Coach Cal on the SEC coaches’ teleconference

Another Monday means another Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference. We’ve got John Calipari’s comments below along with Alabama head coach Anthony Grant’s thoughts as his team gets ready to face Kentucky on Tuesday.

Tune back Tuesday afternoon for video of Coach Cal’s media opportunity with the local media along with our normal pregame feature.

Coach Cal

On this week’s games …
“Well, we’ve got to go to Alabama. We leave today to go down and the tapes that I’ve watched, they really defend and their guard play is as good as anybody in the country right now. Both guys are scoring the ball. (Trevor) Releford’s really scoring the ball of late and Trevor (Lacey) can shoot it with anybody. They still have (Andrew) Steele. Their guard play is why they’re 3-1 in our league. Defensively, they’re playing very physical. They’re doing some good things to scramble up the game in the press and running people at the ball and doing some great stuff. They’re a terrific team.”

On Willie Cauley-Stein’s status and whether he will travel to Alabama …
“Don’t know yet. He was there with us this morning and I don’t know if he’ll practice. If I don’t think he can help us, we’ll probably leave him home, but if he can go then he’ll be with us. But we haven’t even practiced today so I don’t know.”

On Alex Poythress’s progress …
“Look, here’s a freshman, probably averaging 13 or 14 (points), eight rebounds and doing some pretty good stuff, but we need more. Sustaining effort is the only issue with Alex and he increased that about 20, 25 percent last game. Now we’re just trying to build off of it. But it has nothing to do with Alex the player. It’s just a competitive spirit, that sustaining effort and all those things. But he has gotten better and better and better and that’s all we ask. I’ve done this a long time and every one of the kids that you coach, they were brought up in different environments, they were coached by different kind of players and people. Some of them are advanced in some areas and not advanced in others. Some of them are really skilled and some are not. Some are in unbelievable shape and can very much push through every pain and comfort level. Others can’t push through anything. And our job – and I feel this every year – is to help reach each of these kids. Alex is no different than Marcus Camby when I coached him. Marcus that first year, it was tough to get him to push through pain, it was tough to get him to sustain effort and he played 19 minutes a game and played him every minute we could. We’re trying to do the same with Alex right now, but he’s making great strides.”

On Nerlens Noel emerging as a tone setter for his team …
“He is, but I was really pleased with (Archie Goodwin’s) play. When I tell you that, his shot selection was really good. He played and drove to make his teammates better instead of trying to shoot the ball. And then defensively, he took some pride in his defense. Now you have an attacking player who’s taking pride in his defense versus a player who’s taking bad shots and an unenthusiastic defender. So I was just as pleased with Archie. Archie had 12 points trying to score about half as much as he’s being trying to score and he scored two or three points less than his average and that’s because he missed free throws. So what I say is you can do less and score more if you’re efficient and you’re playing for your team. He’s learning that.”

On whether players have now bought in …
“First of all, let me say when I say buy in, it starts with individual players, that each individual player has to accept his role and has to play the way the team needs him to play. That’s the first buy-in. That’s been the hard one for us. The second buy-in becomes we have to be in tune with each other and on the same page and we have to buy in how our team must play for us to win and have the best chance to win. Those are the two buy-ins all coaches go through. The second part of that is getting them to play. Coaches, if we have to coach emotion and intensity and effort, you’re not really coaching basketball. And so trying to get them to understand if you do that, I don’t have to be on every play. And so they’re starting to do it and they had fun doing it. Like they enjoyed playing and they bounced and jumped and they chest bumped each other. We’ve been waiting all year for it. But see, when you’re concerned about how you’re playing and you miss two shots, it’s hard to chest bump somebody. If you’re more about the other guys on the team, none of that matters. I’m trying to convince them that the wins and losses, they come and go. You’re not going to be judged just by that. You’re going to be judged by your effort, your fight, your scrappiness. At the end of your career, that’s what they’re going to look at. Did you have it or not? They’re not going to say, ‘He won 97 games and he lost four …’ Believe me, 20 years from now, they’re going to say, ‘Are you a competitor or not? Were you a battler? Man did he play hard. This kid really made great decisions.’ That’s how you define yourself and trying to get them more on process and less on results because we’re so young. And then I’ll just say this and I hate to keep hitting on it, but what we’re doing’s not been done where you’re trying to take on veteran college teams with all freshmen. It’s just never been done. And it takes time to get teams together and I have to be even more patient than I’ve been with this team.”

On it being different at Kentucky because players come in knowing they will go pro soon …
“It’s not the case. We don’t recruit kids and tell ‘em that. Obviously if kids have an opportunity to leave after one year, that’s fine. But what the point is to come in here knowing this is not for everybody. This is the ultimate challenge in basketball to play here. We had a 3.1 grade-point average the last term. The last two years we had a 3.0, 3.0 grade-point average. We graduated seven players in the last three years, so it’s not just come in and come out. Now, you might have guys that believe that or think that, but that’s just a smaller picture. The reason you come here is to be prepared to reach your dreams, be challenged and know every game you play is someone’s Super Bowl, every game you play is sold out, at home and on the road. If you don’t want that, this is not where you go. And then at the end of the year, kids make decisions on what they want to do. My job is to prepare them as best I can to get them better, to help them understand what it means to be part of a team and what it means to sacrifice for each other.”

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant

On the upcoming game against Kentucky …
“We’re looking forward to a challenging week, obviously with Kentucky coming in tomorrow. I’m really impressed with seeing them on film. They’re an explosive offensive team, very talented and a diverse defensive team, so it’ll be a great challenge for our guys.”

On how Trevor Lacey has been playing
“Trevor Lacey, as sophomore, has the benefit of a year and a half of experience in college basketball. I think he has really kind of understood what he needs to do for our team as the season has progressed. I think he’s playing really good basketball for us. The other day he led us in scoring, rebounding, assists, just about every category. He did a great job and obviously a big-time shot at the end of the game to give us a one-point lead and come up with a deflection that led to a steal as well. I think with every game, I think he’s getting more and more comfortable in terms of what we’ve demanded of him.

On what makes Kentucky explosive …
“In terms of Kentucky, you look at it and they’ve got five guys averaging double-figure points for them, which is impressive. Their field-goal percentage is outstanding. They’ve got a good combination of inside-out in terms of their ability to score the basketball. Terrific in transition. Unselfish team. So I think they’ve got a lot of good pieces from an offensive standpoint.”

On Alabama’s four-guard lineup against Kentucky’s size …
“For most of the games that we play in conference play we’re undersized, so I think for us it’s just about making sure that we bring a competitiveness to the court to try to match the size and the speed and the physicality they can put on the court as well. Every game brings different challenge. I think looking at it on film, what stands out about them is they seem to have great team speed, explosive offensively. Defensively, they’ve got some game-changers in terms of the way Noel can block shots. He’s one of the nation’s leaders in steals and blocked shots. And then the other guys on the floor from a defensive standpoint really give you a speed that not a lot of teams can come at you with.”

On the intangibles that Andrew Steele gives Alabama …
“Andrew, I think for our team, he’s a coach on the floor, so to speak. He does a great job of making sure our guys stay in the moment whether things are going really good or things are going really bad, and understanding what we’ve got to do and moving on to the next play, and that’s what you want to see out of your veterans. He’s our only senior. He’s a fifth-year guy, and obviously having him in the rotation, I think, changes our team. I made this comment, from the time he was able to get healthy enough to get back to practice, he impacted our team from day one, and I think it’s been the same thing in games. He’s always going to do the little things in terms of screening, communicating defensively, that rotation that needs to be made. He understands that he’s going to make that, and I think his effort is contagious and I think it helps the other guys understand what will be required to give us a chance to be successful.”