Coach John Calipoari and players Reid Travis, EJ Montgomery spoke to the media before UK travels to New York and play Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden. Lots of talk about defense, specifically Ashton Hagans’ defense.

John Calipari 

Reid Travis

EJ Montgomery 

Transcript of quotes from UK Athleitcs

Head Coach John Calipari

On other players alluding to Ashton Hagans’ defense kick starting the defensive effort for the other players … 

“Yeah, and Tyler Herro who anticipates better than anybody on the team and is playing with more defensive confidence. And what’s it doing to him offensively? It’s building his confidence and now he’s become a confident player. How was he for the first couple of weeks of the season? He wasn’t real confident because he was getting killed on defense. Ashton is being more confident because of how he’s playing on defense. It’s just going to be a step at a time. Immanuel (Quickley), we just need him to be more aggressive, to react more and process and just react to stuff versus the processing because it slows him down.”

On getting the team to buy into the mindset of defensive intensity … 

“Well, we’re going every day. I’ve got the treadmill revved up. If anybody goes half speed, get on the treadmill. I’m not going to fight you. Just get over there. If it becomes we’re in the middle of a drill and practice went from two hours to two hours and 10 minutes because we’ve had to wait on you, if it keeps happening I’m going to go to two and a half hours because we’re going to wait. You’re going to do it and then you’ll come back over and work. That should be short-term stuff for us as a program. This is acceptable. This is not. Now make it part of who you are and then you move on. I just have to raise the bar on what and how we’re going to have to play. At the end of the day, if we’re a defensive-driven team we’re going to be pretty good. If we’re not, we’re not going to be very good. When will you start working on turnovers, Coach? After we get the defense right we’ll start thinking about turning it over too much. Right now we just can’t throw too much at these guys. We’re doing drills that are really basic, fundamental. Should have been learned a long time ago, but that’s fine. That’s where we are.”

On Nick Richards’ practices this week … 

“Better. He had blocks yesterday. He did some good stuff yesterday. Really, really good. I was happy for him.” 

On playing only three post players … 

“They’ll know in practice how they’re playing. I’m going to talk to all four of them and explain why I’m doing what I’m doing and what led me to this. You can’t have two guys not play well on the floor. Like, two not playing and competing. Now, they’re getting minutes. But, when you only have three and that one guy doesn’t bring it and you only play him 15 minutes, you’re okay. That’s been the issue. You can’t have two of the four not absolutely diving on the floor for every ball, and that’s why I went with three. My chances of having two out there were better, and you see it. If they all four play and we start playing four and they’re competing, I’m good with that. But, I’m not doing it right now. (I’ve) got to coach to win. I’ll deal with the egos later. Again, I like the fact that they’ve got to compete for their time.”

On previously saying Reid Travis and PJ Washington couldn’t play with one another because of the lack of a shot blocker and what’s changed since then … 

“(They’ve been) a little bit better. Reid’s not even the same player that he was back in the Bahamas. I mean, he’s so different and so much better. The one thing that I’ve told our bigs, you’re trying to draw fouls versus score the basketball. We have one guy of the bigs who does not try to draw fouls. he’s trying to score. Who is that if you watch the games? EJ (Montgomery). He runs from the contact. So, that’s why he isn’t drawing a foul.”

On if Montgomery is avoiding contact because he’s not confident in his body … 

“Yeah, but I’m good with that because he’s trying to score. Even though he fades away he’s trying – the other guys, all three of them, they’re not worried about scoring; they’re just worried about drawing a foul. How many fouls do they draw? Not enough. Offensive. How many one-footers have we missed this year? We probably miss three or four a game. A game. One-foot shots. How did you miss that? Well, you weren’t thinking about making it. There’s things that when we watched that we now try to work on and get them to think different. Like I said, we’re doing a lot of basic stuff. We’re way better than we were. Now, we have another game on the road against an opponent that’s going to bring it and have a swagger and an attitude about themselves. Which, we need to be playing teams like that. They have good size. They have a guy like No. 10 (UNCG’s Francis Alonso). They have that kid who runs the baseline and comes off staggered screens and shoots it and shoots most of the balls for them. He’s good. The Myles (Powell) kid is good.”

On how much of a challenge it will be to defend Seton Hall’s Myles Powell …

“Hopefully we’ll put the right guys on him to start the game so it’s not 5-0. We don’t spot them five (points). It’s a challenge, and the other thing with it is you can’t foul. So maybe he’s going to make some tough shots; you just can’t foul. So whoever’s on him and how we play that, you’ve got to play him to make it tough, but he still may score baskets. When you have that ultimate green light you make baskets because, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m going to shoot the next one, I’ll shoot the next one. I’m going to make one of these.’ It’s a different way of thinking about it.”

On Hagans’ improvement on defense …

“Well, the focus you have to have to defend. We’re really working hard on off-the-ball defense. I mean, working every day, and making – ‘Look at you. You’re looking the wrong way. Where is the ball?’ So it’s – I’m telling you, again, it’s stuff they should have had before they came here, but it’s obviously they didn’t and he’s one of them. Immanuel (Quickley) off the ball. Tyler off the ball. Keldon (Johnson) off the ball, gosh, you might as well play 5-on-4. And you stop him and he almost laughs because he knows like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am like not even in this play.’ It’s like you’re playing box-and-1 when he’s on the floor. Like, he’s over there playing and the rest of us are trying here.”

On if he sees more inexperienced defenders coming out of high school than he used to …

“I forget, to be honest with you. Here’s what I mean (when I say) I forget. I forget how bad last year’s team was at the beginning. All I remember was how we made a run at the end in the NCAA Tournament. We should have been in the Final Four. That’s what I remember. And then I’m excited, I go, and I get a little break, and then I get back into this and it’s like I’m (going) 106 (miles per hour). Then you move too fast and then you – every year I do the same thing. Move too fast, we’re alright, we got it, and then I’ve got to go right back on the grind. And it is a grind, but, like I said, I’m in a good frame of mind right now dealing with my team and helping these guys. Anytime that I feel awful, I always say to myself, if I feel this way, how do I think these kids feel? They’re 18 and 19 years old. Are they scared? Are they anxious? Are they questioning? And if they’re that way then my job is to help them and forget about me and how I feel. But if I’m really tired then I know they’re really tired.”

On Hagans embracing the idea of being a stopper …

“I just told him, if you really like playing, then be that guy. You’re going to play a lot. If you don’t like playing, go over there and joke around a little bit. Do your stuff, make the hardest pass you can make, and then come over here and cheer like crazy.’ I mean, it’s not — you tell him, ‘Here’s how I need you to play. If you want to play this way then come over here and help us.’ He knows that’s how he is, but again the discipline all these kids need, it’s hard when you’re 18 and 19 years old to have the kind of discipline you need to win at the level we’re trying to win at. What do they say our experience is out of 353 schools? [Sports information director Eric Lindsey: 352nd out of 353 teams.] I don’t know how they do it because of Reid (Travis). Does that mean he didn’t play for me? So even if he’s that, we’ve got to be 250 out of 350 if you throw him in. And inexperience leads to lack of discipline. That’s the biggest thing. Second thing is lack of trust. Well, why do you have lack of trust? Because you’re never in the right place to help each other because you have no discipline, which means you can’t trust each other, and I better worry about my own man, which is how they all play. Then in high school, because they were going to shoot 35 balls a game – each of them – what was their coach saying? ‘Do not foul.’ So they just let people run around and then they shot the ball and then the guy ran around them and then they shot the ball. And then they come here and they’ve got to pass the ball, which is why we turn it over right now. I’ve got a couple of guys in there, they’re not the worst passers I’ve ever coached – a couple of guys – but they’re in the conversation.”

On Tyler Herro saying he’s not the worst passer and that he’s actually the best passer …

“Who is? [Reporter: Tyler Herro.] Have you seen some of the passes he’s made? [Laughter.] Did you debate with him? Like, ‘When you look like that and throw it to the other team, why did you do that?’ ‘Because that should have been completed.’ ‘Really?’ ”

On a recent positive example of where they’ve helped each other …
“Well, they’re starting to pick each other up. Like, if we’re doing a drill and a guy goes down or takes a charge or gets a loose ball, they all go pick him up. I’m watching to see if there’s one guy that’s not. Believe me, I’m watching. ‘Get on the treadmill. If you don’t want to be a part of this, get over on that treadmill.’ Trying to say we’ve all got to do this. We’ve all go to trust that we’re going to do it. And then you’ve got to play better opponents. And here’s what happens with a better opponent: You really gotta trust and you’ve really got to have discipline because it’s not going to be a 15-mintue game. I’m going to be a 40-minute game. And so you’ve gotta do this for 40 minutes, and if you have no discipline, there’s no chance of you doing it for 40 minutes. That’s why you have to get guys out of the game. That’s why you go with three bigs, because if this guy is not bringing it, you’ll play 10 minutes and these guys will play all the minutes. And if you do good I’ll put you in for a lit bit and if you do good, fine, but I’ve got two that are going. We’re just trying to get to that – you know, in the second half vs. Greensboro, a couple of my friends called and said, ‘Now they look like one of your teams.’ I said, ‘What about the first half?’ ‘I’m saying the second half.’ ‘Now they look like one of your teams.’ But it’s all a process of what we go through and I’ll say it again: It’s painful and it ages you. But, it is what it is. You’ve just gotta go do it and do it for these young kids.”

On the loud crowd on Saturday and the fans recognizing good basketball …
“These fans here – as we know here, we have four million basketball coaches in our state, and all they really want to see is play really hard and compete. Now, they really want us to win, but they know the best chance of winning is playing that way. And then they want to see unselfish, good basketball. They know what good basketball looks like and they know what bad basketball looks like. Lack of effort, they know what it looks like. How about this? You have three or four guys going crazy and that one guy decides I’m just not going to. He stands out. He just stands out. And then my job is to make sure he doesn’t stand out for very long. You’re out. ‘Well, every time I don’t play hard he takes me out.’ And then everybody, the four million coaches in the state say, ‘He should have got you out earlier.’ And so, we’re getting there though. They’re starting to accept it. I made a statement to them yesterday: As a coach, I cannot want it more for the individual player more than he wants it for himself. And I can’t want it for the team more than they want it for themselves. It just doesn’t work and it’s too hard and it’s not fun, and then you’ve got to get tough and nasty and all the other stuff. Come on now, we’ve got a bunch of guys with something at stake individually. Go play. ‘More shots.’ No, no, no. Dive on the floor. Take a charge. Go rebound in traffic. Don’t have them jerked out of your hand and lay it in. No. Be that guy. Sprint that court. Make that easy pass. ‘Whew, that’s hard. Can I just get more shots?’ I mean, that’s where we’re just all over it. Let’s go. And this team is capable. You know, it was funny, yesterday we had coaches in here watching us, and the one coach came up to me and said. ‘Reid never takes his eye off you. When you talk, he’s watching the whole time.’ Like, it’s incredible that this kid is so focused. He’s on a mission. How about if we had everyone on that same mission? I mean, now all a sudden this thing gets a little crazy. I just want people to respect that we have really good players who are not playing to the level they’re capable of playing. But we’ve got really good players. Don’t think we don’t. But if you don’t compete and if you don’t fight to win – if you don’t fight for your space – you look like you’re just OK. ‘I thought it was supposed to be better.’ Well, compete, go do it. We have those kind of guys who can do it. Every day is that process we’re working on.”

Kentucky Players

#23, EJ Montgomery, Fr., F

On the upcoming trip to New York …
“Looking forward to going out there, having fun and getting the ‘W’. We’ve been practicing pretty hard, just getting ready for the game.”

On having more time to prepare, with no mid-week game this week …
“We’ve been working on everything. Getting reps in on defense, offense. Trying to work hard and work together.”

On the competition between the four ‘bigs’ …
“It’s definitely been a battle every day. Just trying to go hard. Trying to get that spot on the court. Nobody wants to sit. Just go out there and compete every time you step on the floor.”

On if the ‘bigs’ know who the three bigs who will play are …
“You never know. You just have to compete every day in practice and whatever (John Calipari) thinks is the best three, that’s who he’s going to play.”

On if he knew he would face that type of competition when he came to UK …
“That’s what I signed up for. I came here to get better and that’s one way I can get better is competing every day and not slacking off. Competing with those big guys, trying to get playing time on the floor.”

On where he thinks his game is improving …
“Just trying to compete on every play. Trying to get better on defense every day and just going out there and being a teammate and getting wins.”

On where he is comfortable on offense …

“Post-up, mid-range, getting offensive rebounds, things like that.”

On what Coach Cal wants to see from him to get him more minutes …
“Definitely effort and defense. That’s what all the big guys, he’s emphasizing that’s what we have to do to get more playing time.”

On how much learning he’s had to do on defense …
“A lot of things, it’s a whole different game. I learned the basics in high school, but college is a whole different level. We’ve just got to learn and keep going.”
On if the team looks to PJ Washington when they need energy …
“Yeah, he’s one of those leaders that we have on the team. We just go to him when you need that energy, that boost. He just leads us to get the win.”

On playing in Madison Square Garden …
“I actually played there in high school in the Dick’s National Championship Game and I won that game, so I’m hoping to get another win. As a high school (player), it was very big. All the greats that have played on that court, it was a special moment.”

#22, Reid Travis, Gr., F

On the difference in this team from the Duke game until now …

“Just mature. That’s the biggest thing with our team, is each week we go back, watch the film. We grow from each game. So now that we got some of those games under our belt, we got more practice under our belt, you’re going to see a lot more mature team out there as far as playing together, talking, doing certain things on defense that we didn’t do the first game. It’s just exciting to go out there and show that we’ve progressed and learned from the first game.”

On what it’s like to play in Madison Square Garden …

“It’s crazy. It’s crazy. When you’re walking through the halls and you see all the pictures of people that have done concerts there, the big games that are there, you can just feel it. When you get in the building, there’s a different feeling about it. I’m excited to get back there and just feel that feeling and just try to put on a good game on Saturday.”

On Ashton Hagans’ impact in the last game …

“It was game-changing. When he can disrupt the other team’s point guard like that, make them go into different sets and disrupt like that, it’s going to be big for us because it brings energy to everybody. When you have someone on the ball that’s doing what he’s doing, everyone kind of picks it up, starts to talk more, starts to get more active. So the more he does that, the better our team defense is going to be.”

On Hagans’ potential to flip the switch on UK’s energy as a team …

“Yeah. He can spearhead it for sure. When he’s out there leading it with his energy, making big plays, doing things like that, you have no choice but to follow suit. When you’ve got five guys on the court doing similar things to what he’s doing, I think that’s really a great defensive team. So we’re all trying to thrive to get to that point.”

On whether the bigs know where they stand in the pecking order …

“It’s not cut and dried as far as exactly him (Coach Cal) telling you these are the three, but you can just judge off the way that you’re performing in practice. If you know that you’ve been working hard, playing well, then you should be in the rotation and should be getting your opportunities when the game starts. It’s just about you not worrying about where you fall within that position, but just worrying about what you can control in practice, which is just going out there trying to compete every day. If you feel comfortable and you feel good with the effort you put throughout the week of practice, you should be all right when the game comes.”

On how excited they are to play in New York …

“Very excited. Anytime we can kind of get away and play at a big neutral site like that and play against another big-time program, we’re excited for it. We’ve had a good week of prep, preparing ourselves and really think this is a big game to put ourselves on the right step as we go into more nonconference games.”

On having more time between games …

“It’s different. We got a lot of time to work on ourselves. Practice can be longer. We can start working on different things and really just fine-tune details and things like that, which is nice when you don’t have a game right in the middle of the week that you have to prepare for. I think we’ll make jumps in the next couple weeks just because we’ll have a full week of prep for all these games.”

Facebook Comments