UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Catchphrase for new Kentucky basketball season? This should be fun

Head coach John Calipari took reporter's questions during Kentucky Men's Basketball media day at Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 14, 2015. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Head coach John Calipari took reporter's questions during Kentucky Men's Basketball media day at Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 14, 2015. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Wait for it.

"For all the Basketball Bennies out there," John Calipari said.

There it is.

"I want kids to chase their genius," John Calipari said.

You got it.

"I want him to be the best version of himself," said John Calipari.

That's right, basketball season has begun. Kentucky basketball season. It officially began at 11:10 a.m. on Wednesday when John Calipari sat at the table in a designated room in Memorial Coliseum and started taking questions from the assembled media, thus the term UK Basketball Media Day.

To be honest, Calipari was a little testy. Not testy, really. But the first few questions dealt with a subject he didn't really want to talk about. That would be the eligibility status of star freshman Skal Labissiere. Right now, it's up in the air.

"I'm fine," Calipari said.

Yes, but is Labissiere fine? Is he going to be available? Is this a blip on the radar screen? Is this a John Wall situation where Labissiere might have to sit a few games because of what his guardian may or may not have done? Or is this an Enes Kanter situation? All good questions and all questions Calipari didn't want to address. So he didn't.

So let's move on, just as Calipari did. Let's move on to the Cal Catchphrases. The coach may not have been in mid-season form, but for him it's like riding a bike. You never forget.

The coach did spring something new, one we hadn't heard before. The subject was recruiting. After missing out on some early targets, Calipari was able to close strong by signing freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaac Humphries.

"Not every kid is going to want to come here," Calipari said. "We've become a little bit like Hawaii. Everybody wants to visit, they just don't all want to come."

We laughed. Someone asked Cal if he had been practicing that one. He smiled. Sort of.

"As we did our debate study," joked Calipari, "that was one of those ones that I knew when to ... bang, kaboom!"

OK, enough about the entertainment. What about the team? That's what the people want to know. Calipari's a Hall of Fame coach now. He's been ridiculously successful since arriving in Lexington six years ago. Four Final Fours. One national championship. The mind-blowing 19 first-round NBA Draft picks.

Since Calipari stepped foot on campus, Kentucky has been the subject of nearly every college basketball conversation. No reason for that to change any time soon.

You can tell Calipari loves his guards. He loves point guard Tyler Ulis. Wednesday, Calipari called the 5-foot-9 sophomore maybe "the best floor general I've ever coached." Jamal Murray has star written all over him. Cal said Isaiah Briscoe has a toughness that the team needs. He said the NBA scouts loved Charles Matthews.

Calipari said Alex Poythress is 75 percent after rehabbing his injured ACL. ("He's got to be a beast.") He lamented the injuries to Dominique Hawkins (broken hand) and Derek Willis (dislocated finger). He said he's got to get Humphries, the 17-year-old Australian center, out of his comfort zone.

Every team is different, of course. So, getting serious for a moment, for this coach, with this team, what's his biggest challenge?

"Figuring it out," Calipari said. "The problem right now is I'm trying to figure — it's not teaching them how to play basketball. We don't teach plays. We're teaching actions and how to play. It's, 'Are we going to have the right schemes?' I just don't know what the schemes are."

Skal or no Skal, he'll figure it out. All the other stuff — the master marketing, the motivational skills, the entertainment value — might distract some from the plain, simple truth that the guy can coach. We already know that, of course. We're about to see it for a seventh season.

"My job is to not be afraid to coach them, to be honest," said John Calipari. "To keep it real."

Yes, basketball season has started. It should be fun.

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