John Calipari spoke to the media before Kentucky travels to Chicago to face North Carolina.

John Calipari 

Transcript from UK Athletics 

Opening statement …
“Merry Christmas to everybody. We’re not going to see you until we are past it so I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Yesterday was a really special day for these players. We had Christmas for a bunch of families. They sang. They gave our presents. They met with the families. They served them food. They had conversations. They found out things about the families that kind of, you know – it kind of rocks you a little bit. It was a huge day for our players. I always look forward to the day because I want to see how our guys respond. Eric (Lindsey) and I talked – you look around the league (NBA) and our players are doing stuff for other families during this time. If I tell you every player, it probably is – some of them are more public about it. Some of them are more quiet and that doesn’t mean the guys that aren’t playing aren’t doing things. They probably are too. It’s one of my favorite days of the year when we are able to do that for my players and for the families.”

On the timing of having the Christmas for the families … 

“It really doesn’t have anything to do with – it’s where we can plug it in and where it makes the most sense for the families and where we have the time for our team because I don’t want to overload them with things. It’s a big day where your joy comes from you doing for someone else. It’s not what you’re gathering; it’s what you’re giving. I’m just telling you, it’s – for me to see it – one little girl had lost her mother in an accident, being raised by a grandmother. Another family, the father lost his job in the hallway before he walked in to have dinner. They just called him and said, ‘We’re laying you off.’ Now, it may have been a layoff for Christmas, I don’t know, but he’s able to enjoy this and have these players understand, only by the grace of God that’s not you or won’t be you. It has nothing to do with we beat Utah, we lost to Utah or who we have coming. It has nothing to do with that. This is one of those moments as a coach you get to teach more than just what it is in basketball. Kids did great academically. There was a lot of good news of what we’re doing. I like the team. We’re getting better. We still have some things that if we’re ever to truly break through they’re going to have to start doing, and I’ll talk to them about it. Yesterday’s practice was good, but it’s gotta be more player driven than coach driven. And you guys know every year similar to me saying you either win or you learn. When this team becomes empowered, that’s when they’ll take off. Now, I think I’ve probably said that every year. It’s gotta be team driven not coach driven. We’re still coach driven right now.” 

On North Carolina’s offense … 

“Well, they come at you a lot of different ways. They’re going to score points. We’re going to score points too. The games we’ve played against these guys in most cases it’s been two teams going right at each other. That’s how you’re going to have to play. Some of the shots they take are tough shots, but they make them. You can’t have that phase you. Texas was down I believe 17-5. You just keep playing. They came back and won. Gonzaga had them down and then they came back and won. I mean, they’re a team that’s going to score. You just try to make it difficult on them. The biggest thing is you have to rebound. We’ve been a good rebounding team until the last game. We’re going to have to rebound. They’re good. They’re a good team.” 

On Saturday’s game being another opportunity on a big stage … 

“I think there’s some people in our orbit who have not gotten over that first game yet. They haven’t. We all have. I just ask you this question, when we beat Kansas by 50 that year did they ever get over that game? You get over it. You keep playing. You keep going. But, in our orbit that seems to stand out. Well, let me just tell you something this team we’re playing is going to try and do the same thing to us. You’re either going to fight, be willing passers to make the game easy for us, make the game as hard as you can for them and they may score anyway and just move on to the next play. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re getting better, but until they are empowered they’re not going to be what we’re all looking for them to be. I’m telling you, we’re still – yesterday was a coach-driven practice. It can’t. At some point it has to be player driven. We’re trying some things, we’re doing some things, we’re moving some people around. There’s stuff I like that we’re doing. It’s just different here because there’s no like here’s how we’re going to play. There’s basics of like defensively and offensively, but exactly what we’re going to run and how we’re going to defend pick-and-rolls. It changes year to year because our team changes. That’s why it takes time. That’s why we rely on the process as you’re trying to get through. You’re trying to win as many games as you can, but it becomes a process.”

On EJ Montgomery at the three … 

“It just gives us a longer team. It gives us somebody with length. He went in again and got two quick offensive rebounds last game, but the game got a little rough. Talking to him about that, sustaining when you feel – making yourself uncomfortable so you can play when you’re uncomfortable. In other words, you’re a little winded. They’re playing a little more physical than you’re used to, but you’ve got to be able to play through that. Young players, it’s hard for them.”

On an attribute all Roy Williams’ teams have … 

“They play fast. They get it up the court in a hurry. They look for quick post-ups. They through their point guard a lot. That player is a vital position for them. He does a great job every year.”

On UNC’s turnovers against Gonzaga and if that’s something they’ll look to take advantage of … 

“They beat them. If we beat them, they can have five turnovers. I don’t really care. They’re like us. We had five or six last game. Is that any indication? We’ve had 19. We’ve had big guys throw it all over the place. We’ve had some guards throw it all over the place. They’ve got some young players that they’re playing and then they’ve got some veterans who kind of settle them down. A couple of seniors. They’re really good. Really good.”

On who is four and five is with Montgomery at the three …

“It gives me a chance to maybe look at Nick (Richards) in there with EJ and then one of those other kids at the four. Just trying to play some zone. You would think we would be better with that bigger lineup in a zone. We’re OK. Still trying to figure that stuff out too.”

On the Christmas present that has brought the most joy to Brad Calipari’s face over the years …
“Well, when he was a little kid, I always used to say, ‘There’s no one that has more fun than you. No one.’ So, he would enjoy any of this. But the funny thing is if you go to our tree, you know how people make ornaments when they’re 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 and they make an ornament or a candy cane? For probably eight straight years it was his picture in something was his ornament. So you have kinds of Brad pictures on our tree. So he must be like his mother, I guess. Likes seeing pictures of himself, I guess. [Laughter.]”

On if he’s eager to find out how his young guys respond to the moment of Saturday …
“I’m excited about every game we play because it gives us a chance to see where we are. We’re going through practice with one thought: Let’s get better today. And then let’s see where we are. Everything is an experience with this team. You can’t learn about your team against Popcorn State. How many years have I been here? Ten? You win or you learn. Empower your team. I really like my team [Laughter.] I mean, 10 years has been about the same pace of the (past) teams. Some teams started ahead because more guys returned. Some teams started behind this team because of trying to play all freshmen or what we returned or didn’t return. But yeah, we’re just trying to do this and methodically do it. I want to enjoy walking into a game, and I will this weekend. I enjoyed walking into the Utah game. In the morning I was saying, ‘It’s game day! Let’s go! It’s game day!’ Trying to say, this is why we do this. And you know, it’s hard for these kids because the stuff piles up on them a little bit. But it’s the life they chose so let’s go, let’s play these games. We don’t have an easy game the rest of the way. Like, there’s no, ‘Alright, you’re going to win by 20.’ No. Every game is going to come down to it. We’ve worked on situations some. We’ve talked about situations some – more than we had at the beginning of the year. The Seton Hall game probably showed me more than anything else (that) we need to spend more time because we’re going to be in close games and they need to know how to finish a game. But at the end this team has to be empowered. It’s got to be a player-driven team, not a coach-driven team. And that’s every day. I’m trying to work on it every day to get them to take on more, to talk more, to talk to each other, to huddle more, to make it that. But that happens over a period of time.”

On the challenges of facing Luke Maye …
“He plays as hard as he can play on every possession. There’s no take off a possession or two. He can do it in the post and he can do it shooting 3s. He’s got a little fadeaway, step-away that he’s starting to shoot. But here’s the best thing: He’s a good athlete. Not a great, great athlete. He’s averaging 10 and a half rebounds a game. He just works harder than the other guy. So if you take possessions off, he will rebound on you and get baskets. Whoever is playing him, you cannot take possessions off. You can’t, ‘Well, it’s just one play. What’s the big deal?’ That player plays on every possession, which is why he does what he does. He’s not going to outrun you, outjump you – even though he’s a better athlete than you think. He’s a grinder. Makes you have to play.”

On if this s a good time of the year to get Jemarl Baker Jr. up to speed conditioning wise with no classes and all basketball …
“He’s been way better. Like, I had to remind them. Do you guys understand Seton Hall – what was that, seven games ago [sarcasm]? – that we had to walk down the bench (and say), ‘Do you think you can go in the game and play?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘No, really. You go in there, you haven’t practiced but two days, three days. Can you do this?’ So, we’re trying to define his role a little bit. I’m telling you, I’m watching, he’s trying like crazy. He’s working. And so he’s going to have opportunities to play. But again, he’s been here two years and practiced three weeks.”

On if Baker has forgiven him for forgetting him until the end of the Seton Hall game …
“No, we didn’t talk about it. But I’ve done that before with guys. Like I’ve walked up, ‘Oh, I forgot you were down here.’ I get wrapped up in the game and I’m not looking at the bench (saying), ‘Who can I please? Who can I make mad?’ You know. I’m not mad. I’m coaching the game. But he did good though.”

On if that sends a message to a kid that he needs to do more to get in his mind whether that’s intentional or not …
“No. It’s been good players, it’s been bad players, it’s been walk-ons. It’s been my whole career where I go down and say, ‘Hey, if you want go in, fine. If you don’t, don’t go in, because I forgot you were here.’ I can’t forget Brad because I feel his mother’s eye across the way staring at me.”

On Roy Williams’ contract extension taking him through 2028 and what he’ll be doing in 2028 …

“2028? Is that what they (did)? That’s what they did? How old would (he be)? [Reporter: He’s 68 now.] Yeah, am I’m 48 now [sarcasm]. I don’t know. I don’t know. The thing that’s great about this position is it took me until the age of 50 to get the job so I’m not so much in a hurry to walk away from it. But for me, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing for these kids. When did they do that? [Reporter: Yesterday.] Alright, I’ll talk to our people. [Laughter.] Thanks, guys. Merry Christmas!”

Facebook Comments