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John Calipari and Wildcats preview Alabama

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Another week, another big road test for the surging Wildcats.

Calipari. Grady. Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are set for a Tuscaloosa showdown Saturday night with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

On Friday, head coach John Calipari, senior guard Kellan Grady and freshman guard TyTy Washington met with the media to preview the first of two matchups with Bama this season.

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

John Calipari

Opening statement …

“Hello. Folks, before I get started, I just saw the other day it was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and, you know, the 50th anniversary of Title IX. So, I’m going to do some stuff and I’m going to beg your forgiveness, but we’ve got to talk about this campus and then some other things about women and what has happened for them here. Volleyball, our women’s program won the national title, player of the year, Madison Lilley. Think about that. Jensen Castle won the U.S. Amateur, and I’ve got to look at these because there are a number of names here, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in golf. Mary Tucker, shooter of the year and a silver medal at the Olympics. And our women’s track, you think about this, Sydney McLaughlin won two medals. Jasmine Camacho (Quinn) won a gold medal. Keni Harrison and Javianne Oliver won silver medals. And how about softball? Abby Steiner won a national championship and set college records. Kayla Kowalik, best catcher in softball. I’m sorry, Abby Steiner was track. And swimming and diving won their first SEC title. Our women’s basketball team, they come in our practices. The same with me, I’m here to help all of them, but I’ll tell you what, they have to be recognized for what they’re doing.

Now, I’ve got to do this. We started the McClendon initiative, and we coaches, what we said was, you know, if we want to have more diversity within athletics, we’re going to have to step up and do something ourselves to get it started. The McClendon Foundation, the McClendon Leadership Initiative, that’s what it’s about. It was not only men of color. It was about women running athletic departments, being presidents of universities, running businesses. So, I’m going to name some names who have gone through the program or are in the program that are females right now.

Ro Rhodes, you all know her. I think she could be an athletic director within 10 years. I really believe that. Verona Clark, Erica Hanserd, who’s here now, Sarana Hyatt, Gabby Little, Alexis Mallory, these aren’t just at Kentucky. These young ladies are all over the country. Michelle McLeod, Jazzmine Folston, Nicole Snyder, Taylor Buford, Loren Harris, Simone Wark, Tori Tia Joseph, Denise Bradford, Bria Cade, Eryca Bennett, Whitney Ashley, Tori Ray, Divya Tunwal, Rosa Jones, Diandra Waler, and again I’m doing this without glasses. I should get two claps for that. DeAndra Greer, Cameron Almaraz, Averi Salvador, Faith McKee, Maria Yim, Jasmin Wooten, Ishita Tiberwal.

Now, why I say all those names, this is the beginning and what we hope is these young ladies make a change for all of us. That they go from what they’re doing within athletic departments, moving up within athletic departments, being in the NBA, which some of them now are, going to the NFL, which some of them now are, and having opportunities. This is about access and opportunity. It is not a handout; it is a hand up. Access and opportunity. When I call coaches about their McClendon leaders, I’m telling you the biggest term they use: stars. They are stars. This woman, we’re hiring her here. Ro Rhodes is with the Bobcats (Charlotte Hornets). That’s what this is about, and what’s happening on this campus for women, all they need is the chance, and you see what happens. Anyway, I thought that was important that I did that today.”

On how he prepares for teams like Alabama that are really up and down, really good against some ranked opponents and not against others …

“You got to watch more tape. You got to watch tape when they didn’t play as well. Was it the other team or them? Then you’ve gotta watch tape when they really played well, did they do something different? Was the other team doing something different that led to them to play well? So, you get bogged down in tape, and what you try not to do, as you guys know me, I’m more concerned about how my team plays than somebody else’s. If they’re at their best and we’re at our best and they beat us, we move on to the next game. But you always try to take a couple things away from them, and then you’re trying to take advantage of a couple things on offense, not much because at the end of the day, you’re on the road, they beat some of the top ranked teams in the country, it’s going to be a really hard game for us to win, we know that. So, I’ll tell you what happened yesterday. I came in, we had a film session, went home, sat in my chair, and had no desire to come back for that 3 o’clock practice. None. Like, I was thinking of calling in and saying I got COVID, just anything. I didn’t want to go in. So, I went in. Now, when I told the players, ‘If I feel that way, I know you feel that way. Let’s get a good hour in.’ You know what? You talk about a veteran group, you talk about a group that understands, and they did it. The second thing I had to show them was if anybody watched the Vanderbilt tape, how do you think teams are going to come out and play us? What do you think they’re going to do? Jerry (Tipton), you watched it, what do you think they’ll do? Beat us up. Grab, do whatever, push, block out facing the guy, do whatever you want. How about on a screen, Jerry, what are they telling them to do, when you go to screen Kentucky? Bang them. You bang them. So now I said, we have to enjoy that kind of game. You can’t shy away from it. If they want to play that way, we got to win anyway. But that’s the kind of stuff when you have a veteran team, they understand. If you’re a kind of guy that shies away from that kind of play, you’re going to play less. Accept it. But the biggest thing for us and you as a player, I said it’s like math. I couldn’t stand math, so I got B-pluses instead of As. Literally, I got some Ds in math because I couldn’t stand math. Calculus, I couldn’t even spell calculus, let alone take it. Well, if I can’t stand it, how am I going to be in it? Not good. It’s the same with that kind of play. You’ve got to relish it, take joy in it, ‘come on’, and then the back and forth. Now, my thing is, if they do it to us, we got to be able to do it to them without my guys getting four or five fouls. Let us all do it. But, let’s relish it, let’s go, here we go, if you want to play that way, we’re playing. So those are the kind of messages that I’m giving, and on a day when we were all exhausted, and I didn’t play, but I was into the game.”

On how difficult it is for a team to gear up for a third highly ranked opponent in a row like Alabama is right now …

“Way easier than trying to gear it up for a team that you think you can beat, that’s hard. That’s hard. The other way, they’ll play, they know who they’re playing. It’s going to be sold out, like always. They can say, ‘This game, it’s Kentucky. Here we come.’ So, they’ll be ready whether they played four ranked teams, and the crazy thing is they beat one and played well in the other.”