UK Men's Basketball

Calipari expects breakthrough years for trio of returning Kentucky players

Cal on Brad Calipari considering transferring: ‘Do you blame him for wanting to play more?’

Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to his son, Brad Calipari, placing his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari responds to his son, Brad Calipari, placing his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Ashton Hagans will have a “breakthrough year.” So will Nick Richards. EJ Montgomery has a “ridiculous” upside.

At a news conference Tuesday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari painted a pretty picture of what the 2019-20 basketball season can look like for his Wildcats.

Of course, adding to the optimism were the decisions by Montgomery and Richards to withdraw their names from this year’s NBA Draft and play for Kentucky next season.

NBA officials have said that Montgomery needs to find an on-court identity. Calipari suggested what that might look like.

“He’ll be a difference-maker on both ends,” the UK coach said. If Montgomery becomes physically tougher, “the upside for him is ridiculous.”

Playing behind two grown men last season — PJ Washington and Reid Travis — was a reason for Montgomery playing limited minutes, Calipari said. And only four or five of his previous players had more potential, the UK coach said. Calipari said he expects Montgomery to make marked improvement in the same fashion that Washington did as a sophomore.

As for Richards, Calipari cited a late start to playing basketball (at age 14) as a reason for relatively slow progression as a UK player. In this regard, Calipari likened Richards to Willie Cauley-Stein.

As for his history of having a quick hook with Richards, Calipari suggested that approach will continue. All UK players are subject to the same treatment because of mistakes or lack of hustle, Calipari said.

“I believed in the kid the first two years probably more than the kid himself,” Calipari said.

Hagans will have a breakthrough year “because he gets it now,” Calipari said.

The UK coach did not rule out adding more players this offseason. “Recruiting never ends here,” he said.

But Calipari sounded content with the allotment of players currently expected to be at his disposal.

The Wildcats of 2019-20 could make up “one of the longest teams I’ve coached …,” Calipari said. “Really happy with where we are right now.” He added that he would consider adding another player if the UK team and the player could benefit.

Brad to DII?

After marveling at how fast the media discovered that Brad Calipari had entered his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal, the UK coach said his son wants to play.

“Do you blame him, all the work he put in, to want to play more?” Calipari said, “… I even told him, look at Division II. What’s wrong with that?”

His son’s dedication to training ensures that he can be “unique and special” in whatever he chooses to do, Calipari said.

Drinks for everyone?

With the SEC giving member schools the option to expand alcohol sales to all fans beginning next season, a reporter asked Calipari how he felt about that.

“It’s the way of the world right now …,” he said. “I’ll roll with whatever they want to do.”

If UK expands alcohol sales, Calipari said he hoped UK fans would “police each other.”

UCLA offer

Calipari downplayed the seriousness of listening to UCLA about its coaching position. He had been in ongoing talks with UK during last season about a contract extension.

Calipari questioned why a UK coach would seriously consider another college job.