UK Men's Basketball

Calipari’s tough love makes believers of Skal, Murray

Ex-Cat Jamal Murray on his relationship with John Calipari

'He completely changed the way people see me'
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'He completely changed the way people see me'

As they prepare to be lottery picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray can now see the method to Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s madness.

Appreciate may be overstating it, but the ex-Cats see a purpose behind Calipari’s yelling, screaming, cajoling, pushing and prodding. All done with the dial turned to 11.

“He was on me all the time,” Labissiere said Wednesday. “There were some days I was questioning it a little bit.”

Of course, Labissiere faced a double-barrel adjustment: from high school to college, from AAU-style basketball to serious elbow-to-the-chops competition.

Yes, he said, he felt he was being unfairly treated.

“Every year there’s that one guy Coach Cal picks on,” Labissiere said, “and this year the one guy he was picking on was me. It wasn’t always fun at all. I can tell you that.”

But, Labissiere credited Calipari for helping put him in a favorable draft position.

“I feel I am prepared . . . ,” Labissiere said. “He was on me the most out of everybody. He saw the potential in me. . . . He was pushing me every single day. Screaming at me. It was all out of love. He cares about his players. Our relationship is good.”

By contrast, Murray excelled despite his own two-sided adjustment: from high school to college, from point guard to shooting guard. He said he and teammate Isaiah Briscoe tried to defuse Calipari with bemused expressions.

As former Cats prepare for NBA Draft, they speak highly of their successors

“(They) would just smile when Cal got mad,” Murray said. “Just get back to business and try to do it right the next time.”

Murray described his interaction with Calipari as “a fun, open relationship.” The two included light-heartedness in the ever-serious Cat-mosphere of Kentucky basketball, he said.

“I love Coach Cal,” Murray said. He’s helped me fine-tune my game, and completely changed how people see me as my shooting evolved.”

Both Labissiere and Murray fell back on a coaching cliché in explaining how to take high-volume instruction: Listen to what is said, not how it is said.

“Even when Coach is mad at you, understand what he’s saying,” Murray said. “I think that’s why a lot of people get deterred. And they say, oh, Coach doesn’t like them because of the delivery of the message.

“But once you listen to what they’re saying, then you see what they’re trying to get at.”

Briscoe not forgotten

Labissiere and Murray spoke highly of the former UK teammate who no doubt hoped to be at this year’s draft: Isaiah Briscoe.

“He’s got to work on his jump shot,” Murray said. “He’s like Kawhi Leonard without the shot.”

On eve of NBA Draft, Murray talks about former teammate's bright future

Leading scorer?

Earlier in the week, Calipari said Murray would be the leading scorer among rookies in the NBA next season.

“I like that,” Murray said. “In high school, I was the leading scorer. In college, I was the leading freshman scorer. So I say, why not?”

Question about defense

The NBA questions about Murray revolve around his defense. No doubt, he lost his man enough times last season to be noticed.

“Well, it’s something I want to improve in,” Murray said of his defense. “It’s not like I don’t want to play defense. It’s something I want to take pride in. I’ll get it done. I want to be a two-way player. Like Klay Thompson.”

Hall of Famer?

Labissiere is aiming high as he embarks on a pro career.

“In the future, I want to be a Hall of Famer someday,” he said.

What scrutiny?

Labissiere had a way of dealing with being in the never-blinking spotlight that is Kentucky basketball.

“I didn’t pay attention to it at all,” he said of the scrutiny.

Labissiere said he did not read stories. When asked about tweets from fans, he said, “I wasn’t on Twitter. So I didn’t see it.”

Tim-brrrr-wolves?

Murray confirmed that Calipari was correct in saying the player liked the idea of being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Minnesota is a great fit,” he said, “to go there and help with my shooting.”

A reporter suggested that as a native of Canada, Murray wouldn’t mind Minnesota winters.

“Cold weather still bothers me,” he corrected with a smile.

Timberwolves? Sixers? 'Any team I go to is a blessing'

Murray meditates

Murray said he found a dark, quiet room — usually Calipari’s office — to meditate before games last season. His father, who also introduced him to martial arts, got him interested in meditation.

“I went in there as long as I could to meditate,” he said. “(Get some) heat packs. Kind of dark. Get into my zone while the team is shooting around. . . . Just clear your thinking for a little bit. Go into a blank space and relax.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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