Just because it’s technically the offseason doesn’t mean it’s a dead period for the Southeastern Conference’s basketball coaches.
With coaches allowed to work with their teams this summer, the NBA Draft approaching, and the official additions of Texas A&M and Missouri just a few days away, there was plenty for the league’s coaches to discuss during the league’s annual summer teleconference Monday.
John Calipari made his usual appearance on the teleconference to answer questions about next year’s team and the SEC’s newest schools and coaches. A bit surprisingly, he was not asked about the NBA Draft.
Here is the transcript:
On his team looking ahead to next season …
Calipari: You won’t believe this, but we’re going to be really young. We’ll probably end up starting at least three freshmen again. I think that may be the fourth straight year. What we’ve been able to do this year for the first time is work out with our team (in the summer), and I can tell you I like my team. I think we’ve got good players, we’ve got good kids. Last year we had a 3.2 grade-point average with 10 guys over a 3.0 average. Eloy (Vargas) and Darius (Miller) graduated. I expect this team may do better off the court. And boy, if they could ever do on the court what last year’s team did, it would be a great story.
On how Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have looked in the summer workouts …
Calipari: They’re two different kinds of players. They’ve both looked really good. Archie is a slasher, scorer who can play one and two both; he can play both positions which is going to be vital because when you’re not playing 10 guys and you’re playing seven or eight, you’ve got to have guys who can play multiple positions. And Alex is a beast. Alex and both Willie (Cauley-Stein), I don’t think they still understand how good they can be. He’s 6-7, long arms, he plays bigger. He’s going to be another wing that runs and can make plays and can score the ball. He shoots it good. We’ve got to get him more consistent, and as we did drills and did stuff, you could see both of those guys move around a little bit, which is typical of high school players. And then we had Willie, and I’m just blown away by him. I knew he was good when I watched him, but he’s gained (weight). His official visit, he was 215. He’s over 230 pounds now, and he’s loving it. He’s soaking it in. He’s one of the guys who devours (practices). It just blossoms and blossoms. So I think those three, and with Nerlens (Noel) you have four pretty good guys. Julius (Mays) is on campus now, and Ryan (Harrow). Kyle (Wiltjer) is bouncier than I’ve ever seen. He’s still not shaving. We know he’s going to start hitting his stride when he shaves. He does have hair under his arms though. I did see that. And then you still have Jon Hood and Twany (Beckham) and Jarrod (Polson) and those guys. They’re going to have their opportunity this year, so we will see.
On the difficulty of replacing nearly an entire starting five …
Calipari: I’ve had to replace three teams here. This is the fourth quote new team that I’ve had to coach. If I had my druthers, one, I don’t like the one-and-done rule. I wish it was in the 70s and 80s where I had guys for four years because it would get kind of scary. But the way it is set up, you have a choice of convincing guys to stay that should put their name in the draft. Look, to go from college to pro, you say, “Hey, we’ve prepared them to a level.” Until they play in that league, until they get that mindset of being a professional, until they understand time because you’re going to play back-to-backs and all the travel and all the other stuff, they’re not prepared. But our guys seem to be more prepared than other guys because they’re going into that league the first year and doing well and able to contribute right away. The rest of that, beyond that first year, is out of how we can operate because we’re not coaching them anymore, but I’m proud of all that. For me, to start over every year, I’m going to be honest, it’s exciting. The job that I have every year is not to say here’s how we’re going to play, this is called Cal ball. What will we do? You’re going to defend, we’re going to play fast, you’re going to be unselfish – all those basic things. You’ve got to be mentally and physically tough to play at Kentucky. You’re everybody’s Super Bowl. But how we play the Dribble Drive, how we get into it, to be honest has been different every year and we’ve had to figure it out, and some teams it takes us months to figure out. I have no idea with this team yet how we will play and get into Dribble Drive, but I do know we can play two big kids at one time, the 7-footer and 6-11. We can do that if we choose to. Now we may not start that way, but we can go into that rotation and have two huge guys on the floor.
On the entrance of Missouri and Texas A&M bolstering the league …
Calipari: Oh yeah, oh yeah. They are two programs, both in football, basketball and their other sports, that are going to have a huge impact on what happens. Now, all of a sudden, the strength of our league schedule goes up. It affects how we schedule in our own conference. You’re talking two NCAA Tournaments in men’s basketball. If you want to put your team in jeopardy, over-schedule, have an injury. At the end of the day, it changes how we think a little bit here. You’ve got both Frank (Haith) and Billy (Kennedy), terrific coaches who have both proven themselves over the years. And then you’ve got two more hard games. I have not been in Texas A&M’s building. My wife is from Missouri so I’ve been on that campus. I have not been in the new building; I’ve been in the other building and coached there. The fans in both of those places, it’s nuts. It’s going to be a big-time environment. But you’ve also got Ricky (Ray), you’ve got Johnny (Jones), you’ve got Frank Haith and Frank Martin; we’ve got five coaches coming into the league that are really going to add to what this league is about.
On what Missouri will add to the SEC …
Calipari: Again, a top-notch athletic program, another game in our league that is a talented team, a well-coached team that prepares you for what lies ahead after our tournament, and that is the NCAA Tournament. You want the league to be as strong as ever. Last year’s league was really strong and prepared us to do what we did, to win a national title. There’s no question about it. They can say, “Well, you won them all so it couldn’t have been a good league.” No, we were just really good. Our league was as good as (anyone). You think about our league and the teams that we had, now you add Texas A&M and Missouri. Think about what happens now. Now we start moving up a notch in where everybody is. I think, again, seven teams in our league, half of our league is going to be in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what I believe. And I think that will be from here on in. We’re going to have half and maybe more some years of our league in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a tough league. They add another market to us in St. Louis to recruit and other areas. You’re able to recruit nationally anyways, but now when you start talking about adding Texas (A&M), look, we’re recruiting in Texas. I’m able to say, “Hey, man, we’re coming in there to play at least every other year and it may be a couple years in a row, you don’t know.” I’m excited about them being added, and if the league expanded again and added two more, I’d be fine with that. I think with what they’ve done with the football, the four-team playoff, I think it starts pointing us into a direction of where we’re going now as an athletic program. I think that’s all good for us.
A couple of other news items from around the league:
- Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said playing Kentucky just once a year was “one of the disappointments to the new scheduling format.” Stallings said Vandy fans will be disappointed to be without two games a season, “but that’s just the nature of it.” Stallings said there could be advantages to facing the Cats just once a year. “If John’s teams continue to be as good as the one was this year, I won’t miss playing them twice this year,” Stallings said.
- Frank Martin, South Carolina’s new head coach, called the SEC the “most underrated league in the country.”
- Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia are all playing overseas this summer to prepare for the season. If you can remember back to the 2010-11 season, Coach Cal took his team north to play in Canada.