Here’s everything that John Calipari had to say following UK’s annual Blue White Game in Rupp Arena on Sunday night:
Do you see yourself using that lineup with the three big guys Reid (Travis), Nick (Richards), and PJ (Washington) this season?
JOHN CALIPARI: “Yeah. Yup. PJ looked good at it. Part of it is PJ going against Reid is hard. It’s hard to get a basket, it’s hard to move, it’s hard to — he found the gaps and then he got confident and made a couple shots and all of a sudden he looks different. It’s hard going against him. It’s hard going against each other every day.”
Everyone knew Tyler was a shooter, but just the way he moves, his athleticism, has he surprised you with what you’ve seen?
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JOHN CALIPARI: “No, he’s still trying to figure it out. He took some bad shots and I had to stop him and say you’re not taking that. If that’s what’s there, don’t shoot it, pass it or move it or get a dribble handoff. You’re doing something, you’re not taking that shot. But we’re challenging him to drive the ball, so there were times he’s driving when he should just catch it and shoot it or one dribble or get it behind the handoff and shoot it. But when he goes too far, he may turn it over. There’s stuff we got to work on, but he’s doing pretty good.”
So much has been made about this team, lobbying to get in the gym and work on their game. In all your years of coaching how much correlation is there between the way a team practices and success later on in the year?
JOHN CALIPARI: “Well, the biggest thing I can tell you is the guys that spend the most time at this and they’re in the gym the most, at the end of the year end up doing the best for themselves. And if they’re playing that kind of basketball it’s really good for us, too. So demonstrated performance is about how hard they work and then being able to transfer it on to games. So today PJ didn’t look real good the first half. It was like oh my gosh, losing balls, missing shots, no rebounds, didn’t have a rebound.
“And then in the second half all of a sudden all the work that he’s been putting in, the extra work, shooting the ball, eliminating some movement in the shot, it pays off and all of a sudden now he’s making shots. Jemarl Baker same thing. Jemarl Baker now has been spending extra time with a coach, not himself, with a coach in that gym. Starts off 1-6. Bank, miss, miss. Well, he hasn’t played for a year. Then all of a sudden he gets comfortable and then demonstrated performance kicks in and he builds his own confidence. It’s not what I say or what I do or who you want to blame, it’s -- and now all of a sudden you watch him he’s 4-5 in the second half. E.J. (Montgomery), E.J. told on himself. He told on himself. He didn’t practice that way. If you’re that good, you’re practicing that way now. The team laughed like crazy. Like the combine and this game are the best two days that he’s played since he’s been here. Oh, so when there are people in the seats and there are scouts in the seats you just take up a notch. Really? Well, guess what son, you’re going to take it up a notch or you’re going to be on that treadmill. Because if that’s who you are then you’re going to be that guy every day. He was good. Nick was good. Reid was good. How about Reid squaring up at 15 feet? You’ve got to play Reid. Keldon (Johnson) was good. The two guards were good. Immanuel (Quickley) still doesn’t get rid of it quick enough. He and Quade (Green) dribble the ball too much. Held the ball too much. Get rid of it or drive it. Ashton, I made him run downhill fast in the second half. It’s a little bit of what have we had to do with De’Aaron (Fox). If you’re that fast, you’re going to run that fast all the time. And then if it’s not there, flare it out. But from the back court to that NBA line, you’re flying.”
At this point do you have any guys who have separated themselves in terms of earning a starting spot or earning more minutes than other guys?
JOHN CALIPARI: “I don’t know. It’s got to start happening and I may start one group of five and then maybe three different guys in the second half. May do that for a couple times just to feel this out and see what it looks like. But it appears as though we got 10 guys that can play, but they’re going to be guys that separate themselves into playing more. I had them ask the question, I went around the room and I said, I said to PJ, do you want to give up any of your minutes? He said, absolutely not. How about one minute? Nope. Reid, do you want to give up? No. Hmm. So Quade, do you like Jemarl? Yes. Will you give him minutes? Nope. Please, someone give my minutes, some minutes to my son. And they all said nope. So you got to take somebody’s minutes here. And if someone’s better, they’re going to play more. Just how it is. It’s not communism. We’re not on the same page. And it challenges everybody to perform.
“And then here’s what we had -- I said at halftime, we had six guys in double figures, they played 20 minutes. Six guys in double figures. Two guys had nine. And the two that didn’t get in double figures, one was 1-6 and the other was 2-6. That ain’t on us. You had the opportunity, you just didn’t take advantage. So this team is a post-up team, it’s got some length, I think we can pressure, looks like we can shoot it pretty good. Now we’re just going to have to figure out and really put some groups of guys out there and get some sort of rotation where everybody’s comfortable playing.”
You’re obviously an important voice in the game. This new G League option for some of the elite kids will get $125,000. What do you think about that and how will that affect the game?
JOHN CALIPARI: “Well I talked about it and if it’s what they say three or five guys, and that’s it, I don’t think it affects us. As a matter of fact probably makes us better. The kids that come here are kids that want the competition and want to get better. They’re not going somewhere so that they only gotta shoot all the balls. They don’t come here. I think this may even separate us some. So I’m not worried about it. My concern comes back to I want to know what happens to the kids that you’ve encouraged not to go to college if they fail. What are you going to do for them? That’s my whole thing. What is it going to do to 8th and 9th and 10th graders? Are you going to have a whole wave of those kids that think, I don’t need school I’m going to go to the G league. What they’re doing, I just don’t -- I looked at it and said, this is going to help us. We weren’t getting those guys anyway. They weren’t going to come here, the guys that would do that. The guys that come here, they come here for a reason.”
It seemed like the team was pretty active trying to block shots tonight. I think Nick blocked three in the first few minutes of the second half. You’ve mentioned you want to see them blocking more shots. Are you seeing that?
JOHN CALIPARI: “Yes. I -- blocked shots? We had 11 blocked shots. Between them. Eight from that group because Nick had five, E.J. had one, I thoughts he had more. So yeah, we had eight, 11 total. E.J. and PJ I like, and even Reid if he can get a hand on one or two.”
What’s your favorite thing about the new version of Nick Richards? What do you like most about what you’re seeing from him?
JOHN CALIPARI: “That he has a smile and he’s looking up. He doesn’t look like shuffling his feet looking down. He’s confident in who he is and what he does. There’s no -- what I keep saying to the kids, you know, you guys know that and I’ve said this if you’ve listened, most of you don’t, but where I talked about hate turns into fear? So I don’t try to get my kids to hate another team or another coach, hate that guy, we hate them, they get all the -- we don’t do that here. Because hate turns into fear within your body physiology. Well the other one is anxiety and excitement. If they hooked your body up and it was anxiety or excitement, the doc would say, well, you’re either anxious or excited, I don’t know which one, but it’s one of the two. So my thing is, if that’s what the case is, then you would challenge your own mind to be more excited than anxious. You would be excited about getting shots. You miss two, I’m excited about the next one. I’m not worried I’m going to miss it. You’re excited about shooting game winners, you’re excited about trying to make five in a row. Or you could be anxious. And so we have been talking a lot about that to get guys in a right frame of mind. They have got to get themselves in there and when they feel anxious, flip that switch. Get to be excited.”
Jontay Porter of Missouri tore an ACL and an MCL in a scrimmage, I wonder what you, just a reaction to when something like that happens.
JOHN CALIPARI: “You just -- I haven’t eaten yet and now I’m nauseous. I mean you know, fate intervenes many times in what we do and you just, you know, I can’t even -- I remember getting on the bus when Nerlens (Noel) blew his knee out and we were coming back from Florida and we knew he did it and I got on -- he was on the plane and he was okay and I went up to him and I hugged him and he just started bawling. Just I mean literally bawling. And I’m telling him, you’re going to be fine. This is going to kill our team -- and I told him the truth. He was drafted seven and we ended up going to the NIT and losing to Robert Morris, which somebody said, one guy? You lost to? I mean, this, I’ve been there. My thoughts and prayers go to him and his family and it’s awful.”