John Calipari spoke to the media before his team faces off against Houston in Kansas City in the Sweet 16.

John Calipari 

JOHN CALIPARI: I just want to say, is PJ playing? Does anybody know here whether he’s playing? I don’t know. So we will see. That’s my statement. No questions?

THE MODERATOR: Very smart class.

John Calipari.
Photo by Drew Brown

Q. Coach, there has been so much talked about PJ. What has the last several days been like with getting the cast off, mentally and physically for him?

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. He was up here. I imagine you asked him, but somebody said — he didn’t practice yesterday and they said, “Did you see him?”

Yeah, I saw him sitting on the sideline.

I have not seen him — he’s been on an ultra, ultra G, which takes his weight, lightens him up so he can get used to running.

Thank goodness the game is at 9:00. We have more time. It’s the first time I’ll ever say this. I wish it was at 10:00. But, you know, greatest thing for him is the doc said that you can’t hurt yourself. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t let him play.

Doc said, “You’re going to be in pain after the game if you do play, but you know how much pain can you deal with.”

He wants to play. Now, it’s can he play? We don’t know. If anybody is guessing, you know, we just don’t know yet.

Q. Following up on that, what will go into your decision about whether he plays or not, and how different of a team are you with PJ versus without?JOHN CALIPARI: Well, it’s been awhile since we had PJ and Reid, like Reid was out for almost three weeks. And then we played with Reid and he together for two games, and then PJ has been out for literally two weeks.

So, it would be nice to have a full team, but this is what’s happened. Fate has intervened sometimes in our lives, some of it good and some of it bad. And then you look at it thinking this is bad, but it gave EJ and Nick a chance. When PJ went down, it gave us a chance to put Keldon at the 4 and it gave Jemarl Baker a chance to play.

So, in the end of the day, maybe it helped us. But, we’re not — if anybody in this tournament right now takes their best player off the court, they’re not going to be as good. I can spin it, you can spin it, you can say well, take your best player off the court and let’s play basketball. Like — we’re not as good without him. There’s no question.

Q. John, do you think he’ll practice today? Is that the plan or —
JOHN CALIPARI: I didn’t ask him. I kind of stay out of these decisions. Unless the doctor tells me he can hurt himself, then he wouldn’t have a decision to make. If this one — you ask me how will I make a decision? Probably be him. If he goes in and he’s 80 percent, then I won’t play him. If he goes in, he plays well and he says “sub me,” I’ll sub him. I’m ready to go. I’ll put him back in.

Q. You mentioned a little bit about how you’ve been playing with a lineup in the absence of PJ and Reid over past few weeks. Now that Reid is back, how has he and other members of the team stepped up during the first two games of the tournament?JOHN CALIPARI: Part of our deal was to let’s survive so PJ gets a chance to play. This is an important time for all these kids. Like I don’t take that lightly, and I understand and respect these kids. What they go through in this tournament at this time with the social media, with what’s at stake for them individually, the clutter they hear.

This stuff is hard. And so we’re out there. The last two games we started four freshmen and made it even tougher. But, you know, I think that they survived, and now he gets a chance to perform.

Because he hadn’t played for a couple weeks, people may forget how good he is. He’s an All American. But in the interim Reid has done well. Now Reid has stepped up his game and the physicalness that he plays with. And EJ played 11 rebounds one game, and Nick is blocking shots. Jemarl Baker comes in and plays his butt off. All of a sudden, you know, we become a little different.

Let me just say this: Knowing Kelvin for as long as I have, what he’s done with the program, the culture that he’s created, if you don’t respect — one, his plays are really good. Obviously he can coach. They defend, they rebound, they share, they can shoot 3s. If you don’t respect them, you’re losing whether it’s us or anybody else.

I’m just — I’m amazed. 10, 12, 13 years ago, we were going to Houston to play, to see it where it is now, now it’s incredible what they’ve done. They’re players. They’re not afraid. They have a swagger about them. They play with unbelievable energy. They defend like crazy and they rebound every basketball they attempt to rebound. So, it’s going to be a hard game for us to win with PJ or without PJ.

Q. How much of this is a balancing between knowing he probably does want to play and wanting to win this game and also knowing if you’re going to make it further, you probably want or need him to be healthy?

JOHN CALIPARI: If he’s at 80 percent and I see it, I probably — I’ll say, “hey, man, let’s just wait. We’ll figure out if we can do this without you.”

If he’s terrific, I mean what I did with Reid, I asked Reid, “How many minutes did I play you when you came back?” He played 15, 18 minutes.

If PJ plays more than that, I would be stunned, surprised. If he doesn’t play at all, I would not be surprised. So, we’ll just laugh to see.

Q. You’re one of four SEC teams that made it to the Sweet 16. How much does that speak to kind of competitiveness in the conference?
JOHN CALIPARI: Let me go back to this, too. Vanderbilt lost their best player who they were building around, is going to be a top 7, 8, 10 pick in the draft.

Missouri lost their big guy early in the year. He would have also been a Top 10, 12 pick in the draft.

Those are two teams that slid because of those injuries. When you talk about that on top of the seven teams that made it and maybe one more could have, every game was a war. There were no easy games in our league for any team, which is why we benefited now.

I like to say that when you’re at Kentucky, a lot of type times teams have nothing to lose when they play you, not a thing to lose. At our place, they don’t think — nothing to lose.

The greatest thing — we have everything to lose. If we lose a game, oh, my goodness. We lose a home game, they got a list of who the next coach is going to be. It’s one of these six guys.

So, I say that in that in this tournament, what’s good, has something to lose. We have nothing — oh, yeah, you do. Your season ends.

We’re all in the same boat. You know, hopefully, again, our team understands how good, how well coached, how balanced, how deep Houston is, or it will be us going home.

THE MODERATOR: We are halfway through the session.

Q. This is your 10th year as head —

JOHN CALIPARI: 70. The dog years at Kentucky. Seven times ten is 70.

Q. During that time you’ve had eight Sweet 16s. I guess that’s 56 Sweet 16s. Not bad. But you’ve talked throughout this year about players coming to Kentucky and getting better.

I assume that you think you’re a better coach now than when you first appeared on campus. How has being the head coach at the University of Kentucky made you a better basketball coach?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, let me — can I filibuster this one?

THE MODERATOR: Sure. It’s your time.

JOHN CALIPARI: Here is what’s changed for me personally: That first year I knew John Wall would leave. He was that good. I didn’t know who else would go.

I told John Wall, “Don’t you leave here by yourself. You take people with you.”

He took four other first rounders with him.

I was like, what just happened? So then everybody got mad and you can’t do this this way. And then we had another group come in, took us to a Final Four, and those four left. Brandon Knight, that crew. Then we have three freshmen start the next year and brand new team and we win the national title.

What it does when you’re changing teams like this, it keeps you curious. You have to be. You have to look and say how do we play with this team? What drills do we use? Do we invent new drills? We’re doing things with this team that we’ve never done with any other team because we had to. It does keep you younger. There’s no lesson plan year to year. It’s all new.

And then the other thing at Kentucky, it keeps you on your toes based on the fact that there’s an expectation you win every single game by 20. If you’re not winning every single game by 20, something is wrong. And if you — if you’re into reading all the stuff or listening to the people in the seats, you’ll be up there with them shortly.

It’s a different deal. I told this team, you guys have given me years back on my life coaching you, this team. I’ve had others that have added years to my life, okay, but it’s not this team. This team, they’ve tried, they listened. They’re gym rats. If I go in the office at 10:30 at night, they’re still in there I’ll have four guys in there. What are you doing?

So — here you better adapt to your team and you better figure out defensively and how do you play offensively? Like no one knows, because I don’t know until we start and we get through a season.

THE MODERATOR: We have time for three more questions.

Q. Coach, been a lot of the kind of underside of college basketball exposed here in the last year and a half with some of the investigations and wiretaps. What are your thoughts with where the sport is health-wise, and some of the things that have been kind of brought out, what can be done to fix some of those things?

JOHN CALIPARI: Some of the stuff that is out there, you know, I will say you knew there’s stuff that was going on but you’re surprised by some of it. But I think it’s a cleansing. You know, if you’re going to do something now, you’re going to get on the phone or you’re going to go meet with somebody and try to do something, you either got some chutzpah or you’re really stupid, like stupid. So I think it should be a cleansing. I think the NCAA now gets a chance to say, how do we deal with this stuff? They can clean the slate and start all over.

Q. Coach, how much of your team’s growth this year from start until now in your opinion has had to do with the Ashton Hagans and the role he’s played at both ends?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s changed who we are. He shoots it better — look, tomorrow they’re not playing him. They are going to trap the post and leave Ashton. I’m telling you, he can shoot. How can a guy shoot 85 percent from the free throw line and then not shoot as well from the floor? I don’t get it. And I’m telling him, it’s mental. Get in the gym.

He’s in the gym because he started shooting — making shots in practice. I’m like, “You’ve been in the gym?”

They’re all laughing. “Yeah, he’s been over here 10:30 at night,” knowing when I get shots, I’m making them in this game.

His defense, his ability to physically get by people and create for his teammates., he’s made us different.

But, Tyler Herro is really good, like he’s really good. Brad Stevens and I were talking. He told his young son what he was most impressed with with Tyler, he gave up his offense to guard Magee. And have to run around with Magee and gave up his offense. And he

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