Calipari: Our goals have morphed

Another marker that the season is quickly approaching passed on Monday.

John Calipari, as he does every year just before the season starts, traveled to Louisville on Monday to speaker to the Greater Louisville Alumni Club at the annual Wildcat Tip-Off Luncheon.

Since Coach Cal talked to the alumni club about a number of things, we decided to post the whole transcript rather than write a story. Read below as Calipari talks about how the goals of the program have morphed into teaching the players more than just basketball, going 40-0 and who his biggest surprise players are.

(Video at the bottom)

John Calipari transcript

Now I’ve got to follow Matthew (Mitchell). Let me just say this so you know the program that he has built. And again, you understand the programs he’s competing against: the UConns, the Tennessees of the world who have dominated the sport. Guess what, they’re worried about Kentucky right now. Give him a hand because he’s doing wonderful work now. (Applause).

I’ve got to tell you, every day I go in my office and I look out that window and I see that Kentucky basketball shimmering in that practice facility. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be your coach, how humbled I am to be here.

There are some things happening that I kind of want to tell you about this program where it’s kind of morphed into more. You can remember when I said it’s going to be about players first. You can remember when I said we’re going to bring you the best and the brightest and we’re going to get back on that stage where this program belongs. But things have morphed into even more than that.

John Calipari told the audience at the annual Wildcat Tip-Off Luncheon that UK basketball is about more than just teaching the players basketball. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Let me start by telling you, our president, what he’s done on that campus, amazing. I used to get on him: “If we don’t see cranes, you’re not getting anything done. We want to see cranes.” So I go to different campuses and what would I send to you? I would send pictures of cranes and say, “This is what happens.” So what’s he do? He put a crane outside my office. There are like cranes all over the place right where we have to park, but he’s doing wonderful work. He’s about students. He’s about bringing in the best students. He’s about giving them what they need to perform at a high level. Unbelievable.

And Mitch (Barnhart), he’s given back to athletics $3 million a year. I don’t know of any other athletic program that does that. He built a science building. Think about it. Redoing football, track, baseball, softball. It’s not about men’s basketball here. It’s about a program for young people that is being funded not on the backs of the students – I don’t even think we get a student fee. Do we get a student fee? A very small student fee. He’s balancing it. And what Matthew said, he cares about kids. So let’s give Mitch a hand. (Applause).

Alright, now I’ve got to tell you this. I’m out west, and a coach comes up to me and a fan and they (say), “Coach, did you guys lose in the first round of the NIT?” And I looked and I said, “Yeah.” “Who’d you lose to?” I said, “Robert Morris.” “One guy?”

You know, we talk about players first, and I want to go over a little bit of last year in this regard: Tough year for all of us. We want to be in that conversation. We want to carry the biggest trophy. It’s what we start every year for. What happened last year, tough – tough on you, tough on me.

But let’s talk about what it was for the players. If you’re about players first, as a program, as a coach, even in a tough year they benefit. It was a tough year now trying to figure things out. How about Nerlens (Noel)? Blows his knee out and still goes No. 6 in the draft year. Tough year for him, too. What about Archie Goodwin? We all looked and said, “Can’t shoot,” and he was the 29th pick in the draft and guess what? Phoenix loves him. Alex (Poythress) and Willie (Cauley-Stein) come back and they were projected first-round draft picks. That means we had four first-round draft picks and couldn’t win. I don’t know what that says about my coaching, but they benefited. Kyle Wiltjer was the (Southeastern Conference) Sixth Man of the Year. Julius Mays signed a contract in Italy. He came from a mid-major school, comes to Kentucky, gets on that stage and signs a nice contract in Italy, which kind of makes me jealous. What about Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson? How did they finish the year? Did they benefit? Yes, they did. How about we had a 3.4 grade-point average. Let me say it again: How about we had a 3.4 grade-point average. (Applause). How about three players graduated, got their degrees – three players. I say all that to you (because) we are on a different wavelength here. You can struggle and your players still benefit. That’s what makes it great.

You know I was in New York City – and Mitch hasn’t heard me say this and the president hasn’t heard me say this. Matthew and I never speak (joking) so he’s never head me say this. I’m just kidding. We speak all the time. As a matter of fact, you know four women were in our practice gym the other day watching us practice, so it’s kind of neat when I see that. But, I’m in New York City driving by Carnegie Hall and Apollo Theater. If you can make it on that stage, you write your own ticket. If you can make it on this stage, you write your own ticket. What happens in the Apollo if you just don’t have it? What’s the guy’s name? The Sandman pulls the hook. You’re off. We can’t hide you. You’ve got to perform. If you’re trying to chase, drink, smoke, you can’t do that here. This is your opportunity. You have to train. And you know what, we’re like that stage.

So what happens for us, and what I’m proud of is it’s kind of morphed into even more than I thought and believed it could be. It doesn’t mean we win a national title every year. But let me tell you something: Everybody says, “Your fans have got to be going crazy.” Our fans have been better now than they were when I first arrived anywhere I go because we’re significant. We’re taking care of kids. We’re trying to show them more than basketball.

John Wall signed an $80 million deal. What was the first thing he did? He gave a million to charity. I don’t know, but maybe to you (that doesn’t mean much). (Applause). How about DeMarcus Cousins also signed a max deal. What was the first thing he did? Gave a million to charity. We graduated 10 of 10 players who have gone the four years. We’ve had 17 players drafted. That means three players did both: They (went in the draft) and got a college degree. We’re trying again. What do we do to prepare them? Our senator, I told you this story, asked me again, “How many guys do you think will go this year?” “Six or seven.” “You’re creating more millionaires than a Wall Street firm.” Well, how would that make you feel if you were in my shoes. Wouldn’t you feel like, wow?

From my beginnings, the first college graduate in my family and now I’m running an organization that is able to change lives. Generational poverty has changed. Graduated over 80 kids in my time in coaching. Sixty of them were the first college educated. You may say, “How many of them were lawyers and doctors?” Not many because they were like me. I only wanted to be a high school coach and teacher because that’s all I could see. I didn’t have a lawyer or a doctor or a businessman in our family. I could never see that. I just wanted to be a nice high school coach and teacher and help, and all of a sudden this has happened. Now, what I’ll tell you is those players’ children will begin to be lawyers and doctors in our communities.

I was fortunate enough – can I brag for a minute? Is that OK? My daughter just became a doctor. She’s the first doctor in our family. Now I’m going to say this and I want you to understand, she gave her dissertation (and) Ellen and I were in the back of the room. She went for an hour. Neuroscience. Nueropharmacology. She’s a doctor of that. Now don’t ask me to say it again, OK? And I recognized one word in an hour: cocaine. It’s the only word I knew she was saying. But let me tell you, even my own children, the greatest compliment (I got was): She finished the program in four years. It’s a five-year program. She published 23 papers. Most kids finish in – I don’t know because I don’t know neuroscience. But one of her co-workers (said) – the biggest compliment – “She’s kind.” That means more to me than any degree she could ever get. And it’s the same with my players.

It’s not just about making millions. It’s about us teaching. You’re in a seat, you’re in a position. Fame and fortune, what do you do with it? Do you give back? Do you pick people up? Or do you think you’re taking it with you? Hopefully what we’re doing as a staff and what we do with God’s Pantry and other things in the athletic department, we show them who knows how long you’re going to have that seat. And I say it all the time about the seat I’m in: It’s temporary. There’s going to be someone else in this seat. While I’m in the seat, I want to be involved in the community, in the state, and make people feel better about themselves and what we’re doing while I’m here. I’m not here that long. How many years can I be here? At the pace we’re going, not many. Another NIT and Mitch is going to ask me to leave.

But let me say this: A thousand of you again in this room. Is this incredible? You know we had over 900 tents (for the Big Blue Madness ticket distribution)? Nine hundred tents! They stopped counting at 755. It is amazing what’s happened. When we talk about the academics on our campus, has entrance ever been higher? The entrance exams – right now those scores have never been higher. Have we ever had a higher enrollment? Never had a higher enrollment. Applications are higher. What a great time to be here. What a great time to be your basketball coach. All I can say is we appreciate what you do because none of us – me, Matthew, Mitch, our president – we can’t do this alone. This is like all of us coming together saying, “What can we do? What can we do for these kids? What can we do for our community?” Thank you very much.

Q and A with Coach Cal

Question: What about Julius Randle?
Calipari: Do I have to talk about the basketball team? Is that why I came here? If I only cared about winning college basketball games – that’s all I cared about – where would I play Julius Randle? Where would I play him? Under the basket. But when you’re developing players, helping them reach their dreams, you win college games. We kind of do it the other way. Right now Julius is out on the floor playing. Now he’s got to figure out how do you offensive rebound from 17 feet versus three. How do you get to the post from 17 feet versus three? It’s all new to him. How do you now start like a guard at 6-9, 250 and finish like a big? It’s been hard for him. Been hard. But, when he gets it and he gets a feel for it – he looked at me the other day and he said, “Coach, what are you going to do today? How can I get better?” That’s his question. Good kid. Dominating type of player. A physical specimen. Runs. Been a great leader for our team.”

Question: This year is a little different because you’ve had some practices. Usually when you come to this you haven’t practiced yet. Marcus Lee, you called a pogo stick the other day. Who has impressed you the most?
Calipari: Here are the two surprises. You want to know the two surprise players? First of all, Jarrod (Polson) and Jon Hood are so much better, I’m not afraid to put them in games. When I put them in games over the last couple of years I was closing my eyes. And let me tell you this, they’re competing. Dominique (Hawkins) is competing. He’s not afraid. He’s not quite to where those other guards are, but he’s not afraid. Two surprises: Marcus Lee is way better than I thought, and Derrick Willis is way better than I thought. Somebody came in, some of you old timers, which is three-quarters of this room, said he’s Bobby Jones. You remember Bobby Jones?  Raise your hand if you have any idea who I’m talking about. So the room isn’t as old as a I thought. (Laughter). Playing, competing, not afraid. There is space on the court for him because of his strength. He can really score it. And long arms. Like, Julius has trouble getting shots off. If Julius doesn’t get into his body, Julius is struggling getting shots off. So he’s been doing good. Marcus Lee is just all over the place. He’s an energy guy. He reminds me of a Dennis Rodman. He’s like Dennis Rodman. Then you start saying, where do I play him because I’ve got to play him because he can guard the point guard, a five, and he runs and blocks every shot. He’s got unbelievable energy. But again, there are guys in front of him that pretty good.”

Question: Any word on Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury?
Calipari: Willie will probably start practicing Sunday. Alex (Poythress) has been out. He just started two days ago practicing, 35-45 minutes. He had a hamstring (injury). But it’s great because he’s going against Julius and James Young, and it’s competitive. If you don’t want to compete then get dunked on. Or you compete. So it’s bringing everything up.

Let me say this about an issue I learned last year. We only had eight kids on scholarship last year. It’s all we had. One, we didn’t think Marquis Teague was going to leave. But he left and I supported it and I helped him get drafted, and you do that. But then you’re like, OK, how do we do this. Here’s what happens when you don’t have enough players. It’s not just the practice competition. How about a guy is not playing well. So you take him out, “Come on, get out,” and then you look who’s in there, “Go back in.” So now what happens is, and this is true, I want you to think about this: How many golfers are here? Raise your hand if you golf. Think of this: You get on the 15th hole and the ball goes directly right. You get on 16 and it goes directly right. Seventeen, you start – you go to 18, are you going to play another 18 holes? Or are you going in and having a beer and saying I’ve got to forget about this day. Well, guess what? They’re players. They’re not robots. There are times you’ve got to take them out and leave them out and let them get their minds together. Sometimes sit them out of games just to get them right. But when you don’t have enough players, you can’t do that.

This year’s recruiting class includes six McDonald’s All-Americans. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Question: You have six McDondald’s All-Americans in one year. Every year you have the No. 1 recruiting class, but how do you get six in one year? How are you going to top that next year?
Calipari: Well, the issue becomes, and Mitch may not want to hear this, but I’m practicing my team and we have a really good practice. We don’t play hard enough yet, but they want to play together. We’re pretty good. So I go in my car, turn on my music, and what do I start doing? Singing. And then after you sing a while, then what? You start dancing in the car. And I’m dancing and I go up the hill to Rose and I get to that stoplight and I go, oh my gosh, we’re going to lose all these guys. Where’s my phone? And I start calling ‘14s. But again, it’s not something that we want. I don’t like the one-and-done rule but I’m not going to hold kids back. I’m not going to try to convince them you need to stay, I’ll make you better. If they have an opportunity and that’s what they choose, (I’m going to support it). We had Jodie Meeks leave in the second. We had DeAndre Liggins. We didn’t want those kids to leave. But you know what, it’s their life, it’s their family. And if that’s what they choose, we’re going to support them. We’ll give them all the information. But yes, we’re going to try to sign seven more like the ones we just signed is the longer answer.

Question: And finally, 40-0, you haven’t shied away from it. Your players have even talked about it. It’s a tall mountain to climb.
Calipari: Here’s what I said: Before I retire I would like to coach an undefeated team because they say it can’t be done. Everywhere I’ve been, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that, he’ll never do this, he’ll never do that. His team can’t do it.” And they say you can’t win them all. There’s no way, there’s too much pressure. I’ve had three teams almost do that, and before I retire, I’d like to have a team. I don’t know if it’s this team. But I will say this, when you’re chasing something and you’re saying game to game is important – because if you’re going to go 40-0 or compete or try – when you play Austin Peay, that game is just as important as playing North Carolina. So now all of a sudden you do stay in the moment. You’ve got no choice. You’ve got to practice in the moment. You’ve got to stay in the moment. You can’t worry out ahead, and you can’t worry about what’s behind. You just keep trying to get better and get better.

We talk about an attitude of continual improvement. Will this team play for each other. See, there’s working harder, I can be over top of it. But then there is working together a little bit harder. The key is servant leadership: working for each other. You worry more about your teammates than yourself. And if they do that, the game is easier. Now you’re all worried about each other instead of yourself. You’re not worried about numbers, minutes and all that. When you get on the floor, you’re worried about each other. Those are the kinds of things that we’re trying to teach. And if we do that – OK, so we didn’t quite do it. We were 38-2. Jeez! But 38 wins tied the most wins in college basketball. What was the other team? Oh, my Memphis team. Is that a humblebrag? What is that? I don’t know what that is.

And let me say this about this team: Our third game is against Michigan State. That’s going to be hard. They’re already a veteran team. They’ve already made comments that their practices are about beating Kentucky. But I say this to you: If I ask my team when we play Florida, they’re not going to know. North Caorlina, (they don’t know). I’m going to do it today, because as I thought about it, they don’t know. You think they know when we’re playing Louisville? They don’t know. They want to know if there is a meal tonight. They don’t know. Now, I ask you this: Does everyone on our schedule know when they’re playing Kentucky? Oh, they know. And it’s on their locker, it’s on their ceiling of their bedroom. You’ve got to deal with that. That’s part of being at Kentucky. You know what I tell them? Not only do they want to beat Kentucky, they want to beat you as individual player. You want to know why? They wanted that scholarship that you got and they want to prove they’re better than you, not just their team is better than Kentucky. So that’s the challenge that we have. But would you want it any other way? I don’t. Bring it. Let’s go – as long as I’ve got a good team. (Laughter). Bring it, let’s go.