John Calipari sat down with a a group of reporters last month in a roundtable discussion to discuss his new team, following a national championship, his legacy and more. Over the next four days, CoachCal.com will post the entirety of that one-hour session. Today we continue the four-part Q and A with bringing back former players, Kyle Wiltjer’s time with the Canadian national team, recharging the batteries and how Calipari filters criticism.
Question: How much did last year’s group affect that mindset with this year’s group? They know coming in what’s here, what’s in front of them, but how much did just the level of success of that group affect this one?
Calipari: There are a couple of things. One, the academic bar has been raised here, and it’s been raised ever since Brandon Knight came here. They understand you’ve got a responsibility, and if you don’t hold up that responsibility then it’s hard for us to believe we can count on you. That’s changed. The other thing that I will tell you that if you think shots matter, like if I’m not getting my shots, if you think shots matter, ask Michael Kidd-(Gilchrist) and Anthony Davis, the No. 1 and 2 picks in the draft, who got the fourth- and fifth-most shots on our team. Ask those two if it mattered. So I don’t need any phone calls, I don’t need anybody talking to me. That’s changed now. And I think again, what they were as a team and how they were their brother’s keeper gives you an idea, are you willing to do all that? Are you willing to be a sixth man? Are you willing to do what Michael Kidd-(Gilchrist) did at Vanderbilt and come in and say, “Coach, start Darius Miller in the championship game because he’s playing so bad and we need him in the NCAA Tournament?” Can you do that? “I don’t think so, but I think he will.” And then everybody that surrounds us and these kids that think, “Well, you should do this,” I just think it kind of wipes all that out and it makes us different in that they understand it’s not how many shots I take, it’s how I play. It’s what I add to the team. It’s what people see in me and what I’ll be as a teammate. It’s does our team win? And if we win at a high level, everyone is going to want all of us. Those are the kinds of things that are teaching tools I’ll use the rest of my career. This will be one of those things. And hopefully this team I’m coaching now will give me more ammo to go back at people and say look at this and look at that.
Question: You’ve continued to bring back former players, specifically in that undergraduate assistant role. Other that trying to help them, is there a tangible effect that those guys can have on your current players?
Calipari: If they do, fine. If they do it would be great. It would be like an added (bonus), but that’s not why we’re doing it. We just added one of the first players I ever recruited. He just got done playing in Europe. He’s been added to the weight staff. He’s Brian Shorter. He was at Pittsburgh (when I was an assistant). He just got done playing, just finished up his degree. Orlando (Antigua) and I got after Pitt, “Hey man, get this kid back, let him finish his degree.” He wasn’t that far. And so now we’ve got him started in that weight and conditioning stuff. It’s the greatest thing being able to be in a position to do it. Now, does Brian Shorter add something? Well, I don’t know. If he does, great, but if he doesn’t and we help another young man get on with his life, (I’m fine with it). Marquis (Estill) being back. I just got a letter from his seventh-grade teacher who was a brand-new teacher and the kid was so nice to her that she had a relationship with him. She helped him with math or something and now he made her feel good as a teacher when she first started when she was unsure because he was such a nice kid. And then, “I’m the biggest fan of this kid. He made me feel good.” I just got that letter back about him. That makes it kind of like, hey, these are good kids. Some of them are finishing careers. I told Nazr (Mohammed), Nazr has some time left. He didn’t finish. I said, “When you’re done playing, come back and finish and be on my staff one year. Finish up.” We obviously did it with Wayne Turner who was really good for us, really good for us.
Question: Do those players maybe listen to them more because they’ve been in that seat. You talk about people being in that seat, they don’t understand it until they’ve been there. Do they maybe listen to those guys more?
Calipari: Players know players from the last three years. They have no idea who these guys are.
Question: Kyle went up for a weekend with the Canadian National Team. What do you hope he gets out of that?
Calipari: One, I knew he’d be up there with good players and he would get good coaching and good competition. He and I talked and I said, “You need to go up there.” Maurizio, who I knew through my UMass days, he used to be a (general manger) over in Italy and had a couple of players on my team, he called and said, “Hey, we really want Kyle up here.” I said, “Look, as long as he doesn’t miss too much school.” So we got him up there, and I’ll you what, they loved him. They loved him. He was ecstatic. He said, “Coach, there was this guy from the Lakers and he had us doing stuff. I wish I could have stayed. It was really good. He gave us some different things we were doing.” I said, “How’d you shoot?” He said, “I was really making them.” He said, “I was killing it.” It’s like Willie the other day. It’s the greatest thing when you’re coaching and you see guy start building. He didn’t have a shirt on and I looked at his arm and I said, “Man, you’ve got some bumps. That’s crazy.” And then he goes like this and makes a muscle and points at the weight strength coach, “He helped me.” I just busted out laughing. I said, “Come on, man, you’ve got to be kidding me.” But that’s the type of stuff. You’re coaching at Kentucky and you understand that this is life and death for some people, but it’s not life and death for me. I’ve told you before, one, I want to win championships for the state and the Commonwealth, but the most important thing is helping these young kids. It’s a players-first program. If we do right by then, if we make decisions based on them, they will drag us where we want to go. I said three years ago, we had guys write stories and try to get people comment on it when those five guys went in the first round and I said it was the biggest or one of the biggest – I may have said the biggest – and I think I’m probably right because now you have every player in the country wanting to do what? Play here. And it started with those five going in the first round, which is like something that may never be done again unless we do it here. And now all of a sudden it’s changed what’s happened for us. And now we stay as a players-first (program) and let’s see where this team can drag us.
Question: Are you happy with the nonconference schedule and how it ended up?
Calipari: Yeah. I wanted to play that Indiana game. I thought those would be great games in Indianapolis, but that’s fine, we’ve got Baylor. North Carolina is being added back and you’ll have Louisville and North Carolina, one away and one home every year. You’ll have some neutral games every year. We’re still in the process of the Duke stuff every year where we’re playing at a neutral site. Mike (Krzyzewski) says he wants to do it so now we’ve just got (get it on paper). You won’t believe this but he’s been kind of busy and I’ve been kind of busy so we haven’t matched cards yet, but I think that’ll be done. And then we’ll play two or three other games, maybe another game here or there depending on our team. What if everyone comes back? Yeah, we may add some single-shot games and play more to prepare the team, but I think we’re doing what most of the teams are doing now. You’re playing a schedule that fits. You would like to play more but that’s for fans and me when it’s about these kids. When you talk about the SEC adding two more games, you say, “You’re not playing as many nonconference.” Well yeah, because we’re playing two more conference games. We’re playing one of those teams twice, Texas A&M.
Question: What do you think those two teams do for the strength of the conference?
Calipari: Missouri is picked above us. A&M, they struggled last year, but I think they’re going to be good again. I think they’ll be fine. They just slipped a little bit, but I think they’re going to be fine.
Question: You win a national championship and you go on the tour around the state and then you coached the Dominican team. Are the batteries recharged enough to be able to do this again? When do you run out of gas?
Calipari: Probably when I’m done. In my last year, I’ll run out of gas then. I took some time before the Dominican Republic (job) that I’ve never taken before. We got back, I took some time. We went to Boston. We went to (see) my daughters and took some time. I took some good time this weekend. I read about 150 pages of a book I started and kind of kicked back. But I kept coming over to the office. My wife is like, “You’re out of your mind.” We have two workouts that go about 50 minutes, so if I choose to grab a player and work on his shooting, I can do it. So I had Archie over here and did a little shooting and then called Nerlens and I said, “I’ve been thinking about you, kid. Let’s do this and finish this.” I’m just enjoying this. Listen, the pace you go here is the pace you go. If you want to coach here you take a lot of crap. If that’s what I have to do to be the coach here then I’ll take a lot of crap. I’m the coach at Kentucky. It took me 20 years to get this job. I look back and I say this all the time, man, how about if I coach here for 20 years? Daggone.
Question: Could you coach here for 20 years?
Calipari: I would love to do that. If you could last here 20 years, then I’d like saying, “How about some of these other guys coach at some of the places I’ve been?” The stuff you have to do and the stuff you have to take is just part of this job. But I think I’m ready. I need to lose a little weight. I gained a little weight. I went and saw a friend of mine today to make him feel good and as I’m leaving he says, “Hey, (and points at my stomach).” Oh, that’s real nice. I appreciate it. I make you feel good and I walk out and you touch my belly.
Question: You said you take a lot of crap. What’s your definition of crap?
Calipari: Everybody knows your job better than you. I don’t listen to it and I don’t hear it. DeWayne (Peevy) will tell you I can barely turn on a computer. “How do you (know what’s going on)?” Because we talk all the time and the guys I talk to. We don’t put anything out that I don’t first see whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or something on the Internet. Being the coach here, a lot of people are not rooting for us and me, would you agree? Would you agree? Am I like being paranoid? It’s just what it is. There are people that are not rooting for you. There are people that are not rooting for this school, and you’ve got to deal with all that. It’s OK. Right now we’re at that point where it’s like, “How do you slow this down?” If you’re those people, “How do you slow this down? We can’t deal with this. DeWayne may sit me in the upper deck if I want to go. How do I deal with this? What do I do? What do I say? What do I write? I’ve got to slow this down?” It’s just part of what it is. It’s not being paranoid. It’s what it is. And you know what? To be here you deal with, or go somewhere else and coach.
Speedy Harrow used transfer season to slow down game in his mind