clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John Calipari and Lance Ware preview Missouri

New, 1 comment

“We’re not that far away. We’re just not.”

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats begin their February slate Wednesday night in Columbia as they take on the 18th-ranked Missouri Tigers.

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

John Calipari

On if he focuses all of his energy on one area to try to “peak” or if it’s a balance …

“There are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts at anything. But I’ll say, like every young team – not just ours – any inexperienced team that hasn’t been together, big disadvantage (with) no summer, no fall (this season). That’s done. OK, now you move on to what you’re saying with, ‘Here’s where we are right now.’ The scary thing is what you said: We focus on winning time, the last four minutes. We focus on winning time, late clock, how we’re playing, and you got to do it over and over again – you’ve got to spend time – and then what you do is you get away from all the defense, the drills, the things you’re doing every day that I’ve done every year I’ve been here from the beginning of the year ‘til April. Well, we’ve had to shortcut those a little bit because we got to get better offensively. Yesterday’s practice, I stopped at least 10 times and asked the question, ‘Why didn’t you shoot that ball?’ At least 10 times. ‘Why did you not shoot that ball?’ Us passing up a good shot leads to a turnover or a worse shot that we can’t rebound. So, we’re working on that. How can we try to create some better opportunities, some earlier opportunities? We’re trying to figure out that. We’re also, you have to look at individual players and say, all right, how do I help this young man so the game’s easier and there’s more clarity. I mean, we’re doing all that. I had three days. We didn’t practice for four of the last five days, we have not practiced. Yesterday was the first day. And I just had time to go through, OK, what are some other things that we can try? Here’s the crazy thing: We’re not that far away. [Puts hands on his face.] We’re just not. It’s not my perception that’s reality; it’ll be their perception. Which is why I said, ‘Let’s restart. Let’s reboot. Forget all this. Let’s start anew. Let’s be energized in what we do and let’s go from here.’ We’ve got nine games left. We got nine games left. Let’s go. I’m watching this team move to here, this team move to—we’re not that far off. But it’s what I believe. And I keep telling them, it’s what they believe. And again, like I said, yesterday they made me feel good because they had a terrific practice. Guys that had been struggling played better. It looked like they were a little bit refreshed. But it’s hard. We’re going from one practice in four days to boom, boom and get on a plane and let’s go play a really good team on the road. It’ll be a tough challenge, but like I said, these kids are fighting. They’re trying. And I’ve just got to stay there for them, but I’ve got to hold them accountable. ‘Shoot balls!’ ‘I missed five in a row.’ ‘Well, miss 10 in a row. It’s on me. You’ve got to shoot open shots.’ ”

On what the roster situation is like coming off the COVID-19 pause and if he will have a full roster vs. Missouri …

“If not, it won’t be because of COVID.”

On if passing up open shots is a confidence thing and why they are passing up shots …

“I think it’s three things. One is, like, you have to understand I’ll stop a practice when a guy is wide open and we throw a bad pass. ‘Now tell me why you threw it above his head. Again, you’ve not been the kind of teammate that’s more concerned about his shot than yourself. So, you’ve got a concern. He’s open. Give him one that he can handle.’ The second piece is the shooter not being totally prepared to shoot and, instead of catching and shooting, he wants to dip the ball and take a set shot. Well, these dudes are athletic and they’re getting after you. And then the last thing is, this is not – and I’m trying to get them to be – you cannot worry about misses and makes and you’ve to move on to the next. If we shoot an airball or miss a shot, you look at the tape. That guy will pass up an open shot on the next one. You can’t be that guy. And I keep telling them, ‘Just keep shooting.’ But, creating better shots. Having guys be more catch-and-shoot guys. Trying to define guys a little bit more. ‘Here’s how we need you to play for us and for you. This is when you are at your best and this is when you help us win.’ ”

On the talk that conference tournaments could be canceled or teams may opt out …

“Well, first of all I can promise you that we won’t opt out. That’s not what I would do. And the second thing that I would tell you is that if the best teams in conferences opt out, the NCAA would probably come back and say your winner is not going to be an automatic bid. And so, why wouldn’t we do it every year, the top four or five teams in our league just say we’re opting out of the tournament so that we get one more team in. So, I don’t think that will be the case. I think that either we’ll all play or there will be a reason – and the reason would be the safety of the players and the coaches – that we wouldn’t play. Somebody asked me about fans. I can’t imagine that we would have any fans, especially when you’re rolling into an NCAA Tournament. But, maybe there’s a way of doing it and keeping everybody safe. But that would be my feelings on it.”

On what Riley Welch has shown him as a future coach …

“I can’t remember everything you asked so let me talk about Riley. Riley is such a great teammate, has such a caring heart, has a basketball background, has a true mind for the game. You have to understand that he’s been the point guard on the second unit and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped practice to say to the other guards, ‘Did you see what he just did? Did you see how vocal he is? Do you see the pace that he’s going with?’ And I keep telling him, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ And I told him, his dad is a heck of a coach, NBA coach. I told him, ‘You’re going to be a better coach than your dad or me.’ He likes to get in the gym and work guys out, doing those things, and they respect him because they all know he’s about them. The stuff with Ben (Jordan) shook him to his core. He and Ben, they were like two peas in a pod. And so, I’ve had to keep an eye on him a little bit. The emotional piece of all this for these kids, still there. I’m still addressing that. The environment, all the stuff we’re dealing with, he’s dealing with as well, Riley is.”

On how many players will be available vs. Missouri …

“At this point I don’t know. But I think it will be most of the guys. I don’t think it will be five guys or six guys. I think we’ll have most of them. But as we speak right now, there is nothing COVID related.”

On if any of the guys talk about opting out …

“They say they don’t, but you would have to talk to them because I’ve brought it up many times. ‘You’re putting too much on your shoulders. You’re putting too much weight.’ I give the story of Immanuel Quickley to them all. He was not a draftable player after his freshman year. As a matter of fact, he was playing 10 minutes a game. The beginning of his sophomore year, if you would have told me he was going to be drafted, I would have told you you’re crazy. He trusted us and we helped define his game. The question today, ‘Coach, as a point guard, did you—’ and I said, ‘Wait a minute, what about Tyrese (Maxey)? What about Jamal Murray? I can go on and on of guys that learned to play basketball, that learned to be an offensive threat away from the ball, that had runners and different ways of scoring added to their game.’ Because many times a guy wants the ball in his hands because he thinks it’s easier. ‘I can make a play every fifth time down and I’m good.’ But when you’re off the ball and having to make plays, it’s a lot harder. You’ve got to get open. You’ve got to make open shots. You’re not going to have the ball 70% of the time. Now, I’ve got to be that guy. So, I’m trying to tell all these guys, ‘Take that clutter off your plate. Let’s just worry about how to get better. We’re not that far away. We’re really not. And now it’s just staying focused in the moment, right now.’ But I’ll be honest with you, Larry (Vaught), it’s hard for these kids. I tell them to stay off the Internet. How much they stay off I don’t know. I tell them that, ‘If you’re going to go on, you’ve got to read the bad and the good. You can’t just try to read good.’ And that’s why I tell them, ‘It’s poison. All of it. Stay away from it.’ All of them have really—like, this has been a hard road and I respect them for what they’ve done and where they’ve gone and what they’re trying to do under the circumstances. I’ll just give you one: Still, the Georgia game. And my hat’s off to Georgia. They did what they had to do to win the game at the end, but we gave one away. An out-of-bounds play after a timeout, OK? But they had a scrum after the game like it was the national championship game. That’s what it is every game these kids play. And you know what? They learn to fight. They learn to battle. You’re looking at guys, that’s the biggest thing we teach them here. Nothing is given to you. You’ve got to fight for what you want. You’ve got to nudge yourself in there. You’ve got to bet on yourself. If you’re not working. And again, you want to build your confidence, great, here’s how you do it. Whatever is really hard for you, do it over and over and over. That’s how you build confidence. Not going into the gym with a cone and shooting balls. What’s really hard for you to do? Well, then work on that all the time. That’s how you build your confidence. And all these kids, if every shot is life or death, is a draft position, you die all the time. You don’t want to be in that mode. Let’s see how good we can get together. Let’s see if we can get better offensively. Let’s see if we can finish games better. Let’s see if we’ve got a couple daggers on this team. In other words, you’re wide open; if you make that shot, that’s the dagger that wins the game. We just keep missing those. You be the dagger on this team. With four minutes to go, that’s where we’ve got to get some daggers. And again, not thinking of anything else. Again, yesterday they were good. I mean, we’ve got a tough, tough game at Missouri. Hard. They’re physical. They guard. They got a big man that’s a moose. Their guard play is good. It’s even better. They’ve got all these guys back from last year’s team that we struggled with. So, it’s going to be a hard, hard game. But, it’s like the Texas game. When I had to tell them on Friday that this is what’s happened and we’re not going to play Texas, dudes were mad. And one of them immediately said, ‘Coach, can you reschedule that game?’ And then they all chimed in, ‘Yeah, Coach, reschedule it, Coach.’ These kids want to play, and they want to play good teams. I just want us to play better in winning time, last four minutes. We’ve just got to play better then, and that means playing to win, playing to be the dagger, playing to make the rebound or the play or the stop or the block that ends the game. Not, ‘Ugh, we may not win.’ You can’t play not to lose. Play to win.”

On an update on Terrence Clarke and the timeline for working Oscar Tshiebwe into practice …

“Here’s the thing, Oscar, the thing I loved about him was how hard he worked, how hard he played, how he would make everything an extra effort stuff, and I want him to go against our guys and try and bring some of that out of the guys that we have. Even though we have been playing hard, let’s take it to another level. One rebound, two rebounds, you ready for this? Two less turnovers per game, two more rebounds, a made shot. Where is this all? And so, I want him to add to it and help us and he’s ready to do that. He’s got to go through some other stuff. He won’t practice with us today and he’s not going to travel with us today to go to Missouri, but when we come back, he’ll start and we’ll have some time to bump him in. Again, with Terrence we’re going by the doctors and what they’re telling us.”

On an update on Terrence Clarke and the timeline for working Oscar Tshiebwe into practice …

“Here’s the thing: Oscar, the thing I loved about him was how hard he worked, how hard he played, how he would make everything an extra-effort stuff, and I want him to go against our guys and try and bring some of that out of the guys that we have. Even though we have been playing hard, let’s take it to another level. One rebound. Two rebounds. You ready for this? Two less turnovers per game. Two more rebounds. A made shot. Where is this all? And so, I want him to add to it and help us, and he’s ready to do that. He’s got to go through some other stuff. He won’t practice with us today and he’s not going to travel with us today to go to Missouri, but when we come back, he’ll start and we’ll have some time to bump him in. Again, with Terrence (Clarke), we’re going by the doctors and what they’re telling us.”

Lance Ware

On what it will take for Kentucky to win at Missouri …

“Well, we’re just going to need to continue to play hard like we have been doing. Coach has been changing some things up in practice for the offensive end. So, just apply everything he’s been telling us in practice yesterday and then the stuff he’s going to go over today, and just really emphasize that and bring that into the game. I think that we should be OK if we just lock in and, you know, do what we have to do.”

On what the players were able to do during the shutdown …

“We got in the gym a little bit, obviously not as a team. More individuals and stuff like that, conditioning and stuff. We all took the time off and kind of used it as a refresh and, you know, got our minds right. It gave us some time even though we were still working out. It wasn’t practice. It wasn’t a two-hour long practice. So, we kind of like got to decompress and just kind of refocus on the main goal and what we need to do to play and obviously win games.”

On how the break benefited the team mentally …

“I mean, we’ve been here for a while. We’ve been like practicing, practicing, practicing. So, if anybody just gets a few days off to just, you know, relax it’s helpful. We had two days, I think. It helped. Guys came into practice yesterday, energetic, fresh, bouncing and just happy. When you take something away that we’re used to I was like, ‘Wow, we don’t have any practice today. I’m so used to practicing.’ So, it gave us kind of like an excitement to get back out on the court.”

On the team’s goals for the remainder of the season …

“I mean, just keep on getting better. That’s the same thing we said at the beginning of the season. I mean your goal should never change whether you win or you lose. They’re goals for a reason, so if you just keep on changing them, it’s never a goal. The same goals that we had set on day one are the same goals that we’re still looking forward to having now.”

On Riley Welch and what he adds to the team …

“Riley is super smart. I mean, Cal always uses him for examples and asks him a lot of questions. He always gets the answer right. So, anything that you can learn from Riley on the basketball side is good just because, like you said, he’s been around and he knows exactly what he’s talking about. Even during the game, if you go up to ask him something he’ll tell you what you need to do or what he thinks you should be doing better. So, Riley is huge for this team because he’s a coach that’s not a coach.”

On what he’s working on to improve offensively …

“Honestly, I’m just trying to get more comfortable. Left-hand, right-hand jump hooks. Nothing too major. Just trying to work on my face-up game, work on some moves that I do when I get to the middle of the court. Just simple stuff.”

On Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon …

“I mean, he’s a challenge, but I’m going to do and all of the big guys are going to do what we’ve been doing: playing defense, playing hard, rebounding, blocking shots. So, no matter who we play, we kind of keep the same approach.”

On what the offensive shakeup is intended to bring about …

“Just so we can attack differently. Instead of the ball just standing in one person’s hands, just attack differently.”

On what areas he’s improved upon defensively …

“Sometimes two-handed rebounding is something you have to remind yourself to do because I’ve been one-hand rebounding my entire life. So, that’s a habit you just have to break. Being here, it’s just teaching me how to be in the right spot at the right time. Having coaches like Tony Barbee, Coach Bruiser (Flint), Jai (Lucas), Joel (Justus), all of those guys just helping you on the defensive end, making sure you’re in the right spots so you’ll be in position for the steal or the block or get the rebound.”

On what has been the team’s greatest improvement and individually …

“I think the biggest thing with the team that we have been improving on–like, we have been getting better offensively, but defensively we’ve been improving every game. Every team is going to break down, but I feel like defense is something we’ve improved on and something we take pride in. Personally, I just think I’ve been rebounding a lot better since I came, since the beginning of the season.”

On if it is realistic that the team can win out …

“Absolutely. I mean, I know that our team thinks we can win the rest of the games. I mean, we believe in each other, so honestly that’s what it is about. We believe in each other. I know our coaching staff believes in us. So, we all believe we can win the rest of these games.”

On how much shot-blocking is instinctual and how much has he learned since being here …

“I mean, shot-blocking, that’s not even my thing. Isaiah Jackson, he blocks every shot, so you can learn from him just watch the stuff he does. Even though he’s super athletic, super long, but he has like a technique to it. It’s all about timing and just being on like the weak side and stuff like that.”

On how important it is to the team to make the NCAA Tournament …

“I mean, it’s obviously super important. Every team obviously wants to play in March and get to the tournament. That’s kind of the goal. That’s been the goal since the beginning of the season. Like you guys asked earlier, what are some goals. That’s one of the goals that we still have and we still believe that we can make. We’ve just got to turn things up.”

On how much room for error the team has to achieve its goal …

“Not too much room but enough where we’re not going to be panicking and just, ‘Oh, we have to do this. We have to do that. We have to do this.’ Obviously still playing within the system and still playing calm, and giving ourselves the best ability to win.”

On the addition of Oscar Tshiebwe …

“I just met him yesterday. He seems like a really, really good guy. We didn’t really speak much. I just saw him before I left the lodge. I said, ‘What’s up?’ But, from what Cal says he plays really hard. Obviously, I play hard so it’s going to be great competition in practice. I know he’s going to help me get better. I know those type of people, they help me get better. He’s going to help Olivier (Sarr) get better, Isaiah. So, he’s going to be a great addition for these few weeks or months that he’s here to help everybody get better for next year.”