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Q&A: John Calipari’s comments before UK opens play in SEC Tournament

Kentucky head coach John Calipari instructs his team during its 83-58 win over Tennessee in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari instructs his team during its 83-58 win over Tennessee in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Tuesday, February 14, 2017. Lexington Herald-leader

NASHVILLE Transcript of John Calipari’s comments after his Kentucky basketball team’s Thursday practice in preparation for Friday’s quarterfinal game against Georgia in the SEC Tournament.

Q: Do you put Dominique Hawkins on Georgia’s J.J. Frazier?

Calipari: “When the game ended, guys told me, I didn’t watch the game, but when it ended, I put on the tape of our game with them and the guy who won the game for us was Dom. The way he played, how he changed the complexion of the game and the things that he did. And the other guy was Mike Mulder making some shots because we had a bunch of guys who couldn’t make a shot.

“Look, Georgia had us both games. When I watched the tape, I didn’t realize that it was like that because you have a vision that we won by eight. What? We were down with 50 seconds to go. So I know how good they are. I know how well-coached they are. Maten is back playing. You know one’s one of the better 4-3s in our league and a 20-point scorer. It’ll be a war. They all are this time.

“And I called it. I said when you look at all these games, they’re all going to be decided late in the game because our league, we have 11 teams in the top 100. I think we have six in the top 50. Those teams lost. How about Missouri? How about them fighting for their coach which I just thought was outstanding. It’s going to be a heck of a tournament for people to watch.”

Q: How was practice? Are you seeing anything you were hoping to see?

Calipari: “Good. (We’re) emphasizing some different things that in this post-season is what we want to look like. I always come back to this tournament is our way of getting ready. It’s our way of getting ready. Every one of these teams is capable of beating us and we know that. This is about are we getting in a frame of mind of how you’re going to have to play in another week.”

Q: How about the grind of playing three games in three days?

Calipari: “We went 45 minutes today and we spent about 30 minutes here. Other than coming in the evenings, we may not get back to a basketball court and that’s if we’re lucky enough to win.”

Q: What have the film sessions been like?

Calipari: “We didn’t have much film because we didn’t know who we were playing. The only film that I put up was some film of us offensively of what I like and this is what we’re trying to get to. I wanted them to see us at our best. So there were some clips in some games. We really got some great movement yet attacked the basket and got to the rim and I just wanted them to see that.

“Now today Georgia played every possession zone. They played every possession zone. They played two possessions against us last time zone. So now do they come out and play zone? I don’t know. I don’t know. And that’s why walking in here you don’t know what a coach is going to try to do.

“I think Georgia’s in (the NCAA Tournament). I can’t imagine when they’re talking about some of these other teams being in then Georgia’s in. They’ve done it with Maten out. They’ve done some good stuff.”

Q: What would you see from your team that tells you, ok, we’re right, we’re ready to go in the NCAA?

Calipari: “You know, that you see a cohesive team that’s patient yet attacking, that’s aggressive, that’s not on their heels waiting, trying to make things happen. That’s who we should be. The only way you get that is your team play with high energy. That means individuals.

“The greatest thing about Dom, we all know he will play with high energy. So if you look out there and someone’s not, you’re out. The same thing, you’ve got Wenyen (Gabriel), you got Derek (Willis). If that doesn’t work, maybe you go Mychal. Mychal’s been playing well. So we’ve got enough guys. At this time of year, there should be nothing else you’re thinking about other than man I’m gonna play hard. I’m going to play with unbelievable energy. You’re not holding anything back right now.”

Q: What makes J.J. Frazier so difficult to defend off that high ball screen?

Calipari: “He gets to his left hand and because of his size he really accelerates on layups. In other words, he’s not slowing down. He accelerates and lofts that ball up. It’s a hard thing for a big guy to guard when you’re trying to move your feet to stay in front.

“The other thing is he can shoot that three behind it. So (it’s), ‘I’ll go under. Let’s do this.’ It’s a hard thing. And he’s a good player. You look at our league and he’s one of the best in the league.”

Q: Is there anything you can do to combat getting down double digits early in games?

Calipari: “You know, it’s funny, I watched this tape, guess what, we got down early. I watched Tennessee back home, I was on the Elipitcal and I wanted to see it -- at home where we won by 20 some, we were down early that game, too. So obviously whatever I’m trying is not working.”

Q: When you didn’t have shoot-arounds (UCLA and Texas A&M) it didn’t go great. Is there a way to do it here or do you just not do it?

Calipari: “Nah, they got to be responsible. They’ve got to come early. We have an hour to get loose. Get loose. You’ve got an hour. Get up early. Have a nice breakfast. You don’t go back to sleep. Get ready. This is about your responsibility, about yourself to our team. I don’t feel that we’ll shoot-around.

“Again, we’re just worried about winning one game, this first one. It’s going to be a very hard game for us, we know that.”

Q: You’ve talked about your team hasn’t peaked yet. What gets your team to that and have you ever had a team that never quite reached their full potential?

“I would say every one of my teams, none of them reached their full potential. But what you’re doing as a coach is you’re striving for it. And if they’re striving to be better then at the end of the day, when the season ended, you got them as far as they could go at that point. Now if you had them longer -- how about if I had them two years? How about if I had them three years? You don’t. So this is what it is. You’re trying to just keep them on that path of growing and this team is.

“I look at each individual player and they’re playing better than they have ever here. Basically that means they’re playing better than they had in their career. Some of them say, ‘Well, as a high school player I was able to do . . . ‘ You’re not in high school Dorothy. And if you think you’re going to that man’s league -- no boys allowed, no boys allowed. You better understand that what you did in AAU out in Vegas ain’t working in that league. When I look at them, every one of them has gotten better, every one of them has improved.

Now are we ready to just swarm and scramble and play with great energy, pass the ball and fly up and down the court? I’d rather have a team that doesn’t run a whole lot of plays. Go. Move the ball. Create good shots for each other. If it’s a dead ball and you have to, ok, we’ll run something. Every year you want to be your best all season at that time. This team is starting to get there. Where they need to be? Probably would say I’d never would be satisfied.”

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