Here’s what UK Coach John Calipari had to say to reporters following the Wildcats’ 103-61 victory over Thomas More in Friday night’s exhibition game at Rupp Arena:
Opening statement: “Thomas More, you guys did a great job, Coach. What we needed was a veteran team with juniors and seniors that won 25 a year ago, won their league, won their league tournament, and to come in here, how excited were they to be playing here? And then they execute, they’re not going to just — they turned it over 22 times — and we pressed, but just so you know, we pressed for conditioning more than anything. I just wanted these to stretch them out, my guys. We haven’t really worked on a press, probably if you asked these guys, 15 minutes this year, we haven’t.
“And what happens with freshmen teams — and this is really a freshmen team — is as soon as they get tired, they totally cannot be engaged and lose their focus on what they’re supposed to do and they’re just trying to hold on. You can’t play that way. My staff’s telling me we don’t have a guy on the team that can play three, four minutes at a time. So we are what we are. I challenged them a couple times. I wasn’t that bad, for me, but we need everybody to play a certain way and I’ve got to convince guys, ‘Here’s how I need you to play for your team and for you.’ We’re still not there yet.”
Why is it that your team is not in condition? They have worked all summer, why can’t you have a guy that can play more than three minutes?
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“It’s totally different when you’re walking in and you’re in this building in front of people, you’ve got anxiety, and now you run in here and you start running up and down and it’s basketball conditioning kind of shape. Totally different. It just takes time. You would say, ‘Well why would that NBA team not be in midseason form right now?’ Conditioning, well you just play into it. Some of it is, it’s like playing a team that’s really quick and fast and you think you can do something. No, you got to get used to playing them and then figure it out as you go and hope you play them three or four times.
“This team will be fine. It’s not like they’re in awful shape, but as a freshman would do, it’s hard to play a full possession. So you saw at the end of the half or end of the game a guy gets beat and then instead of expecting help or moving his feet he just fouls. Just stop the play. Give them two free throws. But I got to watch the tape. I told them, I’m going to watch the tape, we’ll do tape work tomorrow and then we’ll practice tomorrow afternoon, but there were some good things and there were some things that I expected to happen, which I’ll be able to show on tape.”
What was your thinking on starting five freshmen and then bringing in the relatively experienced guys in off the bench?
“Well the only relatively experienced was Wenyen ... and then I started him in the second half. This game Monday I may start a different lineup, just to see. I thought when we made that substitution that we did not do what I thought, but again it was Shai and Wenyen, we’re all like new guys trying to figure each other out.”
Nick Saban recently referenced the excessive hype heaped upon his players as rat poison. What do you see as rat poison for your team more importantly what do you see as the antidote for that?
“I always say, ‘Don’t drink it, just don’t drink that poison.’ Because whether you’re reading them, them telling you how good you are, or who you are as a player, it is all poison. So for this team — I think they know. We have a ways to go, we just do. You may look at it and say, well we dunked some balls and we did some good things and we shot it OK and made free throws. We’re not ready to play a 40-minute basketball game, we’re just not.”
What were you emphasizing with Quade (Green) a couple times in terms of his passing?
“Give it up early so you get it back so we can have you shoot. He’s one of our best shooters, so why would you hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, throw it. You never get that one back. What you do is — and I, when I played I was very selfish, so I knew all the tricks, you throw a slow bouncer to a guy that you know he was going to get guarded and then he gives it back and then you shoot it. You give it up way early and then, boy, pass, pass, pass and then you shoot it. Or you can hold, hold, hold, hold, hold, throw him the ball, you can’t get it back. So I want Quade in positions to shoot it, which is give it up early, get away, and we come back to you, I’m shooting this thing. I’m letting it go. I thought he shot the ball good today. He just, again, if you hold it, you are not getting shots off. You can’t. You give it up early, you got a chance. Give it up early, go on the weak side, and we start driving and the ball swings to you, let it go.”
How do you think Wenyen played today?
“I thought he did pretty good. His energy is what you need. There were a couple times he caught it or rebounded it right next to the basket and didn’t go straight back up. Again, I believe it’s physically you’re a little bit tired, now you grab it and you’re trying to like deep knee bend instead of grab it and go right back up and either dunk it or lay it in. But I thought again he shot the ball, he comes up with plays, I haven’t really looked at stats right now: 5-for-10 from the floor ... 10 rebounds. A double-double from him.
“Double-double for PJ. PJ turned it over — see here’s the issue, he was zero assists, four turnovers. I’m looking at PJ as a play-making big man. He can’t be zero assists and four turnovers. Now, I will tell you, we had 17 turnovers, how many were offensive fouls? Five. So we really had 12 turnovers where we threw balls away, the rest of them were running somebody over.”
Speaking of which, it seemed like several of them were in the post running people over, were you trying to establish ...?
“No, if you’re in the post and you use your shoulder to create space, it’s an offensive foul. And it’s an easy call. So we work every day on moving people with your hips. That means you have to bend over like get low and then move them with your hip. You won’t believe this, that’s very hard. You know what’s easier? Throwing that shoulder in there. The only problem is, every time you do it, it’s a charge. ‘I know, but it’s easier.’ I understand, but it’s a charge, you have to move them with your hip. So again it’s a little bit tired, grab the ball, throw that, offensive foul. We had five of them today.”
On watching early season tape of his young team:
“I told them prior to the game, ‘You know what I’m excited about? Watching this tape after the game.’ That’s what I said to them. Because it just, I got to learn more about them, they have got to learn about themselves, they got to self evaluate. Watch the tape, like each of them will have their personal tape with a coach, but tomorrow morning we’ll watch clips offensively that were good and clips that were bad. And then we’ll do the same on defense. Here’s a great five, six clips where we really played. Here are the other 10 that you see we let go of the rope or we switched without talking, just point. And you just, there’s things that they’re going to have to learn and I’m going to be honest with you, you can’t skip steps with a team like this. I’ve said it before. When you have all freshmen you cannot skip steps, it’s one at a time, we may be ugly early, I just hope we’re not just awful early and that we do enough to be able to play some of these people we have early.
“I mean we have got teams coming in here like Vermont, that’s a top-50, 60 team. You got Illinois-Chicago that’s a top-50, 70, 80 team. And we got like two or three others that we’re like, wait a minute, teams that you think, ‘OK, we — no.’ They’re going to be hard games for us. Because they’re going to have veteran teams that they’re going to play every basket to make it tough for you and every shot they take is create one that they can make. They’re not going to let go of the rope or lose focus, they’re veteran teams.”
But you’re having fun, right?
“Oh, I’m having a ball. Yeah, I love it. I love getting root canals. It’s great, you go in and jab me, go ahead, do it.”
How much do you envision the low post offense being a part of things this year?
“Well we worked on it, so there’s a couple things. I need to get a couple more motion movement offenses and we have got to do a little bit of that. Then we just have to have better spacing and movement when we do try to post it. Like I said, I’ll watch the tape and I’m trying to figure out how exactly how this team, this team has got to play. And there may be things we’re doing right now that a month from now we won’t do because I didn’t like it and we’ll try new stuff. Then at some point hopefully it all comes together to where we see it, that they’re defending and bouncing and blocking and running and dunking and making shots and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘OK, you got this. Now, that’s halftime. Now we got 20 more minutes, guys. Let’s go.’ I mean, that’s it.”
How many guys are you comfortable with leading the break right now?
“Maybe three, four maybe. The other thing is, in the second half we didn’t run like we did in the first half. First half we got out and flew. The second half, it was like (our) feet didn’t move as fast. There wasn’t like a sense of urgency, there wasn’t a vicious bust out, run, here I go, throw it ahead to me. We just didn’t have that. Again, this is, right now I think we could play about an 18-minute game, so hopefully as we go forward we’ll have some 18, 20-minute games. I think if it’s 40 we’re going to struggle.”
Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) looked like one of the guys who could give you sustained energy the whole game.
“Yeah, he’s on the IV in the back right now, but he could, yeah.”
What’s his potential as an on ball defender?
“He’s good, he got beat a little bit on the bounce, I hold Hami (Diallo) and Quade, you can’t get beat on the bounce, especially both of you together or I can’t play you together. I thought Shai did put great pressure on the ball and came up with some steals. I don’t know exactly, I wanted him to shoot more. He had four steals, that’s who he is. I mean, and I left him in, if you saw, I just said let him go a little bit, let him get used to this. I thought he did good. There were a couple balls he should have shot which ended up being turnovers where it’s just, shoot it, you don’t need to drive it.
“Then Quade got him that pass on the swing where he made that shot on the wing and like I said, we shot the ball from the free-throw line pretty good. We had a couple guys that didn’t, but overall shot the ball well from the line.
“Sacha (Killeya-Jones) had eight rebounds and you may have looked at some missed shots or missed free throws. If he rebounds the ball, I can play him. And he had five of those that were offensive rebounds. ... If you defend and rebound, I can play you. If you are worried about scoring: he missed three free throws. I never said one word. And they were not close.”