Associate coach Kenny Payne’s recent admission that he had not read the much-ballyhooed new book produced by John Calipari brought merriment to an already light-hearted Kentucky news conference Tuesday.
“He went to Louisville,” Calipari said. “He doesn’t read.”
As sure-fire punch lines go, making fun of U of L in Lexington is right up there with mother-in-law jokes.
During his 10-minute appearance, Calipari, the would-be comic, spoke with a funny voice inflection, facetiously said his “Success is the Only Option” was a “heck of a book” and sarcastically voiced disappointment that former UK players were not scoring more points in the NBA this season. (He made sure reporters knew he was kidding about the reading habits at U of L.)
Perhaps caught up in the mood, one reporter asked if Calipari was over-caffeinated.
There might have been more to the yucks than an audition for Comedy on Broadway.
Cleveland State Coach Gary Waters, whose team plays UK on Wednesday afternoon, offered a theory to explain why Calipari has seemed in a particularly good mood: the Kentucky players’ skill and willingness to accept coaching.
“They have a great demeanor,” Waters said of the current Cats. “More business-like. They come out with a purpose. It may be to get to the next level.”
When it was suggested the Cats seem unaffected by the fame that comes with being high-profile basketball players, Waters said, “That equates to they’re more coachable. It ain’t all about them.
“When you have kids like that, they make you feel that way. When they’re committed to one common goal, you love going to practice if you’re a coach.”
While the camera doesn’t lie, apparently the mind does. De’Aaron Fox said he can be surprised when he sees himself in game tape.
What he sees, Fox said, is “just a young kid who doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but trying to make it look he knows what he’s doing.”
Fox said he jokes with friends about how his speed on film doesn’t match his self-awareness at the time.
“I don’t realize I run that fast till I see it,” he said. “Sometimes I feel I’m jogging, and I beat people down the court.”
Fox conceded that John Wall, as an NBA veteran, would beat him in a race.
“Maybe when he was in college, when he was 18 and I was 18, I feel I’m probably faster,” he said.
Calipari stressed how defensive confidence can boost a player’s offensive confidence.
“If you’re getting pummeled, and you think you’re going to make (offensive) moves, you’re out of your mind,” he said. “You never played the sport.”
When asked in his time as UK coach which freshmen played solid defense from the start, Calipari mentioned Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. “Ridiculous defensively,” the UK coach said.
Calipari also mentioned DeAndre Liggins (“When I got here, he was ready to go”) and Anthony Davis (“could guard five positions”).
Malik Monk is building his defensive confidence, Calipari said, “because he’s figuring out, ‘Man, am I quick and long and active. I can do this.’
“He doesn’t have the discipline to sustain it. But he has the confidence.”
Cleveland State (1-2) will be without three contributors.
Strongman Demonte Flannigan (6-7, 240) hasn’t played this season because of what Waters called a “physical disorder.” He averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds last season.
“So that’s bad,” Waters said of Flannigan’s absence.
Junior-college transfer Gavin Peppers, who Cleveland State expected to be the point guard, hasn’t played because of an Achilles injury. Neither has Terrell Hales (hamstring).
“Well, you know, I’ve been there before,” Waters said of playing in Rupp Arena. “You need everybody when you go into that place.”
In its only other game at Kentucky, Cleveland State played well. The Vikings led 31-27 at halftime and led by as much as 11 points in the second half.
Julius Randle’s double-double (15 points, 15 rebounds) led Kentucky to a 68-61 victory in the 2013-14 season.
“I think this team is as good or better than that team,” Waters said in comparing the 2013-14 Cats with the 2016-17 Cats. “The reason I feel that is because I feel they have great quickness at the guards.
“The Harrison brothers (Andrew and Aaron), they weren’t as quick. So we could use our quickness on them.
“These kids have great quickness. That’s why he (Calipari) feels so good about his defense.”
Cleveland State’s guards three seasons ago — Bryn Forbes and Trey Lewis — combined for 37 points. They later transferred to Michigan State and Louisville, respectively.
▪ UK has a record of 66-6 as the No. 1 team with Calipari as coach.
▪ UK has won each of its first four games by at least 21 points for the first time since 1948-49.
▪ Dave Neal and ex-Cat Kyle Macy will call the game for the SEC Network.