .6 points per possessions. Then we’re coming down and we’re struggling to score. We’ve just got to point points on top of those kills, which is three stops, and we can’t have times in the game with three, four-minute segment periods where we’re not scoring. I think that’s where it hurts us sometimes. We’ll have unison and we’ll get those points and then there’s times where we won’t, and I think those droughts really get us and hurt us. It’s not the sets that we’re running; I think it’s just our purpose and our execution. Cutting even when the play isn’t for you. Cutting with a high pace if you’re supposed to be the decoy on that play. Act like the play is for you. Just run plays at a high execution and really attack what we’re looking for. Sometimes I think we tend to make it a little more overcomplicated then it needs to be. Just find the mismatch and go as hard as you can and just execute what is asked of us.”

On the pressures athletes face and the impact on mental health …

“That’s a great question. Being at Kentucky, a college student in general I’m sure is pretty hard, but then adding athletics to it is a different element. I think that a lot of people don’t understand what a collegiate athlete goes through honestly, not just at the University of Kentucky. I’m sure that’s everywhere and any sport. But there is a lot of pressure being put on you at the University of Kentucky. Attending such a historic, legendary school like this, I mean, this is a big deal. I think that’s what kind of brought me here, brings all of these guys here. I mean, they’re built for it. You want this type. I mean, it’s good pressure. I won’t say it’s bad pressure. I mean, as far as mental health, I mean, it’s just controlling what you can control. Taking those deep breaths, understanding living in the present moment and letting everything roll with it. It’s tough because you’re bringing guys, these young guys coming in, and some guys don’t have the advantage of being in college for four years already. So, it can be tough. I can’t imagine how I would have felt at 17, 18 years old. Like you said, it’s different. It’s tough.”

On if there’s enough resources for the players to reach out if they need help …

“Yeah. We’re fortunate to have a guy, I’m not sure if he’s on staff, but he works with us through coach and we talks with us. We have access to him 24/7. Obviously, times are tough. If you put in the circumstances we’re going through with COVID, the pandemic, it’s not usual times, so I’m sure it’s a little bit more challenging than normal. But Kentucky has done a great job having those resources available to us.”

On if the team feels pressure that they may miss the NCAA Tournament …

“Yeah, I mean the perfect thing for me to say is that we don’t think about it and we’re going to take it one game at a time. But, in all honesty, Andrew (Chernoff), we do think about it. There is pressure there. At the end of the day, you have to have the mentality it’s one game a time though. With this, we just have to put a few games together and go on like that three-win stretch that we had. Let’s try and bump that up to a four and five. Let’s try and take things going one at a time. Ready, win or lose, that pressure is going to always be there because there’s always going to be somebody trying to hunt you down or you’re going to have to be the hunter.”