UK Men's Basketball

Everything John Calipari had to say about Kentucky’s NBA Draft night

University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari met with the media Saturday morning to discuss his program’s night at the NBA Draft and more. Here’s the transcript:

On his reaction to the NBA Draft: “It was really good in some ways. I’m still trying to figure out how Keldon (Johnson) — they said he was a top-10 pick when he left here and then a month and a half later he’s picked 29th. Knowing the draft the way I do, I haven’t spent time really going into that knowing that there are teams that you didn’t work out for and you slip a little bit and then all of a sudden you slip by those teams, and then it’s like what’s wrong with this kid? Because there’s nothing wrong with them and what proved it was San Antonio took him. San Antonio is about a culture, about good kids who will compete and fight and be coached. By them taking him, it confirms who he is. But 29, I had no idea what went on and I was on the phone the whole time. With Reid (Travis), I thought 59 and 60 he had that chance to go in the second round. Those two specifically, but even before then. I talked to him yesterday and he’s now going to figure out what’s next. I think he’s been invited to a couple Summer League teams, and you know, every kid is on a different path. Whether it was Isaiah Briscoe that went to the Ukraine or whether it’s Derek Willis playing in Germany having a heck of a year, so he’s now putting himself in a position that way. They’re all on different paths.”

On whether he had to sell playing for the San Antonio Spurs to Keldon Johnson: “I didn’t sell anything. The only thing I talked to him, when I saw what was happening and knew he didn’t work out for some teams and knew where this could go, I thought he had two back stops in two different teams and then ends up one of them traded. There was so much fluidity to this draft, and I have never experienced anything like it, but I went over to him and his family and I said, ‘Listen to me, I’ve done this a long time. You are in the NBA, you are going to be with a team. This stuff, most of it is ego, and it’s more about being on the right team. So just relax and understand that this stuff happens.’ He ends up going to San Antonio, which is the best team. We’re talking Hall of Fame coach (Gregg Popovich), an organization that does unbelievable work developing young players, and then those guys become – you know they took a kid from Colorado no one heard about, they took a guy, (Kawhi) Leonard, that no one really knew about, so they don’t miss very often.”

On Pat Riley saying he takes Kentucky players for a reason: “Well, let me just say I watched them in person and told Coach (Erik) Spoelstra that if you have five Bams (Adebayo), you’re in the Finals. Pat Riley has said to me before, ‘The best thing about your guys is they know how to fight, and the second thing is that they’re good teammates because they know how to share here.’ It doesn’t mean that we don’t have volume shooters in the NBA; we do. Six or seven guys that are good volume shooters, but they weren’t here (to do that). They learned to be good teammates. Probably the best compliment that could be made is what he said right there. Didn’t really hear the comments but I know they’re really pleased with Bam. Bam called right away, ‘Give me his number.’ He texted Tyler (Herro) and said, ‘You better be ready to work. That is what this organization is about.’ He showed me, Tyler sent it to me and I said, ‘He has no idea does he?’ He said, ‘He has no idea,’ because that is what Tyler is about, and they knew that.”

On having a player compete for all 30 NBA teams during his Kentucky tenure: “Is that right? I wouldn’t know that. I just know a lot of players get drafted. I said to somebody, ‘How does anybody beat us on kids?’ I have no idea. What are they saying or doing? I don’t know, but we do get beat more that we get kids. But I understand. I mean, we like to say that it’s not for everybody. This is about coming to practice knowing that NBA scouts are in that gym at that practice because they want to see the competitiveness right there in our own team. It’s a different deal when you go, and I want to be the only guy and want to shoot all the balls and want to be the center of attention. It’s just different here.”

On replacing talent from last year’s team: “The best thing that came out of this draft was what happened for PJ (Washington). PJ would’ve been late first (round), maybe. Probably a second-rounder last year. He comes back, he was considered at 9, 10 and 11 and was taken at 12. What he says to every player here in this program, if you’re not quite ready, it’s OK to come back and get yourself right physically, mentally, emotionally, skill sets. He did all that. But he not only told our kids in this program, he told every college player: Don’t come out until you’re ready. I came back and told EJ (Montgomery), and I told Nick (Richards). I said, ‘EJ, you understand what he just did for you? Now, I expect the same stuff out of you that we got from him.’ I said the same thing to Nick. You came back for a reason. OK, take advantage. Every kid is on their own path. I was happy for (Washington). He’s in the situation where they really need someone like him.”

On Reid Travis’ improvement at Kentucky: “Reid is way, way better than he was, and he knows that. Reid is the best version of himself right now as a player. Better movement, playing above the rim where he didn’t, blocking shots, dunking balls, no one ever saw any of that in him. His 3-point shooting and all that stuff has improved, his free-throw shooting. He’s a better player. He did not get to work out for one team. Not one. Any question marks, he couldn’t. What I wanted him to do, and I told him right away, every team you worked out for a year ago, go back. Work out for that same team. They’ll see. He didn’t get to do it because of his leg. But he improved himself immensely. No question in his mind, my mind or anybody else in the NBA that watched him.”

On similarities between PJ Washington and Draymond Green: “He can play multiple positions. He can guard multiple positions. He shoots the ball. Let’s hope better than Draymond. Draymond is a pretty good shooter; let’s hope PJ can be better than that. But the thing that Draymond did is he brought an energy level and a fight and a passion. He could keep in front of people. You were not driving around him. If PJ is trying to model after him, I think it would be outstanding.”

On Jay Bilas’ opinion that colleges don’t produce NBA players: “He’s said it before. I don’t agree. What about Tyler Herro? What about Eric Bledsoe? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something. Everybody must have missed on those kids. They just didn’t evaluate them right and we did. I think that are two things that have come out of this. How are our kids, 75% of them, getting to second and third contracts? We just evaluated better? There are other schools that are evaluating just like us and their kids don’t seem to make it. When they do make it, it’s about 20% of the kids, 15%. So, I don’t agree with him. I think there’s a culture that we have and a system and process that we have of developing them with an idea of what the end result is, trying to win. I just told the guys, during the season it’s about winning, it’s about our team. When the season ends, it’s about each individual player. In the season, we’re about this. How about teaching you how to defend? How many of our guys have gone in the NBA and not been able to defend, not known the terminology, not known all those kinds of things? I like to say, how many players in the NBA Draft as rookies are going to go in as volume shooters? None. They went to a school because they wanted to be the volume shooter. Now, they’re going to a team where they’re not going to be the volume shooter. You’ve got to know how to play. Our kids can do both. Not all of them because not all of them are going to end up being volume shooters in the NBA. They’re going to be one of those other guys. I don’t believe it, but he can say it. ‘Why go there when you can go anywhere’ is what he’s basically saying. Once you hear it doesn’t matter what school you go to, you’re going to make it if you’re supposed to. Do you believe that’s true? Does anybody believe that’s true? I don’t say if you don’t come to Kentucky — no, that’s not what I say. But to say it doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

On who he was talking to during the NBA Draft: “I was texting mostly more than calling, even though I called a few, and it was just, ‘My guy in the mix? Are you thinking about this?’ When it was late in the first round, I was hitting people in the second round for Reid saying, ‘Hey, this is what I think. Let me know.’ So, it’s what I do every year. The same thing: I’ll hit a guy and say, ‘Are you taking mine?’ About two minutes on the clock he’ll say yes. He won’t say it before but boom, yes. Then I’ll go over and show the kid, looks like what you’re doing. Stuff like that. I’ve been doing this a long time and I know many people in the NBA, know the people that work for them.”

On what was going through his mind about Keldon Johnson: “Where was this ending? The people within there told me they don’t know how (the Cleveland news) went out. They were discussing stuff, but they don’t know how that report went out. So, he was in the mix, but to say that’s who we’re taking and then it change, I’m not sure if that’s what happened. You’d have to ask Cleveland. There were other teams that moved back that we thought would take him in certain spots and they moved back. There was a team in the top 10 I think considered him, and when they passed all of a sudden it was like, wait a minute. It’s always a backstop. What’s the stopping point? And the two that I thought both traded back. All of a sudden you look and bang, they went the other way. They gave up their pick. And then I think what happens is, when he starts sliding, ‘How late can we still get this kid?’ Again, you had a couple players from Tennessee go in the second round. Those guys were pretty good. You had the kid, doesn’t matter where they go, the kid at LSU, the guard, went in the 50s. Their other big man didn’t go. ‘It doesn’t matter where you go, you’re going to do this.’ That’s why I say, our kids, in most cases, are going where they’re supposed to go that are achieving at a level either at where they were drafted or a lot of times beyond that. And it’s because, one, they’re good kids, they’re willing to share, they understand they’re responsible for themselves. Nothing is given to you. You take what you want. They come here and they do it. It is not for everybody. This is how we do it. Does it help? For someone to say it doesn’t, I mean, I don’t understand. Have you not done the numbers? I mean, I don’t get it. It’s like anything; everybody can have an opinion.”

On how prepared his team is to go to battle with the current makeup of the frontcourt or if he would like to add anyone else: “No, we’re good. We’re good one way or another. If we add, fine. If we don’t, I’m good. You have stuff that happens last minute and things that are going, but our kids — I look at our group that we have and I’m really pleased with. I think our guard play is going to be good, too. But you’re going to have — look, the whole idea defensively is do you have shot blockers behind them? Do you have athletes that are guarding? And all of a sudden now, this team should be a great defensive team. I may be wrong because it’s really early. I’ve been wrong before — 1978 — but I would guess that this team, people will talk about, ‘Man, are they good defensively.’ That’s what we should be.”

On his impressions of the guys’ fashion statements at the NBA Draft: “As I’ve gotten younger I’m not using the – I do the cargo shorts, I think. What are these? Are these cargo? What are cargos? [Sports information director Eric Lindsey: Those are the shorts with pockets down the side. Equipment manager Mark Evans: You wear Tommy Bahama stuff.] Yeah, what’s all this cargo stuff? I don’t even know what cargos are. My jeans — I used to wear those [dad jeans]. But they — I laughed when I saw them, especially Tyler. I looked at PJ and thought PJ’s was pretty cool. I thought Keldon’s was nice. I didn’t know he was taking the jacket off. And then I said to Tyler, ‘A little bit much for me, that one.’ But I think that’s the new thing now in the draft, everybody making a statement with what they’re dressing, which is neat for the kids. And the parents and their families — everybody was dressed up. It’s a graduation. It’s a celebration. It is a long time coming. People say, ‘Why do you go?’ To be there, to help them, to help them to celebrate, but also with what happened to Keldon, to be there fighting like crazy to make sure whatever is going to happen, how do we help if we can.”

Dennis Varney is the assistant sports editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader and He is a Pike County native and Western Kentucky alum. He has also worked at The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Seattle Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.