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John Calipari talks roster turnover, point guard depth, and more

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Calipari has had quite the offseason.

John Calipari UK Athletics

In the midst of one of the busiest offseason in recent memory, Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari met with the media Friday to discuss the big changes to his program.

Here is a recap of what Coach Cal had to say via UK Athletics.

On the evolution of college basketball staffs …

“We are right now in the middle of developing that part of our staff. The changes that are coming at us are coming so fast and most of it is falling right on the coaches. We will make a rule, here is the rule and then we have to deal with what the rule is. ‘This should happen, and this is what should happen and then the result is us dealing with it.’ Yes, Kyle (Tucker), I think every coach is dealing with it right now in how do we structure everything to make this happen? We are creating and combining, and we just got back from a staff retreat and part of it was, how are we going to make sure we stay on top of this? Right now – Eric (Lindsey) and I talked about it last night – some guys are naming positions in college basketball but they don’t know what they guy is going to do yet because the rule hasn’t passed to what it really means. We are like, ‘OK, what exactly as this comes through will he have to do?’ Player welfare is going to be a big part of it, which includes name, image and likeness. It includes branding and other stuff that we have done. Here is the thing: All of this stuff, the transfer stuff, I was never for. I thought that they needed to do something because an 18-year old who played behind two NBA players but all of a sudden he says, ‘I could have had the ball more, I am leaving.’ Where after his freshman year he gets through it and then gets into his sophomore year and there are things that I thought made it better for the players and for college basketball. Right now, transfers should not panic anyone in college basketball. Can anybody tell me how many schools have had six or more players transfer this year? It is over 130 schools. One hundred and thirty schools have had over six players transfer. It may be higher now; that was two weeks ago. It could be 150 now. So how we do our own players—like, we are worried about the transfer portal, but worried about our own guys and keeping them informed on what is going on and our relationships and stuff that we already broke down. Kids transferring, it is almost like who is going to do it. OK, I understand and who are we getting? When two years ago if five players transferred from a team everybody would go crazy. ‘The program is crumbling.’ Well, then 150 programs are crumbling. It is a different day really how you evaluate what it going on. Let me throw one thing on name, image and likeness: Obviously, we have to wait to see exactly what the rules state. But no one should be able to do it better for men’s basketball than our program. Two years ago, TV wise, our ratings before the pandemic would have ranked fourth in the NBA – Golden State, the Lakers, Cleveland with LeBron (James) – would have been above our ratings. So, all the social media stuff and all the stuff we do, and we can do, my mind it should be the best in the country. Again, I will throw one other thing you are not thinking about. We are also competing against other leagues trying to take high school players and pay high school players. We are not just competing against other colleges; we are competing against that too. Because the kids they are going after are the kids that we would recruit. Now you know, the retreat got a little deeper than, ‘OK, who are you rolling with?’ ”

On the team’s point guard depth …

“First of all, Nolan (Hickman), you know, the pandemic and being away from home for the first time and close-knit family and, ‘Coach, I don’t think I want to be that far away.’ OK, we get it. Now, all of a sudden you are right, we had no point guard. Then TyTy (Washington), who is where the league is going right now – the NBA – they have point guards who are not setup point guards. They are players that happen to have the ball a lot who can score and do a lot more than get them into offense. TyTy and Sahvir (Wheeler), you look at these guys, and he is more of a, you know, I am going to get everybody involved in this and speed the game up and throw the ball ahead. But Kellan (Grady) also played point guard. Matter of fact, the first year when we played Davidson in the NCAA Tournament, he was the point guard. He got 16 against us as a freshman. But he also is a scorer, averaging 17 over four years. Then CJ (Fredrick) is a scorer and has a shot that you must have now adays, which is that floater, runner. Because he shoots nearly 50% from 3, he spreads the court, and it is like he can create that way too. Then you have Davion (Mintz), who at the end of the year we looked at and said, ‘Wow, you know, his numbers as a point guard with assist-to-turnover ratio and other things weren’t bad either.’ ”

On recruiting against the NBA G League ...

“Well, now you have name, image, likeness, so it changes that for us, too. But here’s the thing: The G League last year, the Ignite team, their TV ratings compared to what we do—I’ll just give you a player: (Oklahoma State guard) Cade Cunningham, who I loved. Cade Cunningham could have done that, but he went to college. Forget about just Kentucky, think about college. He went to college, and he went to Oklahoma State. Cade Cunningham, his whole – not just basketball and what it did for him – his brand, his ability to take advantage of that on the market is through the roof. And he was in Oklahoma. I’m saying, Oklahoma State, a great program, and they’re in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and that happened for him. You think about Kentucky and what that means if that guys comes here. Or I’ll give you another one: You look at guys that go to another school – and I’m not even mentioning Kentucky – they go to another school and all of a sudden they explode. What would have happened if they went to the pro league? Now, their marketing dollars aren’t the same. You can lose hundreds of millions of dollars. So, here’s what I keep saying: If kids want to do that or families are set, I have no problem. That’s fine. We need kids here that aren’t coming here that, ‘I’ve got to play 35 minutes and take 35 shots, and I’ve got to be the only guy on the team.’ That’s not our culture here and never will be. You’ve got to come here and fight for what you want. When I see Immanuel Quickley playing and doing the things he’s doing, you think about that kid’s fight, what he did. The kids that fight through this end up making it and their brand is built over time. So, I don’t really think we’re competing. If a kid has an interest in that, he’s not coming to Kentucky. That’s just my opinion. If they look at this and see the overall picture, we call it the Kentucky Effect. The shoe contracts are more, endorsements are more. You may name a player that went to college, and I say to you if he went to one of the pro leagues, what would it have done for him? Now they say, ‘We’re going to build it.’ Well, I’m talking right now. Maybe in five years it’s different, but it isn’t right now. So, yes, they’re out there. Yes, kids are going to do it. Yes, and I’m fine with it. There may be kids that I’ve encouraged to do it. But the others that want this, we’ll be fine.”

On how well Derrick Rose is playing for the New York Knicks ...

“Let me say that I was on with (New York Knicks President) Leon Rose last night. I said, ‘How about my man D-Rose?’ And Leon just said, ‘Can you imagine, this kid hasn’t aged. It’s like you’re watching it.’ I think the playoffs, for him, you’ll even see more. And do you know why I say that? There’s no back-to-back games. OK? Back-to-back games, you know, you had to watch minutes. My son is telling me, we’re watching, he’s played 30 minutes and he has 26 points. To see, one, that he’s a great teammate, he’s never changed. Two, he’ll create for teammates, yet he’ll take over the game if he has to. When he feels, ‘We need baskets and I’m the best to do it,’ he does it. If he thinks someone else gets it going – Julius (Randle), if he wants to throw a lob to Nerlens Noel, if wants Immanuel Quickley in the open court to go shoot that runner – he’s not ‘It has to be me.’ That’s not who he is. It is us winning. And I’ve seen him drag teams. He dragged our team. He made everybody on the team better. That’s who he is. But I’m so happy for him. Like, I’m ecstatic.”

On the benefits of a transfer vs. a top high school recruit …

“Here’s what I would say: If we go out and we get the kids that we want to recruit and we take a Reid (Travis), we take a Nate (Sestina), we take, you know, that kind of player to do this and fill in. This year was different. This year we had injuries, we had shortages, we had a couple of transfers. All of a sudden, thank goodness we could tap in to that market, but it’s not something we’re saying that we’re just going to live by it. But there are kids again, you’re transferring. How about you transfer from a place where you’re having the ball, you’re not really having to guard or you’re taking all of the shots, and you choose to come to Kentucky. That says a lot about you as a player which is, ‘I’m not worried about all of that. I want to see how good I can be. I want to be on the biggest stage and see if we can win a championship. I want more than just that.’ Some players want that, ‘I want to be the only guy. I want to play my minutes and I don’t care about them because I’m trying to show my stuff.’ Those are not the kids that come here. So you talk about all of the kids who came here that could have gone other places, could have gone an easier road, could have gone to a place that would guarantee them things, and they came here. So, this is a different place for that. But this year it’s good. I’m not sure where it will go going forward, but we’ll be evaluating. I’m just going to veer off here. That’s why I keep coming back to as the NCAA, we have to be able to be nimble and pivot with all this stuff we’re doing that’s changing the game. You can’t have it take two years to change something that had unintended consequences whether it’s the portal, whether its name, image, likeness. We may need to turn on a dime. Right now, it’s like you’re on an aircraft carrier. You need to be on a speedboat the next three years because we don’t know where any of this stuff is going. And we’re guessing and I’m guessing like everybody else. And my thoughts are always going to be three and four years out what this looks like with all of the leagues and all of the stuff and all of the transfers and the change of this, changing my staff. How do we take advantage? How do we stay the gold standard in all of this? Do you honestly think now all of you there, that people are watching how we deal with this? They are. How are we going to deal with the transfers? How are we going to deal with name, image and likeness? What are we going to do with this? And schools are watching. But if you’re looking at this and saying it’s the same it was and I’m not changing, you’re going to have a problem.”

On how much of what happened last year motivated him to change things up this offseason …

“Look, if anything went south on us it’s on me. It’s not on any staff member. Tony (Barbee) going to Central (Michigan), he wanted to be a head coach. He turned down a job a couple of years ago that I didn’t think he should have turned down and he needed to be a head coach. He is, you know, I love him. He’s a great basketball mind. He wanted to be a head coach. Now he has that opportunity. Joel (Justus) was in a situation where he wanted to move up. Joel did a great job. Again he was involved with kids recruiting, the relationships, the work he spent and now he’s at Arizona State in that role with a terrific coach in Coach (Bobby) Hurley. No, it wasn’t based on that, but it gives us a chance to regroup and look at how I want to do this going forward. So, yes, it played a part but it’s not why things happened. The other side of it is, the positions that Kyle (Tucker) was talking about you know, the player welfare. Who is that? What’s his role? What are his strengths? What can he do for the kids? How is he tied? Someone’s got to be in communication and tied a little bit as an information center. You ready? For parents. For parents. Many times, a kid transfers, it’s not him wanting to it’s his family saying you need to. ‘You’ve got to get more shots.’ How do we stay connected with them? But there’s a lot going on and I’m excited about what we’re doing and where it is, the kind of team we’ve pieced together. But you know, there’s a lot of work to do. Now we’ve got to get this summer and – you know, one of the things – I knew the summer was important to us. I never realized how important. Sometimes you get to where, ‘Well, when I start coaching them and I’ll coach them up.’ Well, I’ve always said I don’t have a magic wand and last year kind of proved it, wouldn’t you say? The second thing is, what we do when they come back to campus. How we start doing what we’re doing. This summer we’re getting back to getting involved in communities. We’re going to take the team in groups to different parts of the state for some community work just to touch people for both the state of Kentucky, but I want these players to realize the impact that they have in our state. You understand that this is important to our state and if it’s about bringing people together, doing things to make a difference for people’s lives, not trying to separate. The second piece of this is the camps that we get the satellite camps. I never realized how it gave our kids a chance to touch other young kids and have them see they’re importance, but also to be able to get into more different communities and see it. The conditioning, the weight strength, making them uncomfortable, getting them to understand about team. How about this? Being at my house once a week. Cooking out, swimming. We got rid of the trampoline, but having things–we didn’t do any of that. None. Well, guess what? We get back on campus first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to the house. Having them stay at my house on weekends. We couldn’t do anything. I never realized the importance, but this showed me the importance. There are a lot of things that we weren’t able to do that we get back to which is a part of that process.”