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UK basketball now 100% vaccine boosted; only testing players that are symptomatic

“We’re definitely the best team in the country when it comes to COVID protocols.”

Jacob Toppin Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are getting set to start conference play on Wednesday night with a matchup against the Missouri Tigers.

Unfortunately, all across the sports world we are seeing games being postponed due to Covid-19 issues. College basketball has already seen a lot of cancellations and the Cats have had last minute opponent changes in each of their last two games.

With Christmas now over, the team is gearing up for the second half of the season and they are doing everything possible to make sure they play all 31 games.

Jacob Toppin told the media on Tuesday that Kentucky is the best team in the country when it comes to Covid-19 protocols and that they have “backups to our backups” if they have future games cancelled.

“We’re definitely the best team in the country when it comes to COVID protocols. Everyone’s healthy, and we’re all doing the necessary precautions we need to do to play games.”

On top of that, John Calipari told the media that the team is now 100% vaccine boosted and that moving forward they will only be testing players if they have symptoms.

While we continue to see teams across the country go on pause with Covid-19 issues, the Cats are doing everything in their power to try and prevent that from happening to them.

The Cats will face off with Missouri on Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET in Rupp Arena. That game will air on the SEC Network.

Now, here is a recap of everything Calipari and select players had to say during Tuesday’s media availability via UK Athletics.

John Calipari

On the flexibility in rescheduling games …

“We’re really trying to get ahead of that. Let’s just say this is my opinion. And I’ll say this again, no one listens to my opinion. So, let me start by telling you that. You’re down three games, you’re not making them up. And if there’s 10 days, seven days when you know you’re not playing and you’re not going to make up those games, we need to just replace them. These kids need to play games. If both teams are healthy, the officials are healthy, play the ballgame. It may mean us adding a home-and-home for next year. It may mean, you know, having a game here or we’ve got to travel. It may mean a neutral game with Gonzaga in Chicago or Dallas or somewhere. But we need to play games. My career has been any place, any team, any place, any time. I mean, that’s who I’ve been. Now, when you have an arena that seats this many and you make as we make on home games, you’ve got to play some home games that you’re not returning so that you take care of tennis and all of the other sports programs. But, you know, it’s a case now this is different. And if this happens and there’s a bunch of, you’re missing two and three games in a row, there’s no space to make up those games. So, let’s play against who’s ready to play. Like I said, I’m on the phones right now saying, ‘Let’s keep this out there. Let’s think about it.’ So, friends of mine in the profession, we’re just talking it through so we can play the games.”

On Kentucky’s current protocols with COVID-19 …

“That’ll be the approach of this (not testing vaccinated individuals). But we have our whole staff the same. And there’s mitigation – things we’re trying to do. Like, we literally don’t want to be around the other sports teams. It’s not disrespectful. It’s not Title IX. It is about mitigating opportunities. If I go out, I mitigate, but I try to keep a mask on whether anybody else does or not. Keep a mask on. And I tell them, ‘You’ve got to mitigate. You’re together fine, but you’ve got to mitigate other opportunities where you’re mixing with people.’ But the kids have been great. I mean, I think, again, if it’s important to me it’ll be important to them. I always say that. If they know something is really important to me, it’ll be important to them. And we’ve made this, for the last two years, like, look, ‘This and mental health and all of the other things, we’ve been good.’ We haven’t forgotten about basketball, but we’ve tried to stay on this.”

On the importance of playing games for mental health and avoiding long layoffs …

“And that’s what I believe, John (Clay). Then the other thing is, playing the best people out there. So, the challenge of not just playing a game that we have North Carolina. Yeah, Ohio State didn’t work but it’s North Carolina. Then Louisville didn’t work, but it was Western Kentucky who just beat Louisville. So, there was that challenge that really gets the juices going. It also brings us together because we need each other. But again, playing games I think for all these teams – not just us – I think all of us coaches are thinking in the same terms. How do we stay healthy? How do we mitigate what’s out there, and then, all right, if stuff goes awry, what are you going to do? I always say, and you guys know how I am, all right, where is this going? Reading tea leaves. What would happen? What would we do if this happens? How do we try and get ahead of this? Again, four league games are canceled. All right, let’s play three other games or two at least. Then there’s still room maybe to add a team or two from our league. Or maybe two teams in our league are healthy, then you guys play. Let’s play it that way. But I think we’ve got to be nimble and flexible because we don’t know where this is going.”

On if he’s set with his rotation …

“No. I don’t, and I think we’re one of those teams—like, without Lance (Ware) in the North Carolina game in that first half, we’re probably down, and maybe it’s a different game. So, Lance has a role. But there are times we want to throw a guy in that’s going to get lobs and dunks and blocks. Well, that wouldn’t be Lance, so maybe it’s Daimion (Collins). I would say there are times that we’re trying to bring Bryce (Hopkins) along so he can be that car crash, so he can get to the free-throw line, give us one more physical body out there. But I told Dontaie (Allen) yesterday, ‘Be ready for your chance. I can’t tell you when and where it’s coming, but you’ve got to prove that you deserve to play more.’ ‘Well, just play him 30 minutes.’ It doesn’t work that way. This is here’s where you are on this team, be an all-star in your role. Be an all-star. You can’t—like, I talked to the guys. You don’t need 30 minutes to prove who you are. This ‘30 minutes, 30 minutes, 30 minutes,’ well, I think we had a team a little ways back that no one played more than 20 minutes, 21 minutes. Then six of them were drafted, one of them was the No. 1 pick. So, that’s ego, high school. You come here, you prove (you deserve time). You learn to fight. No. 1, you learn to fight. You learn to fight in practice because you have to survive, and in games where it’s everybody’s Super Bowl, you learn to fight. That’s what I think has carried over to the guys that have had success after they’ve left here. Some didn’t have as much success here and are having more later, one of them being Mychal Mulder. Think about who he played against every day. He learned to fight. He was athletic. He didn’t get a chance to the level, but you know what, cream always rises. If you learn to fight, you learn to battle, take what you want. If you have to be promised everything – ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to run this, everything’s going to be to you’ – those kids don’t come here anyway. They just don’t. It’s an easier run. And I’ve told the guys, there’s no easy way to what you’re trying to do or what we’re trying to do as a team. What is your role? What do you have to do? I think one of the best things we’ve done is we have a sprint coordinator. And you say, ‘Well, what is a sprint coordinator?’ Well, at the end of every game, he evaluates every sprint. An opportunity from defense to offense and even offense to defense. How many times did he sprint when he had an opportunity as an ‘A,’ a ‘B,’ or a ‘C’ or a ‘D?’ It’s great. Then the guys – this is crazy – with the best numbers in the sprints per game are the best players on our team right now. So, I would tell you that if you’re not playing to the level that you want to play, sprint! Just sprint. Because the guys that are sprinting are playing the best for us. ‘Well, can I do it another way? Because that way is really hard. I don’t like sprinting every time.’ And so that is the best thing I think we’ve added to what we do is we have a sprint coordinator.”

On Tubby Smith having his jersey retired and if he hopes to be up there one day too …

“I’m hoping we just win another game. I’m not worried about jerseys right now. But here’s the thing, and I wanted this for Coach (Joe) Hall, and I want it for Tubby: I want guys that were here in this seat, which is a really tough place to be – I love it, but it’s not the easiest place to be – that they are loved by our fans. And it doesn’t matter about how anybody tries to portray them or move the fans, they’re not moving that way. You can try and move them, but they’re not moving. At the end of the day, they appreciate what Tubby did for this program. He won 27 games a year. Twenty-seven games a year, Final Fours, national title, a class act, and they appreciate it. And so, this honor for him, like, I wish it would have been done before. But I remember when we got Coach Hall to step on the court and do the ‘Y’ the first time. I think it was in my first year. I think then everybody understood the ovation he got was bigger than any ovation they could have given to a player or a coach. That it was Coach Joe B. Hall. And so, I think Tubby’s in the same thing. I mean, you’re talking about a guy that did so much for this program and did it right, won at a high level. But I’m happy for him.”

On if this is the best the SEC has ever been …

“Yeah. The goal always was, let’s get seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, John (Clay), when we were getting, what, three? And how do we do this? Well, part of it was the investment each school made in their basketball program. I always say this: Coaches win basketball games; administrations win championships. And again, if you want to stay the gold standard – even us – you’ve got to go through your facilities and say, ‘Where are we stacking up against the best in what they’ve done?’ Because you know, for us, everybody looked at what we were doing and said, ‘Let’s do better.’ Just what it was. I can’t tell you how many people looked at our practice facility, looked at the (Wildcat) Coal Lodge and said, ‘Well, we’re going to do better.’ And so, for us, again, administrations win championships. And so, for this league, administrations can pick up programs. Coaches will help them win games. But we’ve got terrific coaches. The recruiting has gone to another level, and normally it was just Kentucky. ‘Well, they’ve got seven of the top whatever.’ Well, yeah and five of them are coming here. Now that’s not the case. Now all of a sudden, it’s 10, 12, 15 kids that are in the top coming to this league. So, you’ve got administrations that are committed, you’ve got coaches that can really coach, recruiting, which is added to having really good players, which is showing in the draft. You look at what’s happening here in this league, it’s really special.”

On if Brad Calipari is the sprint coordinator …

“OK, who would be the worst sprinter on the staff? [Kyle Tucker: You.] No, I can outrun Brad. Now, if it were a bear chasing us, I would just look at Brad and say, ‘All I’ve got to do is outrun you because I’m not outrunning anybody else.’ So, what I did was, whoever the worst sprinter is became the sprint coordinator, so yes, it is Brad.”

On if his playing anyone, anywhere, anytime philosophy applies to Indiana …

“That could be a possibility. Again, you know, we would have to look at both things. Where we play it, I’m still—look, we had a chance, Indiana, to be in the CBS (Sports) Classic and they chose not to. We had a chance of playing in Indianapolis; they chose not to. So, when you’re doing this scheduling, you do it within 16-20 hours. There’s not like, ‘OK, let’s negotiate.’ There is nothing. ‘Here’s the game. Are we playing or not?’ Bang. We don’t play, next. We go. So, Mike (Woodson) has done a great job, by the way. I mean, Indiana is playing great basketball. They’re doing good stuff.”

On how the NCAA Selection Committee should handle evaluating teams with the likelihood that teams are going to have varying numbers of games played …

“You know, I haven’t spent any time thinking about it. I would let those guys. I’ve spent most of my time trying to get my team better, but they’ll figure it out, and we’ll have a tournament. We know the extreme would be a bubble – extreme. I’m hoping it’s not that, but my concern right now is my players, our program – that we’re getting better, that we’re mitigating, that we’re safe, that we’re not getting anybody else sick. Not just worried about us; I’m worried about, do we get it and give it to somebody else? So, we’re doing all the things that we’ve got to do. Looking ahead schedule wise, the league would have to cooperate for us to add games. They would have to cooperate and say, ‘OK, I see what you’re saying. There’s not going to be dates.’ And, you know, we play more games. So, look, here’s what I was saying the other night: You remember when we played 16 games (in the league)? You guys remember? There was two added home-and-homes in there now. And when they added (games to get) 18, it took away home-and-homes. Now, we still have our couple home-and-homes. We have the (SEC/Big 12) Challenge. We have the Champions Classic. We have the CBS (Sports) Classic we usually play. But, that’s when you had the room to schedule all these other people. So, that’s why I’m saying if we drop two because of whatever, let’s go back to adding what we added. I always thought the league should stay at 16 anyway. Give us flexibility to go schedule what we wanted to. Now the league is better. I get it, it’s fine, but again, my concern is Kentucky.”

On what he’s seen from Missouri …

“First of all, Cuonzo (Martin) and I talked yesterday because I wanted to make sure he was OK, and he sounded good. This thing gets you asymptomatic and you have nothing and all of a sudden you get tested and you have it. From what he and I talked about, he’s going to be fine. Their team always plays hard. Plays physical. They rebound. They’re plus in the rebounding column. They shoot the ball. They go get rebounds. They drive it. They’re physically playing through bumps. It’s the kind of team that gives us trouble. So, it’s going to be a hard game for us. But again, it’s another game we learn, OK, when another team plays physical, when a team plays really hard and doesn’t give you an inch, how do you play now? They collapse on defense so it’s not going to be easy to just throw it to Oscar (Tshiebwe). They collapse. You’re going to have to make some jump shots. The teams that gave Missouri trouble made jump shots – 12, 14, 15 3s. Those are the teams they struggled against.”