UK Men's Basketball

Q&A with John Calipari after Saturday’s UK-Vanderbilt game

John Calipari and the "corner office"

Kentucky coach John Calipari on Alex Poythress and wanting the "corner office" after UK's 76-57 win over Vanderbilt.
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Kentucky coach John Calipari on Alex Poythress and wanting the "corner office" after UK's 76-57 win over Vanderbilt.

Here’s everything UK Coach John Calipari had to say following the Wildcats’ 76-57 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena:

Calipari: “I've got to go watch the tape but I told Kevin (Stallings) after, I've been in the situation he's been in, which is, you gotta stay somewhere for three or four days and you're out on the road. I just was hoping like heck they'd be stale. I've been there. I can remember where I had a team go to a city and we stayed and we were there too long. And then we came out and played a team, and it was just so bad. But the other side of it is I thought we really guarded. I thought our execution offensively was pretty good. Low turnovers. But we still — we broke down — I thought Jamal (Murray) played to win today. Every play was a winning play. I had to get on him early because he didn't want to drive by people. He wanted to set up, dribble. Alex (Poythress) was doing his thing. And all of a sudden — Derek Willis, I told him, ‘Derek, you can miss shots when you rebound and block shots and defend. You don't have to make every shot. The way you were playing before, you had to make every shot because you were giving up a rebound, giving up defensively, you know?’ But it was a good effort for us.”

On Ulis being able to control the pace, not get sped up by defenses:

“Yeah, we're trying to figure out how we have to play. And a lot of it is him talking to me, ‘What do we need to do here?’ Like last game, we went to that middle- high-ball screen. But see, you've got to understand Arkansas would spread out. Vandy was not going to spread out. So we couldn't — we tried and I said, ‘Do you like it?’ And Tyler said ‘No, they're too tight.’ That's when we went to some high angle and other ball screens where we could make plays. We even did some drag screens in transition, just, again, to figure out how do we play and how does he keep guys involved, which is what he's been doing. Tyler had a heck of a game today. I mean, when you talk about playing as many minutes as he played, he got two fouls. Game got close, hey, man, I'm putting him back in, don't foul, how about that thought? You've got two, don't get another one. I took him out and we ended up up 10. When they got it to seven, I just wasn't going to let it be a two-point halftime game when we played the way we were playing.”

On Willis contributing more than just scoring:

“Yeah, but he made a big basket. He made big free throws. The kid's got confidence and he's built it himself. Just so you know, with Skal (Labissiere), I just didn't think this was the right game for him because of how these guys play. They're older inside. They're bigger, they shoot threes. And it just wasn't a game — but he's fine. We've put in some stuff specifically for Skal. And I think going forward he's going to be fine, but I just didn't like the feel of the game. That was my choice. It was nothing he did or didn't do.”

On Kevin Stallings saying Ulis’ lack of size might be an advantage for him:

“For some reason I betcha he would rather be 6-4. I don't know that. But you’ll probably have to ask him that.”

On Poythress being able to extend his solid play further into the game today:

“I think he's making an effort. One of the things I said to him — and I've said this to all the guys, Marcus (Lee) and other guys — if you — you know, the old saying where you can't do the same things over and over and expect a different result. The other side of that is you've got to ask different questions of yourself if you want to change. So the questions you're asking aren't working. So what are new questions? Instead of, ‘I want to do this and this,’ maybe the question is ‘Why am I not? What's holding me back?’ Or, ‘If I do these things, I wonder if that will help me?’ I mean, you've got to ask yourself those questions. And I think Alex knows. How about this, I don't even want him to be more consistent. I want him to grow. I want him to get better each game. I don't want you to be more — like, let me be more consistent, I'm the same every time out. No, be better every time out. Do more every time out. You're the best man on the court. Go be that guy. Then you guys ask me, ‘Why doesn't he want to do it all the time?’ And that's the question that he's got to ask himself. I said this: Everyone wants the corner office and the big car and the nice pay raise. But they just don't want to have the responsibility every day, every possession, every moment that goes along with the corner office and the nice car and — well, when I was in that other thing and no one even knew me for a week, and I'd be all right, and I go out and I do it, and then every quarter I had to —well, yeah, when you're in the corner office they want to know every day, every moment. That's what's hard. And like Tyler, he wants the corner office. That's what he wants. He thrives in it. Other guys want in that corner office because they like to have their feet up and have the secretary, but it's on you now every day. They want to know you. ‘What did you do this morning?’ ‘What, this morning?’ ‘I had a coffee, what are you talking about?’ So that's the stuff that we're trying to get through to these guys.”

On going to Poythress early in the game and if it was to get early energy:

“Yeah, and I thought this would be a hard one for him because of their size. But he proves if he just plays as an athlete and not as a bully, he just jumps and he's long and he can do it. See, it's easier if you try to bully. You don't have to lower your feet, you can lower your shoulder. It just doesn't get anything done. Being that athlete, bending your leg and exploding, being aggressive and going at the goal, it's hard. Standing there and doing that, that was easy. This stuff that we have to do here and how this team has to play is really hard. The biggest thing you're missing here, we defended today. We defended the 3. The only thing we did in the first half is we fouled. We had some bad fouls for no reason. Charles (Matthews) had one 92 feet from the basket. ‘What are you doing? You just gave him two points.’ ‘No, I was trying to pressure.’ ‘No, you fouled. You just can't give them two points.’ And, again, you're talking about a foul-shooting team, they made 80 percent of their free throws, 20 out of 25. You can't foul a team like that.”

On the big crowd at Rupp one day after a major blizzard:

“I thought we'd have – DeWayne (Peevy) said 12,000. I said 18,000. And these knuckleheads figured out how to get here. I have no idea whether they came two days ago because they heard the storm. Whether they were stuck on the highway and walked here, I don't know. I mean, but I walked in and I looked up at (section) 202 or whatever that corner is and it's packed. Are you kidding me? You've got to be crazy. No one's left their house. There's no bread on the shelves. There's no milk. There's no eggs. And 25,000 figured out how to get here. And they're going to wait for a radio show. What, are you nuts?”

On if he was impressed by the large media turnout:

“I was hoping Jerry was still stuck in Atlanta, but you know — (laughter) it's nice not seeing him yesterday, but you know.”

On Briscoe’s play lately, especially on the defensive end:

“Made a couple — look, he's got to shoot 15-footers. Here's what I'm saying to a couple of my players. You're not going to take a tough shot unless there's six or seven seconds left on the shot clock, then take whatever you can get. But you're not going to take a shot, like Isaiah came down in transition with 23 seconds on the shot clock and shot a ball that has no chance — it does, 1 in 10. Then you lose. That's a losing play. If you make that shot or take that shot with seven seconds, my guess is he'll make it because it will have no pressure. Like I gotta shoot this. So we're trying to get through to like he and Jamal. That's winning basketball. And both of them are shot-makers late in the clock, like you see it. When it's not a responsibility to have to make an open shot, they just are relieved. And now watch this one. They shoot it and now they make 60 percent of those. So especially Isaiah. Tried to get Charles, he had two pull-ups. He turned it over once. We tell him just pull up and shoot. Had a 15-footer and then quickly threw. Just so you know what I'm saying to this entire team, I've asked point guards in the past to do a lot, Brandon Knight. John Wall. I've had other point guards where I asked, I'm asking you to do a lot. Derrick Rose, I can remember the NCAA final game against Kansas, and we're down 15, they've got like five pros, they're unbelievable, they're kicking us. It's 12. I said do you want to win the game. He said, yeah. Quit passing. Quit passing. And he had one unbelievable half. But here's my point with Tyler: I put a lot on him. You in this room can't add to it. So if you have a shot and you don't take it and quickly throw it to him and make him take a shot then you're out, I'm not playing you. He has enough on him, be responsible, take the shot you're supposed to make. If you can't make it, you better get in the gym at night and shoot it. You must take it and not throw it back to him and make him now, with all that he's got on his shoulders now, have to make every shot at the shot clock. No. We're not having that.”

On going through stretches were it’s “good game, bad game” this season:

“Anybody that thinks this team is not getting better, you're not watching. Dickie V came in and talked to me, said you know this is one of your teams that's not getting better. I said, so you're not watching college basketball that much. Like, what are you talking about? Well, the Duke game. The Duke game, they spread the court out. It was a different game. You got a lot of people packing and I'm trying to figure out when they do certain things how do we play. This team is getting better. Derek Willis is better. Tyler better. Jamal's better. Isaiah's better. They're all better. Skal is better. Alex is better. Marcus Lee's got to get back to where he was, but he's now starting to get better. If we don't play with energy, if we don't have enthusiasm — and I keep telling them refuse to lose. You may run out of time. You may run out of time. But it's how you play. Refuse to lose. Dive, take charges. Make plays. Don't have any thought other than I'm not losing. That's where I'm trying to get these guys. And we're slowly, slowly getting there.”

On recruiting Ulis — a much smaller player than he usually targets — out of high school:

“When I watched him, I just said this kid is unbelievable in pick-and-rolls. And he's got the heart of a lion. And I'll put enough big guys around him, he'll be fine. He has a burning desire to win. And I watched him. And I'm just like — Kenny Payne just kept on me because I said I don't like little guys. And I even call him little guy. Makes him so bad. Give the little guy the ball. He just smokes, it's coming out of his ears when I do that. But the reality of it is he's really good. He's really competitive. He's really smart. There are suggestions he's making it. I'm like, right, he's right, let's go. I'll ask him in front of the team Tyler offensively what are you feeling right now. He said don't go in the middle, pick and roll, do it more towards the side and let's do it this way. I say that's good. I trust him enough. He's not doing it for him. See, there's some guys, what do you think, just give me the ball every time. Really? Where do you want it? Just give it to me. You can't ask that guy. He's playing to win.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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