UK Men's Basketball

Here’s what John Calipari had to say after Kentucky’s rout of EKU in home opener

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari instructs the team during their game against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari instructs the team during their game against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Here’s everything John Calipari had to day after Kentucky defeated Eastern Kentucky, 91-49, in the Wildcats’ season opener at Rupp Arena on Friday night:

The defense you guys have played in New York and again tonight, this early in the year how much of that is knowing schematically what to do and how much of it is just grit and determination?

“Probably both. But we got veterans. So when you’re starting four veterans and then that one guy and the one that’s playing is learning, but he’s really good, Kahlil, defensively, he’s active, he’s long, he gave up threes today, which we got to show him why he did it, but he can stay in front of a guy, he can still block it if you got by him, he’s learning to stay engaged. But he’s never had to before. Today Keion played a lot of minutes, like, I want to play more minutes, and then today he did and he died. (Breathing heavy.) And I’m like, Yeah, you got to get in better shape.

But Ashton is so ridiculous defensively, I just got to get him disciplined so he’s not getting dumb fouls because we got to have him on the floor. Tyrese didn’t score it as well today as he had been, but how about a kid that good and he’s accepting kind of like Shea, that’s coming off the bench right now and he say, I trust you. That’s what he said to me today, I trust you.

Nick, so much better than a year ago. Then you say, well, you must be really pumping him up, saying great things. No. He’s in the greatest shape he’s ever been in and he’s built his own confidence now. Doesn’t matter what I say now and it doesn’t matter what I say if you’re not in great shape, you’re not going to have confidence. He still has a ways to go but he’s way better.

Nate makes our team different. He talks, he hustles, he scrambles, he’s got an unbelievable spirit out there. And Immanuel, I watched the Michigan State tape today because I had watched Eastern Kentucky a couple different times, so I watched that one and I didn’t realize how well Immanuel quickly played defense in that game until I watched it for a second time. And he was ridiculous.

So Johnny, I wish he would have made a couple baskets just to get him going but he got minutes and he’s going to get his feet wet and but they’re playing hard, they’re trying.”

You guys strike out to a 14-0 run, force them into five turnovers, how much better do you think this defense can be for you guys?

“Well the whole thing is the way we’re trying to play we got to play some pick-and-rolls another way. It’s working what we’re doing, but you’re going to play people that can go against it, so what’s the other way we’re going to play pick-and-roll. We got to rebound. Nick got -- he had three or four rebounds for a majority of the game and then he went in and got four or five or six. The guy that’s coming up with every scrappy ball is Ashton. So I had to remind them that he is not in the game now, so who is going to be that guy. So that’s the kind of stuff that we still got to go with and then we got to figure out -- this was a good game and I want to tell you, Eastern’s going to do fine, the way they play to scramble up the game was good for my team we didn’t run much today because you didn’t need to. They spaced the court and my team did exactly what we wanted. I wish we would have made a few more threes, but we went at the rim, we had lobs, some of the turnovers were unforced, we just played fast without pace, in other words you play fast but you have pace as you finish the play. You don’t rush into the play. But that’s freshmen learning. So this was a great game for us to speed us up, how would we play, what would our decision making be. So it was pretty good.”

Can you just comment on the status of E.J. Montgomery?

“He’s hurt.”

Do you know about how long he’ll be out?

“It’s day-to-day.”

What did you think of Nick as a rim protector?

“He was good today. How many blocks did he end up with? Four blocks. I mean if he gets four blocks every game he leads the nation in shot blocking. Again, let me just say this, I told him, there was a Hall of Fame buddy of mine who played in the league and he said, if you give him two things -- he watched him in New York and said, unbelievable, his feet, how he’s playing, how he’s running. And he said, if he does two things, try to out run the ball on offense and defense. If you outrun the ball on defense, you’ll be back there to block shots and rebound and do stuff. If you outrun the ball on offense you’re going to get some easy baskets and post up with a wide open floor. That’s pretty simple stuff.

“Then he said, and then every shot that’s taken he should expect it to be a miss. Now you think if we can get Nick doing those two things, forget about everything else, just do those two things -- E.J. would be the same, plus create contact, look for contact, don’t run from it, because you’ll build your confidence that way. But getting in shape and all those kind of things important for those two.”

You talk about the getting in shape and all that and the confidence, but also Nick to me looks like he actually understands where to be a lot more now.

“And he’s talking to his team. How about that.”

You obviously had to sort of educate him on the game a little bit. How has that happened that’s advanced this much?

“He’s been here three years. You know, it’s funny, we, like you know P.J. staying two years, boy that was awful. What are you talking about? He wasn’t ready to go and be who he is right now. Nick wasn’t -- Nick walked in my office at the end of the year and said, I’m not even, I don’t want to, I know I’m not ready. But you look at him now, how about how he pays pick-and-roll defense? How he’s moving his feet. How he’s running the floor. He’s still not getting balls that we need, he’s getting some balls jerked from him, but it’s going to, this is our second game. So I’m proud of him.”

Are the other players following Ashton on defense?

“Yeah, but Nate’s doing it, Immanuel quickly, when you look at our how active we are defensively, it’s our guard play. And again I’m trying to put all three of those guards in together some. I did it a couple different times today and we’re fast and I still have to figure out how do we play. Look, I said it yesterday, for Kahlil and Keion, and even Johnny, they’re not used to playing random basketball. When they catch the ball they look -- if you remember the play that Immanuel made where we threw it at the top of the key and as soon as he caught it he knew he had a drive and he just caught it and went and then got to the rim and got fouled. Those others, they can’t do that. They will catch it and square up and the defense adjusts and now it’s a tough shot. That’s going to take us a month or two. So right now I got to create some stuff for him. But we did and they got pushed off screens. So now the guy came down to screen for him and they got pushed off the screen and we really didn’t get anything. It was their play.

“So we got work to do on how we’re going to play, how we’re going to play with three guards. I got an idea, a couple tweaks I would like to do offensively that I talked to them about. But we didn’t have time, we had to work on the press for a day and a half. We haven’t done, we did nothing versus the press until yesterday. And then today in the shoot around. So I couldn’t spend much time on offensive stuff.”

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Seven guys had nine points or more in this game. Were you expecting that kind of balance this early?

“That’s what we would like to have. I mean, you know, that means you’re passing the ball, I loved the fact we had 17 assists. But -- or 18 turnovers, way too many, Tyrese had four at half. I said, What are you going to do, a double double? 10 turnovers and 10 points? What are you doing? So he didn’t have any in the second half. But again, Ashton had a couple just being sloppy. But you look at Immanuel, five assist, one turn. Ashton, five assists, three turns. I mean, you know, we’re doing some good stuff.”

Follow-up on Tyrese. I noticed a moment late in the first half he is sitting on zero after kind of being the talk of the nation with 26 in the first game. You bring him over, make a point to him, he takes it and he’s the first guy over there kind of standing up cheering for the guys still on the floor. Kind of wondering about his coachability and is that his --

“He’s the greatest, he just said, I trust you. Believe me, by the end of the year what you saw in New York will be even another level. What you saw -- because he can make all those plays. But this is a game where we needed to have seven guys with nine points. We needed to have that. And he accepted it. How about that? It’s hard, it’s hard, because these kids, they’re hearing it’s all about them and they got to come here and they got to really share and trust. They got to trust each other, they got to trust the coaching staff, because everybody always says, how in the world do you get all these All-Americans that are, they were the only guy on their team and took all the shots, to come in here and share? They’re good kids from good families. If they weren’t, they can’t be here. You can’t come here saying, I’m taking 25 shots every game. You can’t. You can’t have one guy taking 45 percent of the shots. You can’t. Or two guys taking 60 percent of the shots. You can’t. Somebody else can do it, we can’t do it here. This is, everybody has their opportunity and I’m, again, even with Tyrese not having the big game, do you think anybody’s opinion of him has changed? Did you see how hard he played and how he defended and what he did and, I mean it’s, numbers don’t matter here. That’s the greatest thing. They only matter in an ego way to either the kid or the people around him. It’s only ego. Either you can do this or you can’t. Numbers don’t matter at Kentucky. They don’t.”

Opening the season in the Garden, how curious were you about how the team would respond the second game out and is that a sign of team maturity in any way?

“Well, the only, the thing that worried me is watching the tape Eastern Kentucky really would get after you and press and scramble. And I don’t know if we told you, when we played Kentucky State, they were supposed to play man-to-man. Like we had not done one thing with zone. And I basically say, We’re having you as an exhibition, you play man-to-man. And he said, Okay. And they played 40 minutes of zone. And I had to talk them through that.

“Well, because of all the stuff, when have you a young team, there’s steps that you got to do and you got to do these before you move on. We have not worked on press. No press attack. Until yesterday. So my fear was we’re not ready to go against a press. Now we turned it over 18 times, so maybe we weren’t. But I like the fact that we rushed it up, we took easy baskets, we were the aggressor, even though they pressed. But that was my worry. But when I watched the beginning of the game -- and I did tell them this too, if you, do you want to negate the press? I said, How do you do that? You want me to ask you guys? Because none of you will know. How do you negate the press? None of these other guys knew. You have to get stops. If you get stops, they can’t press you. So I said, Don’t let them score. They won’t press you one time. So it’s -- anyway.”

With Keion it looked like you got on him a little bit in the first half there?

“Oh, yeah.”

What was the adjustment he needed and how impressed were you to see he just came right back and got a couple baskets right there?

“He is one of the greatest kids of all time. How about instead of shooting threes, shoot twos. Like you can make them. You don’t have to shoot a three. Be who you are. We have no one like Keion. We don’t have a guy like that. He’s not like Tyrese and Tyrese is not like Immanuel and Immanuel is not like Ashton, Kahlil is totally different, and we don’t have another seven-footer like Nick. E.J. and Nate, they’re all different. His game is two-point shots. So just take those. But I like the three. You shot an air ball, why wouldn’t you just take twos? And he missed some free throws which really surprised me today. I don’t know what he had, but he missed four free throws, did he? He missed five free throws. So again, don’t want to hear it. Make your free throws and you’re fine.

“So, but it was -- look, to come off what we did up there, we got back at 4:30 in the morning, the day after was film session, because what was, what? And then we came and practiced and did press. If you were at our practice you would have known in an hour and a half I spent on the press, because that’s all we could do. And then today’s shoot around and we play the game and we have this kind of energy. I was really happy about it.”

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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