Q. Coach, I know you don’t like the one-and-done. Do you ever get sorry for having to apologize for it all the time?
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t apologize. It’s not my rule. I’ve already given a great solution that the NCAA and the schools take care of these kids’ disability insurance which they must take a loan out and pay themselves which is upwards of 10 or 12 thousand per year. Their families if they’re eligible for that loan, should have a hardship loan, those kids that are eligible for that.
Then I said if the kids stay for two years or more they should get a year off their contract in the NBA so they get to the bigger contract quicker. If they graduate in three or four years, they have an increase in their pay 15 to 20%. There’s a solution.
I don’t like the rules. I want Anthony to come back and be my point guard next year, it’s what I really want. There’s only two solutions to it: either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay for me.
Now, what’s happened is North Carolina lost three underclassmen, Duke is losing ‘em. Now it’s different. But that’s okay. I mean, I’m going to do what’s right for our kids. At the end of the day I don’t apologize for anything we do.
We had a 3.0 grade point average last year, 2.8 last term. We have the highest APR. How they judge our retention and our academics, the highest in the SEC. They go to class, do what they’re supposed to do. I mean, you know, Steve Jobs left, Bill Gates left. The integrity of their schools were at stake when they left. They should have stayed and not changed the world.
Q. John, little déjà vu for you going up against Kansas in a championship game. Talk about how you’ve grown, what have you learned?
COACH CALIPARI: Make free throws, that’s what I learned (laughter).
Well, first of all, I saw Ted Owens as I walked out of the building for the open gym, which was great to see Coach Owens. Coach Brown was here. It was great to see those guys.
As you know, I spent two years, really three years, one with Ted and two with Coach Brown, in Kansas. I met my wife at the University of Kansas. She worked in the business office. So I have fond memories of Kansas.
The game in 2008 was a great basketball game, one of the more exciting games. I wish the outcome had come out a little different, but they got us.
Bill and I have known each other. He followed me. When I left, he stepped into that spot at Kansas.
Fond memories. Not particularly of that game. But even though, I’ll tell you, I enjoyed coaching in the game and had a ball. It’s just that everything that could have went wrong went wrong and everything they had to do right they did. Stars and the moon lined up, all of a sudden we went to overtime.
Q. Since then what have you learned from that?
COACH CALIPARI: Haven’t spent much time thinking about it. I thought our team played well and I was proud of our team.
Q. Darius and Terrence, talk about playing for Coach Calipari?
DARIUS MILLER: It’s been a lot of fun. He does a great job of pushing us every day, making us better players, just the amount of talent and great teammates that he recruits has been really fun for me to be a part of.
TERRENCE JONES: Yeah, he does a great job of making us play our best by challenging us and compete every day. Practice, games, he does a great job, which is getting the best out of his players.
Q. Coach and Anthony, can you talk about the battle that’s expected between Anthony and Robinson tomorrow and how much will we see them actually play against each other in the paint? Anthony, how much do you look forward to that challenge?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we haven’t spent a whole lot of time. We watched clips of our game last night to break down some things we needed to get better at. We haven’t spent a whole lot of time. I don’t really know who is going to guard him. We may play a 2-3 zone. Those guys are so big, we may fall into a zone. I haven’t played that very often, but we may do it.
We know how good Thomas Robinson is. We all up here know. We went against him in New York. He is as good as they get. He’s a vicious competitor, great around a rim, expanded his game. He can make the top of the three key. Loves driving that thing hard left and getting to the rim. He has become a better handler and passer, rebounds. So we know how good he is.
ANTHONY DAVIS: We know he’s a great player. Rebounds the ball, finishes with authority. Probably one of the best players that we gonna face this year. It’s gonna be a great challenge for me, so I just can’t wait to play.
Q. Today is April Fool’s Day. Anybody pulled anything yet? Who is the most likely person to do something like that?
DARIUS MILLER: Uhm, no, nobody’s pulled any pranks or anything like that. I think everybody on the team is capable of doing it, though.
Q. Coach, Bill Self talked about the concept of these two great programs facing off. People look up to you at the school. I don’t know if you heard about some of the issues that happened last night.
COACH CALIPARI: I did. My wife told me when I got back to the hotel.
Q. Any advice you would give?
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t know, you know, if that ties into having too much to drink. I mean, it might have. But our fans are the classiest fans. They would never storm a court. They just don’t do it. Rupp Arena, if you win a big game, they’re not storming the court, because you’re supposed to win, so there ain’t no storming. They’re not vicious to the opponent. They’re not that way.
I think, again, the state of Kentucky is so connected to this program. It’s the commonwealth’s team. They go overboard sometimes. I had DeWayne Twitter some things out, Calm down, relax, let’s go, use common sense.
Disappointed to hear it. My wife told me when I got back to the hotel.
Q. (No microphone.)
JOHN CALIPARI: I think it’s great. This is Kentucky and Kansas. I mean, Rupp and Allen and Naismith, all of them. I hate to tell you, Rupp grew up in Kansas, we stole him, I don’t know. It should be an exciting ballgame.
Q. Anthony, I’m thinking about your games against Indiana, a very physical conference. It makes me wonder how you do against physical play. If a team were to get really physical with you, how do you think you can handle that?
ANTHONY DAVIS: Just got to stay low. I know I’m not one of the better players using my upper body. I think I’m as good as any player from my waist low. Just got to stay low and maintain the physicality, try to be physical in the paint.
Q. You said ‘make your free throws.’ You had a great performance against Indiana. Last two games 65%. Did these guys get a little overconfidence?
COACH CALIPARI: No, we’re a terrific free throw shooting team. I think we were number one in our league in free throw shooting. I have no issues with that whatsoever. We have a couple guys that missed some shots. They’ll go into this building today and make those, make those free throws, we’ll be fine.
The thing in this game, it will come down to that physicalness of play. Are we playing people before they catch it, are we getting open before we catch the ball, are we getting in a stance and staying down, doing a better job of rebounding.
What almost cost us last night, offensive rebounds. They got 18 or 19. You’re not winning now. We were lucky we won giving up that many. I think it’s more about that than anything else.
Q. Cal, this is your third Final Four since ’08. Is there something about your personality or coaching style that makes you a coach that can handle rosters that are changing a lot? A couple of other coaches have said they wouldn’t be able to do it, they wouldn’t have had the success that you’ve had.
COACH CALIPARI: They don’t tell the kids they’re recruiting that.
But, I would tell you, a big part of it is the young people have to trust what we’re saying because we don’t have any time for the back and forth. When I say it’s a player’s first program, they know I mean that. During the season it’s all about team.
They also know when the season ends, they’re going to get the information they need to make decisions for themselves personally. They’re not going to be pushed one way or another. It’s about players first.
They look at the players we’ve coached. If you listen, good things happen. I think that’s part of it. The recruiting process, we don’t promise people how often they’ll start, how many shots. It’s hard to come and play here, it’s not for everybody. Every game we play, it’s someone’s Super Bowl. You’re not playing in front of an empty seat all year. There’s no place to hide, no crack to go down into. It’s not for everybody.
I think it starts with that. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had the players, like this, that share the ball. So our best players have all been good guys. Again, it goes to the recruiting process. If your best players are selfish, you’re going to have a selfish team.
Anthony Davis shot it eight times yesterday. Now it’s the first time this year he looked at me and said, Coach, would you get me the ball in the post. He’s not done that. I was happy. We threw it to him about nine straight times.
We got good guys that listen. You got to guard, the basic things, but we’ve had good players.
Q. John, can you talk about Anthony Davis’ shot blocking, what makes him such an elite player on that end of the floor? Rick Pitino talked about Bill Russell yesterday when he was talking about Davis.
COACH CALIPARI: Do you know who Bill Russell is?
ANTHONY DAVIS: Yes.
COACH CALIPARI: Who did he play for?
ANTHONY DAVIS: Celtics.
COACH CALIPARI: Give him a hand. I love it.
He was 6’3″. He grew to 6’10″. He’s nimble like a guard. He doesn’t block it in your hands, he lets you release it. That’s what great shot-blockers do. They never try to get it in your hand. He’s blocking more shots away from his man than his own man. Even though he will block his own man’s shot, it’s the other guys he’s getting most of the time, which means he’s nimble, quick to the ball, he’s got a quick twitch.
When you’re slow switch, slow getting there, a lot of blocks, a lot of hard fouls, but he’s not. I think it kind of sets him apart.
Q. Coach, you talked about your early beginnings at Kansas. You had duties other than basketball when you started there. Talk about your beginnings, how often you look back to that. Do you ever serve your players lunch?
COACH CALIPARI: I do at my house. I’ll do the cooking. Do I?
ANTHONY DAVIS: No (smiling).
COACH CALIPARI: I worked at Kansas. When Ted Owens asked me to join his staff, I said, What position?
He said, Volunteer.
I said, How much does that guy make?
He said, You’re going to live with the assistant, Randolph Carroll, and you can work at the training meal to eat. And then you’re going to help me run my camp and I’ll pay you some camp money.
So I said, I’m going to work at the training Mill?
Yes, for the Sinclairs.
So Paul Sinclair ran the training mill. I would be in the line.
Would you like peas or corn?
I served the baseball team, basketball team, football team. They had steak. I never had steak growing up.
It was a great experience. I mean, I had no worries. Again, I met my wife there. I had great memories of Lawrence, Kansas.
Q. John, almost everything is quantified, points off turnovers and everything. How do you evaluate blocked shots? Do you think it’s the most altering thing on defense? Also talk about Withey.
COACH CALIPARI: He’s the same way. He changes the game. If you go in there, you’re not ready for him to go get it, he will.
I think if you asked me would I rather have a team with a lot of steals or a team that’s blocking lots of shots, I want a team that’s blocking a lot of shots. You’re not going to get a whole lot of layups. You’re going to have to jump shoot a lot, which means your field goal defense is going to be really good. If you lead the nation in steals, you’re probably giving away a ton of layups. I go nuts.
If you ask me which one would I rather have, it would be the shot-blocking team. I think it does change because an attacking team thinks twice about attacking. So they end up shooting a lot of jumpers.
This team we’re playing is the best post-up team in the country. They do a better job of getting their people next to that rim and putting you in a position so they can throw it over the top, throw it inside, and really jamming it and playing mush mouth. They’re as good as they get.
The shot blocking may not have the same effect on this team because, other than Tyshawn, there’s a lot of post-up. Tyshawn drives it. There’s a lot of post-up basketball.
Q. Both Rick Pitino and Bill Self yesterday said the thing they were most impressed with you is you’re able to get these guys who come in early to play defense early. How do you do that? With this group, was it easy to get them into buy into playing hard defense all year?
COACH CALIPARI: Why don’t you answer. How do I get you to play defense?
TERRENCE JONES: If you don’t play defense, you’re not allowed to play.
COACH CALIPARI: It’s pretty simple.
What do you think, Marquis Teague, you had to learn that, right?
MARQUIS TEAGUE: Yeah, he demands it (smiling).
Q. Describe what your relationship with Bill Self has been over the years, how it’s changed. Are there characteristics that you see in your team and his team that are Larry Brown characteristics that you think you share?
COACH CALIPARI: Bill and I have known each other for a long time. I said after they beat us in 2008, if there was any coach or school that was going to beat us in that venue, I would have said, Let it be Kansas. I had fond memories and really respected Bill.
I will tell you offense to defense, defense to offense, which is one of Coach Brown’s major points, I think both of our teams do that well. I think taking care of the ball and getting good shots each time down, that’s one of his things. Making easy plays. Defensively both teams are pretty good. I think that’s Coach Brown.
But I think, again, he worked for Eddie Sutton. You see a lot of the high-low basketball. Their two-game, that’s all Eddie Sutton. He does all the pick-and-roll stuff. But that two-game, that power game, that’s what he got from Eddie.
The other stuff, it’s the greatest thing about working for different coaches, you get things that you like from each guy, kind of put your own personality on it.
Q. Could each of the players talk about what winning a national championship would mean to you.
COACH CALIPARI: I’m going to tell you, we’re not thinking about that. We’re playing a basketball game. When the game’s over, we’re going to all look at each other and say, What just happened? What does this mean? Right now, we’re not.
If you guys want to answer, go ahead. We’re fine to answer it.
DARIUS MILLER: Like coach said, we’re just trying to play basketball right now (smiling). We’re just trying to have fun with it all.
That’s what we’ve been taking all tournament. We’re looking at it as the next game. We’re not trying to hype it up too much or anything like that. We’re trying to play basketball. We’re having fun with everything right now.
Q. Darius and Anthony, when you take a look at this Kansas team right now, is there anything that they bring to the table that you think makes this the hardest game of the year for you?
DARIUS MILLER: They’re a really talented team. I think they’re a really disciplined team. Like coach said, they have one of the best players in the country. So we know it’s going to be a tough game, probably the hardest game we played all season. If not, they wouldn’t be here.
They’re here for a reason. It’s not by mistake. They beat a lot of good teams and they’re capable of beating us, too. We got to be ready to come out and be ready to play the whole 40 minutes, trying to do what we’ve been doing all year.
ANTHONY DAVIS: Like Darius said, they’re a great team, capable of beating us. They have a great inside post presence. Robinson and Withey, they try to do the two-man game just like coach said, try to get easy buckets in side.
Kick it out to great shooters. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.
Q. Bill Self said he thinks he might have the second best shot-blocker in the country. Doron and Marquis, is that going to affect the way you approach the game? Do you get a chance to go against Anthony in practice and know what it feels like?
DORON LAMB: I know how he feel. In practice, Anthony always block my shot. Not a big deal.
But I got to go out there and draw contact, try to make the shot, not try to get the shot blocked.
MARQUIS TEAGUE: Yeah, we just going to attack like we normally would. We used to playing against Anthony every day in practice, so we kind of got a feel for how he want to play. But we just got to stay aggressive.
Q. This is new to your players, it’s not new to you. Is there, in fact, immense pressure on you, is there not?
COACH CALIPARI: No. I was dancing in the breakfast room this morning. I’m fine. As a matter of fact, Terrence has been in the Final Four. Darius has been in the Final Four. Doron has been in the Final Four. You’re talking about a final game?
COACH CALIPARI: No, I’m fine. This isn’t about me. I’m good. My whole thing is how do I get my team to play at their best. How do we combat what Kansas is going to do with us. That’s my whole thought process. When this thing is all over, we’ll look at it.
Q. The talk about your legacy…
COACH CALIPARI: I’m not worried about it. If my legacy is decided on one game, it won’t be me deciding it, it will be everybody else. I’m just trying to coach a game and do the best job I can for these kids.
Q. Darius, you were talking about how much fun you guys are having. Can you describe if there was any pressure on the journey to getting here? Is this all fun and games now?
DARIUS MILLER: We never really put pressure on ourselves. We took every day, day by day, trying to get better that day. We were just worried about what we control, that’s playing as good as we can. We’re not thinking about any pressure or anything like that.
Of course, people outside of us try to put pressure on us. But we don’t listen to people outside of what we call ‘the family’ anyway. It’s been basketball for us the whole tournament. I think that’s probably the reason why we’re so successful.
Q. John, after your last game against Kansas, the championship game you lost in overtime, how long was it before you looked at the film of the last play? Have you heard from any of your former Memphis players as you made your run this year?
COACH CALIPARI: I heard from a bunch of them. Antonio Anderson is in town. I have never looked at that tape. That tape was flung out the door of the bus as we were going to the plane. So I have never looked at that tape, nor will I. I haven’t looked at the Connecticut tape from last year. That was thrown out. The only thing I would learn from that thing is, Oh, my gosh, we lost. I’m moving on.
My former players over at Memphis, I’m hearing from them. Willie texted me, a bunch of ‘em. Yeah. Wish they were all here to see this.
Q. Cal, can you talk about how you feel, your emotions when you look at Terrence, how far he’s developed. You had that very public moment in his freshman season during the game.
COACH CALIPARI: What was that? What happened (smiling)?
Q. How far he’s come. I know it was hard on him after the Indiana game, the injury. The way he’s played down the stretch for you.
COACH CALIPARI: He knows how I feel about him. He’s like a son to me. This kid, what he’s doing, what he’s done, how far he’s come, I’m just proud of him. I mean, he’s more focused. He’s got a better skill set. He still misses his free throws (smiling).
But he is so much better than a year ago. Let me say this: he’s only going to get better. He’s only touching the surface of how good he’s going to be. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.
When he came in and told me, I’m coming back. I asked him why. He told me why he wanted to come back. I said, Okay, but you’re going to have to work your butt off because this is not going to be easy.
He says, It’s what I need.
We’re here. Every time I see him, I’ll text him, Love you, kid, because I do. To do what he’s been doing, how far he’s come, it’s special for the coach to see it.
Q. Cal, you talked pretty extensively about Darius’ play. This will be his final game tomorrow night. He’ll be No. 1 all time in games played at Kentucky.
COACH CALIPARI: Really? That’s great.
Q. Knowing that, knowing he’s had 40 teammates, what do you think his legacy would be at UK?
COACH CALIPARI: His legacy’s going to be he’s going to be a top 30 scorer, rebounder, assist. Took two teams to a Final Four. Don’t know what the end result will be yet, but two teams to a Final Four, one to an Elite 8. Has won a ton of games now. Has won a ton of games over his time here. Is going to graduate. Is Kentucky’s own. They love him. If he wants to get into politics, he could run for governor and win. Probably have to wait a couple years, but…
He’s beloved. He’s going to be one of those guys 50 years from now, they’re going to be talking about.
Q. You have some great relationships up in the northeast, particularly New Jersey. What would it mean to you if you win the national championship tomorrow night? That’s Brian Long, Jr.’s birthday.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, Brian’s father and I have been friends for 25 years. His son Travis played for me at Memphis. His son Brian now plays for me. Because Travis left before we went to the Final Four, his other brother Keith played at UNLV, I said, None of your other brothers got to a Final Four, you did. He’s on that court, raised up 22 feet off the floor shooting baskets.
Him being on our team, in the Final Four, I mean, a good friend of mine, Joe Malone, his son Sam is with us from Massachusetts. To be able to see their sons in this kind of environment, living their dream, think about that for me. I mean, it’s the greatest thing about being a coach.
The other thing is the way we used to be able to do it. Sit people only the bench, my father, staff’s father, friends of mine, teammates of mine, we can’t do that anymore, they don’t let you sit them on the bench.
To me being in the game is nothing. To them being at the game is the lifetime experience. So you try to share that.
Q. You and Bill Self both spoke at Jimmy Carr’s clinic this past summer. Did you know anything about the affliction that his son passed away from? What did you learn about it? How do you make those decisions because there are so many causes out there?
COACH CALIPARI: Jimmy is one of those guys, when he called about it to say, Cal, can you help me? He told me that his son had passed, his wife and he wanted to start a foundation in honor of his son. I said, When do you need me there? What’s the date and when do you need me there?
Again, the one thing about we coaches, when it’s time to come together, we do it. Now, we fight, we’re all jealous, all that other stuff, who makes this, who got what kid, all that stuff. But at the end of the day, there’s only 300 of us that sit in these seats and each of us have three or four assistants that are in these positions and understand what it’s like.
To have someone like Jim, who is a terrific guy, to have that. I have children. I have two daughters and a son. Just couldn’t even imagine if that had happened to me. I couldn’t imagine.
So we went out. Larry Brown was there. Bill Self was there. You had all the people from around the country. Hubie Brown came in to watch it. It was a neat thing. It just shows coaches coming together like that, kind of neat.
Q. Bill Self has always hung his hat on defense. In the tournament it’s kind of come to the forefront being able to make teams play ugly, low percentages in the second half. Comment on how this year’s team, what they’re doing defensively, has allowed or kept teams from shooting well.
COACH CALIPARI: They got that kid in the middle that’s blocking, blocking. They got guards that get up in you and are quick. Then you got Thomas down there. He’s no Schmoe either now. I’m just starting to watch the tape.
No. 4 played against us in New York. Now we’re playing No. 40. I’m just getting to know the names of these guys because I haven’t watched them play that much. Here’s another shot-blocker, Who is this guy? He didn’t play against us last time.
They got good players. He’s playing seven guys. We’re playing seven guys. Someone says, You’re short benched. I said, Everybody in this tournament had short benches. You do shorten it up a little bit.
They’re physical. They play position defense. They do a great job in pick-and-rolls. They show, they step out. You got to be ready. What are we doing when they do this? They’re going to step out and show how we’re going to play against it, do a good job in the post because they’re physical. If you lose sight, Withey is blocking it. Bill has done a great job with that team.
Q. I think anybody who spent time around Michael in high school understands how incredibly shy he is. How has he handled dealing with the spotlight that’s so bright? Have you had to handle him differently than you have other players?
COACH CALIPARI: The reason I’ve had to handle him differently, he’s like Derrick Rose in that he is harder on himself than anybody could be on him. I’ll give you an example. After yesterday’s game, he was like despondent, down. What? When I came to talk to you all, all you could talk about was the five points he got on his own to break open the game. I told him, Everybody loves you except you. You got to love yourself. You got to be your biggest cheerleader.
I’m telling you, it was the same with Derrick. Quit being so hard on yourself. With that being said, I can’t be hard on him. I have some other guys that are never hard on themselves and I have to be hard on them, but he’s just not one of them. \
He’s one of those guys that defers. He takes the fifth most shots on our team, him and Anthony Davis. Doesn’t say a word. Tell me what you have to do. Guards their best player. When the game is on the line, he attacks that basket like nothing I’ve ever seen. Has a will to win that’s beyond the norm. Has a motor that moves. He wants it to be perfect. No one is perfect. You miss shots, you turn it over, miss a free throw, trip sometimes. Just how it is.
That’s the challenge of coaching him. Just get him to understand, You be your own cheerleader.
Q. One more look back to ’08.
COACH CALIPARI: This guy is trying to kill me (smiling).
Q. There way a parallel last night when they fouled Craft with a 3-point lead and put him on the line to shoot two. Without having looked at the tape ??
COACH CALIPARI: We were trying to foul him at halfcourt because there was too much time on the clock. You have to understand, we just missed a ton of free throws. If we fouled him too early, in my mind, they were going to foul us again. We may have missed again. So now we’re saying, Let’s foul him at halfcourt, that will put about five seconds on the clock. The kid got away from our guy.
I said, Why didn’t you do it?
He said, I was afraid it was going to be an intentional foul. We’re good then.
At the end of the day we had a nine-point lead, I have to figure something out. Go shoot the free throws myself, do something to get us out of that gym, and I didn’t.
But, again, you make decisions. I had people call me after and said, You did the right thing not fouling. We were trying to foul, so…
It was something crazy we had worked on. The year before there was a game in the NCAA tournament, I won’t mention his name, they didn’t foul, and they went to overtime and lost. He and I are close, we talked. For 30 days we worked on that exact situation.
So in these tournaments, stuff happens. My team played well throughout that whole tournament, including that game.
Q. Could you talk about your relationship with Nick Saban? Could it be you’re on similar career paths and seen as lightning rods for controversy?
COACH CALIPARI: He may be a lightning rod for controversy. I am not.
Coaching is coaching. It’s like Bill Parcells. I went to one of his practices. He knew what all 22 guys were doing. He stopped practice and talked to four guys on offense on one possession and three guys on the defense. Larry Brown is like that as a basketball coach. He knows what all 10 are doing.
When I watch him coach, watch how his teams play, I’m just blown away by their excellence, their decision making, their play under pressure. I’ve talked to them. Back and forth I’ll call him, tell me what you’re doing here. When they lost the game to LSU, the field goal kicker missed it, he didn’t do one thing except pump that guy up. That’s who did the kicking in the last game that won it.
He knew his team played well enough to win the first time. I like how he handles his players, how he runs his program. I think he’s a terrific coach. We can all learn from him and other great coaches.
Q. I’ve seen teams both in college and the pros that go through this process of going through the championship season. It can be draining. You keep talking about how much fun and easy it is for you.
COACH CALIPARI: Not easy.
Q. It seems like it’s fun. It’s not a burden for you. How did you coach that so all the expectations on the outside are not creeping on the inside?
COACH CALIPARI: We started it by saying we’ve got good players and a good team. We played a lot of basketball games, let’s keep playing basketball games. Forget about this tournament. We got a game to play, we’ll worry about what happens later. Let’s just play the game.
The second thing is, I know if my team is enjoying themselves, they’re going to play better. I’ve done this for a lot of years. If you’re watching my time, just like you said, they look like they’re having more fun than anybody else on the court, then I’ve done my job.
To do that, you can’t be getting bullied. You can’t play half speed. You have to play with some emotion and passion. You got to be with your teammates. You got to be together. You got to be playing for one another and doing it at a high level, execution, everybody counting on one another. You have a ball. Doesn’t mean you win every game. We haven’t won every game. It means you have a chance to win every game. It means you’re at your best.
Again, for this game, all I keep telling them, Let’s be at our best, we’ll deal with the results.
Q. Today is the third anniversary of your hiring at UK. Can you revisit that and talk about the journey, the surprises, if any.
COACH CALIPARI: I’d like to probably look back at the press conference and see what we talked about, what we were going to try to do, all those things. I can remember some of the things. It’s been a learning experience ’cause Kentucky, they’re crazy. Fans are crazy. I love it. But they watch the tapes more than I watch the tapes.
They are so into it to a point where it’s what you always want when you’re coaching. Then when you get in the middle of it, you’re like, Wow!
But I’ve enjoyed it. Took me 20 years to get a job like this, a BCS job, 20 years. I coached 20 years not in a BCS situation. So it’s been a ball.
People care. People on the campus care. Kids around the country, you can go recruit who you want. You can get the best and the brightest. Brandon Knight was a 4.0 student. He left our campus after one year because he had 23 credits go with him, 60 college credits of 4.0 work. You can get those kind of kids. You can get the best-of-the-best.
Problem is with these rules the way they are, they don’t stay long. But I’m enjoying myself.
Q. What was the most important take away during your time in the NBA? Could you see yourself going back there at some point?
COACH CALIPARI: The biggest takeaway is they fired me. What I learned there was, in college it was always about movement, motion offense. That was the ’70s. Motion and passing, not knowing who is shooting. In the NBA it was all about spacing.
There is motion, but it’s more about the space of the court. So I was able to come back and say, We do have movement, but the most important thing is the spacing.
The second thing I would tell you is it taught me what kids in my program need to succeed when they go to the professional level. So if you look at the kids that we’ve coached that have gone to that league, they’ve done well. It’s not just getting drafted. They’re being drafted and doing well. So I think that’s helped.
But still hear from Sam Cassell and some of the guys. We played against Joe Kleine. He’s now coaching at Little Rock. I enjoyed my time there. But I’m having a ball. I’ve got a great job. If there’s a better job in basketball, I don’t know what it is. This is a great job that I have right now.
Q. You don’t see yourself going back?
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t.
Q. Most people in this room come from a different world in which the elite young players come from. We know it’s all different. Your best players aren’t here by choice. Your legacy issue aside, I don’t believe a word you’re saying about that, you have to care. You’re a college basketball fan from your shoes up, infancy up. Is it possible that winning would mean more to you than your marquee players? The fact is this whole experience has to mean more to you than these kids.
COACH CALIPARI: It means a lot to my family and my friends and people that care about me. I’m telling you, I’m not worried about it. Here is why: if I do right by these kids, if I make sure it’s about players first, if I make sure everything I do demanding that they do the right things, that they create good habits, demanding that they understand you have to sacrifice for each other, it’s about us, demanding they spend the time in that building, they need to improve their own skills, they will drag us where we want to go.
Now, whether it’s Monday or some other time, I believe it will happen. Maybe it won’t.
Let me ask you something. What if it doesn’t, we’re knocking at the door, and 50 or 60 of these kids go on to their professional careers, the others graduate and do well in the real world, but these 50 that go on to the NBA, we just changed 50 lives of families that cycles have changed.
Now, if I look back on that and I’m disappointed because ‘I’ didn’t win that game, then I’m not being truthful to them. It was more about me than them.
I’m telling you right now, early in my career, yeah. I’m old now. Now it starts changing. It’s not about me, it’s about everybody else. I’ve been blessed. My grandparents came through Ellis Island. Did not speak English. My mother passed away last November. My father is here with me, 79 years old. High school graduates. Their son, their grandson, is coaching at Kentucky. Are you kidding me?
I’ve been blessed. If it happens, it does. I swear to you, yeah, you know, it would be nice. But my friends and family are praying. I’m not. If I keep doing right by the kids, good things will happen for all of us.
Is that fair (smiling)?
Q. Really doesn’t answer the question.
COACH CALIPARI: Ask me again.
Q. All I’m saying is if by accident you win, is it possible, the totality, it will mean more to you than any of these kids that are dreaming about going to the NBA?
COACH CALIPARI: I’ll say it. It would mean more to my family and friends than it would to me. To them I think it’s pretty significant. I think six of them have a chance to be drafted in the first round. If they go out here and play their butts off and do the right thing, then it means more to them than it would to me.
So I answered it?
Q. Yes. The answer is, no, it would mean more to you than them.
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t know what I said (laughter).
Q. Have you changed your approach at all to working on free throw shooting since ’08 or last year?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah. I’ve recruited better free throw shooters.
Q. What is the drill there?
COACH CALIPARI: The drill is you watch them shoot free throws when they’re in high school. And if they kid is really, really bad, and you have a choice between a kid that can really shot free throws and one that can’t and everything else is equal, you take that kid.
The only thing I did this year to focus more is we started running lines, free throw line, halfcourt, full court, that line, for every missed free throw in the game, the team had to run. One game they had to run nine. They all looked at each other and said, We don’t like running. They started missing less and less and less throughout the year. We did that from, I’m going to guess, late December on.
Terrence made 80% of his free throws, didn’t matter what the rest of you did, you wouldn’t run. One game we missed seven, he made four or five. We’re running seven tomorrow. He said, No, I made 80%. Just to get them to focus more.
They have to spend time on it. I have a terrific free throw shooting team. This team here is probably as good of a free?throw shooting team as I’ve ever had.
Q. Last night a lot of your coaching colleagues were sitting in the front row, a lot shaking their heads in respect at Anthony’s dunk shots. We know he’s a premiere defensive player. Where is he as an offensive player? Is there something about the magnitude of the Final Four where a guy with a high profile can raise it even more?
COACH CALIPARI: They can all raise their performance, everybody that plays in this tournament. They’re being evaluated very, very closely, believe me. A great performance in this venue probably tells people who are evaluating them. You know what, under those circumstances he can perform like that, this kid’s really good.
So I would tell you that Anthony is more of an offensive player than even we’ve let you see because, again, we got six starters on this team. No one shoots more than 11 shots a game. He’s not out there taking 20 shots. Could you imagine if he took 20 shots? There would probably be another four or five highlight plays that you would all say, Whoa!
At the next level, I think he’ll be a 3-4. That’s what I think he’ll be.
Q. I want to ask you about Kansas. Every game except the first round has been tied or within a couple points in the last two or three minutes. You probably want to win every game by 20. As a coach, is there respect you have for a team that is able to pull those games out?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, they’ve got a great will to win. They’re a veteran team, juniors and seniors, they’ve got a great will to win. It’s been amazing.
With all they lost, for Bill to put that team together, do what they’ve done, it’s phenomenal. I can’t begin to tell you. For coaches out there to know, you lose your whole team, got a couple guys back, plugged the holes with the other guys. Those other guys end up being pretty darn good. Then you have a freshman that didn’t make it, if I remember right, and they still do what they’re doing and they’re playing. What? Phenomenal job.
He’s another one that gets guys to buy in to how we need to play to win and they listen to him. Obviously, being a former assistant out there, I’m just happy in what he’s doing.
Q. Cal, you dodged the lightning bolt question a minute ago. There are some strong opinions about you, positive and negative. How do you react to that? What do you think your image is nationally?
COACH CALIPARI: Depends on who you talk to, I guess. I don’t need to explain myself to my friends. They don’t need to hear it. The others don’t need to hear it anyway. Some like you; some don’t. I’m not here for a popularity contest. I coach young people. I’m worried about those 13, I’m worried about their families, I’m worried about the campus, I’m worried about the city I live in, the state I live in. Other than that, I’m not.
If you beat somebody five times in a row, I don’t think their fans are all going to be happy with you. If they are, it’s probably 400 showed up for the game.
But that’s all part of what we do.
Q. Cal, you seem to have embraced the realities of this sport as a business, that all these kids face. How did you arrive at that place? Do you feel like you’re ahead of the curve on that? Is there a little helpful of hypocrisy on the part of the NCAA that they sort of turn away from that?
COACH CALIPARI: No. One thing I believe now, because it’s going to happen at other schools, Carolina lost guys, Duke is losing guys early, it’s not just my issue now, that’s one.
I’ll tell you, what happens is you have a young man that can leave after a year and he’s going to be drafted in the first five picks, first 10 picks. How do you tell him to stay? I don’t know what you do to tell him to stay.
I talked to Dr. Emmert. He liked the insurance, all the other stuff. He liked it. I told him, We have to do something now because do we really want 150 high school kids think they’re going to college for one year? Do we really want that? Because that’s what we have. In reality you’re going to have five or six, but there’s 150 that think they’re the guy.
When you get to college, now you’re coaching guys, you got a lot of guys. I tell them, Do not come with me if you think you’re leaving after a year. You come with me if you think you’re staying with me two years minimum. You’re going to class, you’re going to be educated while you’re here. An educated man doesn’t get robbed or fooled. You need to take financial management classes, speech classes, you need to do things that are going to prepare you for the rest of your life or you’ll get robbed and you’ll get fooled.
So our kids come and they understand that.
After a year, they sit down as a family and say, Coach, this is what this looks like, this is what we’re going to do. I’m like, Fine, let’s go with it.
I think there are things we can do to get this thing better. Get this stipend thing done. Should be more $2,000, but let’s start there. Let these kids’ insurance be paid for by the schools of the NCAA. Kids shouldn’t have a $45,000 bill for insurance by staying in school longer.
Those families of those 30 kids, you’re not talking 6,000 kids, 30, that are eligible for the insurance, should be eligible for a hardship loan. Maybe it’s the same of what their insurance is going to cost, they get a loan for that, too, for their family, so you keep everybody away. But the NBA has to get involved.
Billy Hunter and I have talked about this issue three different occasions. Before the NCAA tournament started, he came down to Lexington and talked to my team because I wanted their mind on college and nothing else, then he and I discussed this issue.
I think the NBA shortening a contract if a kid stays or if a kid graduates, it’s good for them. The kid is more marketable. He’s more prepared. You’re going to have less issues. That investment in a kid that graduates, a higher pay scale is worth it to the NBA. So I think there’s things we can do, but you got to negotiate them.
Everybody has to got to get together with Billy Hunter, who basically is representing the college players. You say, How is that? Because he owns the one-year rule. You want it to go to two years, only he can say yes, no one else.
He represents every college player, or at least the ones that have that opportunity to go pro after a year.
Q. Most of the beloved teams in Kentucky in history are teams filled with kids from Kentucky. Your program is different. This team will probably be beloved. Can you talk a little bit about that and whether it’s the fans embracing the fact that Kentucky is Kentucky, doesn’t maybe matter where the kids are from.
COACH CALIPARI: There’s two parts to that. They love their Kentucky players now. Jon Hood and Darius and Jared, they love their Kentucky players, and they should. The other side of it is they love this team, and they love this team because of how unselfish they are. They love this team because they know they’re talented, they’re sharing, sacrificing, doing things together. They love this team.
I think, again, they know how hard it is to be a player at Kentucky. It’s hard. It’s just not for everybody. The students know that, the fans know it, the people that live in that state know it.
I think what you have is a fan base that looks at this team and says, Wow, this is a fun team to watch and, man, are they unselfish.
Q. How many of your peers do you think would do things the way you do them with the one-and-dones if they could? Do you think there’s a fear within the NCAA establishment with how you do things?
COACH CALIPARI: Dr. Emmert said, Hey, it’s not my rule. He said it. It’s not my rule. I think if you’re asking me if other coaches would recruit the top-level players, everybody recruits ‘em. We all recruit the same guys.
Q. You called yourself old. When you do get older, you can look at your coaching tree. A lot of people ask you what you have learned. How often do you talk to your former assistants?
COACH CALIPARI: All the time. All the time. We talk all the time. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not talking to one of my assistants that’s become a head coach or a former player that’s an assistant now, texting back and forth to guys. If someone wins a game, we’re all hitting each other. It’s kind of nice because it’s a hard business and we’re there for each other.
Q. John, yesterday we saw the jump hook, two right hand, one left hand from Anthony. He said at the beginning of the year he was throwing those off the backboard. Can you talk about how much he’s grown as an offensive player over the course of this year and do you need to take greater advantage of that in tomorrow night’s game than you did yesterday?
COACH CALIPARI: I would say we do have to take more of an advantage of it. You have to play the game as it comes. Sometimes they’re going to take him away, he’s a great passer, we got six other guys that can make those plays, too. He’s fine with that.
I will tell you, Kenny Payne has done a great job. In the gym early with them. Prepractice stuff. When we break down all the jump hooks, all the things you see him doing in the post, Kenny has done a great job working with him, making him comfortable playing that way.
Q. Yesterday Bill Self won the Adolph Rupp Cup National Coach of the Year. I’m wondering how the two-time Final Four coach at Kentucky hasn’t had a better run for something like that?
COACH CALIPARI: Only one coach from Kentucky has ever gotten that award. I got it two years ago (laughter).
But it’s fine. The Rupp family, as a matter of fact, his great-great grandson and my son go to the same school, they’re friends. Frederick comes over to the house, a wonderful young person. He’s now growing like his dad, his grandfather’s Herky Rupp, obviously his great grandfather is Adolph Rupp. His name is Adolph Rupp, I don’t know, the sixth. Frederick is a great kid, and their family, we’ve included them in a lot of stuff that we’ve done.
The 2000 2K UK, I made sure he was on the floor with us, Herky, Coach Rupp’s son. I went to the award. When they gave it to Anthony got Player of the Year, that’s only happened one other time, and that’s John Wall.
Q. You talked earlier about it took you 20 years to get a BCS job. You were enormously successful at UMass, took a team to the Final Four at Memphis, championship game in 2008. Were you getting to the point where you thought the opportunity wasn’t going to arrive?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I had opportunities at other schools, but they weren’t Kentucky. I looked at the job that I had at the time and said, I’ve got a better job than that job.
I don’t know which coach it was that told me. It may have been Eddie Sutton. Somebody told me, All coaches think they can take the job from a middle of the league and move it up to the top. That’s not easy. There’s no given that it’s going to happen. You’ve seen many coaches go to that job and just stay right there and all of a sudden it’s like, What’s going on?
So for me, you always want to see what is the best job in any league? That’s a really good job. So the opportunity I had for BCS jobs just weren’t one of the better jobs in the league. They were in that middle range. I just said, I got a better job where I’m at at UMass and Memphis.
Q. You’ve branded your program as a player’s first program. But the fans are such a big part of Kentucky basketball. I know you say you’re just thinking about this as one game. What is your sense of what another championship will mean?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m going to be honest. I have absolutely no idea. They’re burning couches in the semifinal. Hopefully they’re in their houses and they hug their wives and they kiss their dogs, I don’t know, but just not go crazy if we’re lucky enough to have it happen.
When you ask me what I think it means, when I heard that yesterday, I really don’t know. I don’t know the depth of it obviously because I didn’t think they needed to do what they did yesterday.
But I’m just telling you, these fans are the greatest fans. They’re the most passionate fans. They’re into it like you can’t believe, as you know. But we’re just going to play a basketball game. And then after it’s over, whatever happens, we’ll deal with the results of it.