- Vanderbilt Commodores - February 28, 2017 - Rupp Arena - 9:00 PM EST - ESPN
Video is courtesy of UK Sports Video. Follow their YouTube page at youtube.com/kentuckyvids. Transcript provided by the NCAA.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Coach Calipari.
Q. This has been a unique season with your team coming in with so much hype, having these struggles and then really finding yourself over the last month. I’m curious for you, what have been the life lessons over the past six months?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, first of all, don’t believe all the hype, including me. Know that each of these kids needs to be coached, needs to be challenged. You need to define their roles, however good they are. At the end of the day, they can’t do it by themselves.
With a young team, early in the season what I learned, you got to make it really hard, you got to be really specific, you got to start defining things earlier than I did.
But I will tell you, this has been, for me, to see the joy in individual players, and I’m talking from our best player to one of our walk?ons, it’s been amazing ride. I will say to you that I think you can see that we coach every player as though they are our star.
Marcus Lee got coached, even when he was not playing, like he was Julius Randle, the same way. Dominique Hawkins got coached like he was Andrew Harrison. So when their opportunity came, they were ready. These kids are all important to us, not just the guys that are scoring the most points.
Q. How has this season tested you physically as well as emotionally?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I had hip replacement awhile back and I’m going to have another hip replaced. So for about the last three months, if anybody’s ever had a hip issue, they will know exactly what I’m talking about.
So the season, the end of it is coming at a good time, let me just put it that way. I’m going to have to deal with this after the season is over, but the adrenaline you have and how you feel for your team pushes you through all that.
Q. Could you look at win/loss records to determine whether or not this team had bought in yet or when did you figure out when they did actually buy in?
COACH CALIPARI: This is the type of team that I say they’re going to do what we ask them to do, so let’s be right. A lot of what happened with this team falls back on me. When I tell you what I did to change, the tweak that I made, you will say, Why didn’t you do it earlier? I have no good answer.
The only thing I can come back with is maybe they wouldn’t have accepted it two months ago, maybe they had to get knocked down a little bit lower.
But the two or three things we did, I could have done earlier. I think, again, what happens when you’re coaching this many young, good players and you’re trying to figure everybody out, you don’t do the job you need to do. It finally got to the point where I’m like, We have got to get this right as far as who is where and how we’re going to do this.
They have always liked each other. They’re good kids. They respond in a great way, no issues, a B average academically. We don’t have issues. They go to class. They do what they’re supposed to do.
But they were so young, they needed me to be a little different than I was throughout the year. I think that I’ve never practiced this long, late in the year, they needed it. I’ve never really done some of the things that I’ve done with this team this late, but they needed it. And they have responded to it.
Q. Two?part question about Julius. To what extent has he benefited from the change in the block?charge rule? Given his physical dimensions and abilities, have you been able to exploit that, take advantage of that to the extent that you might want?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, he’s being played like Shaq was played in college. He’s got three guys on him. You have teams after the game that said, I want six sets of eyes on him when he drives.
So you could talk about the charge block, but not when you got three guys playing you and they’re being physical and they’re bumping. Then it’s like, Well, he’s big enough, he should be able to take that. So I wouldn’t say that it’s had that kind of impact on him. But what it’s done is it’s made the other team say you got to guard him with two or three guys, if that makes sense.
Q. I got to ask if there’s a new catch phrase you would like to bust out instead of one?and?done? But before you answer that, the other question is, is there any conversation with players during the recruiting process about the NBA?
COACH CALIPARI: It’s the elephant in the room that we don’t need to talk about. Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing, Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business. So enjoy it. But, the one year, if you have options, that’s up to you and your family. So that’s what we have talked about.
Now, I was hoping we could do it and I still may do it, but again, the connotation that’s been built around one?and?done is so ridiculous to make it a bad thing, it’s a negative thing. It’s not used in other sports, it’s not used in other areas of life where people stay in school a year and leave. So the thing that we have been talking about is succeed and proceed. Succeed and proceed. You cannot proceed until you succeed. Succeed and then proceed. It will be on T shirts, so…
Q. You mentioned your hip, you talked this year about just being tired. How has it affected your day?to?day operations if at all?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m just limping bad. I did, I was taking some pain medication for four straight days and I just said, That’s it, I’m not doing it.
You don’t sleep as good, you don’t get the eight hours. You’re waking up.
But I’m fine. The job at Kentucky ages you. It’s not my hip. I look at the press conference I had five years ago, I didn’t look like this. It’s not my hip.
Q. Do you feel a personal responsibility to alter the discussion around one?and?done when you talk about succeed and proceed or is it something that you talk about with other coaches? Has this been, I don’t know if burden is the right word, but something that you’ve kind of wanted to get out of further and further and more and more?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I have the bully pulpit right now so I can talk about it, but my thing is I’m proud of what we have done for these young people. We have had four years of a B average, we graduated 12 guys, we have had guys that have gone on to the NBA and had college degrees. We have had 17 players drafted. Many of those just changed the whole direction of their family. Everyone of them in the league right now is doing well.
It’s not like guys are going and they should have never left. They didn’t make it. Look at this. They’re all doing well. Not only are they doing well, they’re giving back to their communities. Michael Kidd?Gilchrist, Samaritan’s Feet, he’s like their major spokesperson. You have John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, who gave a million back to charity as soon as they signed their contracts. Are you kidding me?
So the connotation is, no one wants to put their arms around this, and I don’t care if you do or not, this is about the kids to me. So when I said, why don’t we make this about succeed and proceed. If you don’t succeed, you can’t proceed. If you do succeed, you can proceed. It’s just how it is.
Q. There’s discussion about Adam Silver embracing the fact that a 20?year minimum two year, do you have any sort of affirmative ??
COACH CALIPARI: I don’t know if you’ve followed me ??
Q. I don’t know your specific opinion on this, so I apologize if you’ve been asked before. I just wanted a little clarification on that.
COACH CALIPARI: For probably the last five or six years I’ve said we need to go to a two?year, and the reason is, it’s great for high school players because you have a lot of high school players that all are thinking they’re one and done. It’s great for the college game because you’re going to have more continuity with players. For the players, it’s good and I’ll tell you why. Two years and two summers, they’re a year and a half away from a college degree. Now you’re a year and a half away, you can come back, you can do this. Now you can always tell your children when they say, Well, Dad, wait a minute, I played professionally and I got a college degree. You’re going to school. I did both.
The other side of it is, the NBA, in my opinion, they have a four?year contract. If you want kids to stay for two years in school, take one of those away. Now you got a three?year contract. So the kids still get to their money at the same time.
But the NCAA also has to do their part, pay for the disability insurance, pay for the loss of position in the draft. Do other things that if kids are going to stay longer, the NCAA steps up and does stuff so that kids, it’s about them. They’re covered if they stay, they’re helped if they’re here, and when they leave, they still do what they would have done under the old rules. Pretty simple in my mind.
Q. How are the Harrison twins similar and in what ways?
COACH CALIPARI: They really look the same (laughter). I made them have different haircuts early so I could figure out who was who.
But they’re so different. People would say, first of all, they said, Well, they only played together with each other. I’m telling you, they are harder on each other. I got to get them to stop, Would you stop yelling at your brother?
I mean, these two are, like, you know, they have been in one room for too long. But they love each other. They’re there for each other. You can see the affection, yet they’re on each other. They like to be with other players so they’re not always together. You’ll say, Well, where is the other one?
Well, he’s over there with those two.
The impression you have of them, I’m telling you, two of the nicest, most well?mannered kids. They had to deal with that body language at the start of the year. They didn’t even know what it was doing to them. Made them look like, Oh, they’re not good kids. They’re great kids. Not once have they ever looked at me wrong, ever came back with anything, and I’ve been on them hard now.
I mean, I didn’t settle for what they wanted. We had to get them to work harder. But I’m telling you, I’m so pleased for them. Everybody was piling on them like it was something they did. Andrew, I did him a disservice this year for most of the year, and like I said, at the end of the year, I said, Make me look good, because the way I was doing this was a disservice to you. And as he got better, you saw everybody on our team get better.
Q. Judging from your film study, Frank Kaminsky, what kind of challenges does he pose and does he compare to any player you’ve ever coached against?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, first of all, I had to stand, I wanted to make sure he was really seven?foot tall. Can I tell you, he’s seven?foot tall. He’s a better ball handler than you think. He bounces it better than you think. Obviously he’s their best three?point shooter. He’s playing with a swagger right now, like, None of you can guard me. So that’s a challenge in itself.
I think Bo is one of those guys that throughout this game, he will figure out, and I’ve seen it in all the games I’ve watched, where is there a mismatch, where is there something? You do something, Bo does something else. It’s like Bo knows.
So we got to be on top of what we’re doing because he will put people in positions to hurt you. If he does, he’s going right back at it until you do something, then he’s coming out another way.
But it’s going to be a big challenge. Again, if I could tell you Willie were playing, I would feel a little more comfortable because he’s a seven?footer that can guard inside and outside and all that. We don’t have that guy if he doesn’t play.
Q. You mentioned paying for the disability insurance, the loss of position in the draft. There’s also obviously the issue of the difference between a scholarship and the total cost of an education. What role do you think coaches should have or need to have in this discussion and would you ever even be willing to give up part of your salary bonuses, put it in a fund if that was the way that they found the way to pay for it?
COACH CALIPARI: I won’t go into debt for the last thing, but I talked to the NCAA myself about that issue that you just talked about. I won’t go into depth, but they know I have talked to them about that last thing. What I would tell you is that there are ways that the universities can do things to make sure, if kids are in school longer ?? because they’re being asked to be and it’s not by the NCAA, it’s not by colleges. This is a rule between the NBA and the Players Association. I’m saying if the kids are asked to stay longer, that we should do our part to make sure.
Q. A lot of people were down on the SEC this year and not very many teams made the tournament. But now we have seen both you and Florida make the Final Four and Tennessee make it?
COACH CALIPARI: Tennessee had a heck of a run.
Q. So was everybody just wrong in the SEC was better than we thought or why do you think you guys were able to get it together here when the tournament started?
COACH CALIPARI: Obviously we were better. I mean, we you had other teams, whether it be Missouri or LSU or Arkansas or Georgia, and I’m probably missing somebody else, but you had teams that deserved the opportunity to be in this tournament and weren’t. But I think what happens with the media is you guys say it over and over and then everybody believes it. Just keep saying it, this league’s really strong and that league’s no good. This team’s really strong. And you all say it over and over and over and people believe it. That committee is hearing all the same things, too.
I’ve been in other leagues that that’s happened to. The only thing you can do is get teams in the NCAA tournament and advance. Prove them wrong. Teams that go to the NIT do well.
But I’m happy that we’re still standing, Florida’s still standing, and Cuonzo did an unbelievable job with his team. As a matter of fact, I’m not so sure if they weren’t in another region, they wouldn’t still be playing.
Q. Speaking of the media saying things repeatedly, we portray Wisconsin often as less athletic, less exciting to watch. I want to know if you have dug into them enough over time to have an opinion about whether that program has graduated to a new level of, let’s say, quality of players or at least athleticism?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, again, just keep saying it over and over and people believe it without watching because it’s easier. But the reality of it is, is Bo coaches to his talent. They’re scoring now. This team is scoring more. They’re not running the swing the way they used to. Well, why isn’t he? Because he knows that this team doesn’t fit that offense as well as how they’re playing.
So I will tell you that they’re more athletic than you think. They’re more skilled than you think. They’re not relying solely on an offense, they’re not.
They run great isos for all their guys. So that they put them in a position where it’s one?on?one. Bo hadn’t done a whole lot of that in the past, but what I’m seeing, now they are.
Then the other thing is, they’re different defensively than he’s been in the past. So that’s why he’s such a great coach. That’s why he is who he is. That’s why he’s won national titles at other levels where he’s been and why he’s gotten Wisconsin to a Final Four.
Q. When you had the losses to Alabama and South Carolina, after that, you had a number of media critics sort of say, Well, it’s proof positive one and done or succeeding and proceeding doesn’t work. And then there were columns written before the tournament, Calipari’s never going to win it again. I know you’re going to say it’s not about you, but is there anything about this run about the way that you do things that makes it more gratifying to you after the criticism you took at points this year?
COACH CALIPARI: First of all, I don’t listen to it and I don’t read it and I don’t care. It makes no bearing on me coaching these young people. I literally watch History Channel. I’ve been watching this Alaska stuff. Have you been watching that? It’s really good. Last night they had some stuff on that was really good. Zero Under or whatever it was called.
But I don’t listen to it. I could care less. I’m not 35. I’m 45 now. So I’m not that guy. My concern are these kids. I will tell you that’s what’s happening in college basketball, people are getting aggravated with because they’re not just leaving me now, they’re leaving every program, but it comes back to because of me.
It’s not my rule. So then the columns are written. It’s fine. If you want to pile it on and say it’s me, I’m okay. All I care about is the players that I’m coaching, that they’re prepared to reach their dreams, whether it’s after one year, two years, three year, four year. I’ve had guys stay all those times. I think some of my suggestions would be good to cure some of this, at the very least we just got to do right by these kids.
Q. The notion that you couldn’t win like that any more, that you got lucky in 2012 with that group, is there anything about that that has made it a little bit ??
COACH CALIPARI: That’s what they’re saying?
Q. Well, that’s what they said before the tournament.
COACH CALIPARI: Everybody has an opinion.
Q. How has Julius Randle handled all the external stuff going on, the NBA talk, playing in his hometown, being a freshman with NBA capabilities?
COACH CALIPARI: The first thing is, the last time we came down here and played in this building, all our Texas kids didn’t handle it very well. So we talked about it. We gave them Wednesday, go out. They all went to Julius’s house. They all hung out. Then I said, Now we’re shutting it down.
They have their own game room on the fourth floor of our hotel, so they were all in there last night. We are kind of in a lock?down mode right now.
Julius never has ever talked to me anything about it. It’s never come up. He’s a college player and that’s what he wants to be. When the season’s over, he’ll sit down and look at decisions he has to make.
But as a freshman and doing all this, and being back home, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a little rattled when the game starts. It will be my job to calm him down.
Q. Talk about Jarrod and Jon, they have kind of flown under the radar. I mean, they’re the most experienced on this team. How have they kind of helped your younger guys know what this is like?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, they haven’t flown under the radar in Kentucky. So Jarrod is like everybody. There are signs at every game, I want to marry you, Jarrod.
He’s one of those kids, he’s a great student, great faith, character. He’s meant so much, helped us beat Maryland a year ago making baskets and free throws. I mean, he’s had a terrific career. He was a walk?on who I scholarshipped for four years, as a matter of fact, for five years.
Jon Hood came, and, again, it’s been stages. He came in, had to go against 17 NBA players in five years, and that’s not counting what’s up now. I mean, a lot of that time he was part of the Washington Generals, like they were coming at him. You know what? I mean, initially deer in the headlights, and then it was anger, I’m not playing, what’s going on? And then it became, you know I’m going to have fun doing this.
He is so much a better player, so much fun to be around, is basically coaching our team, too. He came up to me last game when I had, it was either Louisville or last game, where they were shooting a free throw, and he said, What are you going to do if Marcus Lee rebounds the ball? Are you going to call a timeout?
Came up to me, I’m standing up there, I said you’re right. Aaron, Andrew, call timeout, because we didn’t want to get him fouled.
So that’s how comfortable he is and how comfortable we are with him. He has an opportunity to play overseas. If he’s going to do that, and I think he will, and he’s had two job offers, one they said, When you’re done playing, you’ll still have this job offer. That’s what this is supposed to be about, folks.
Now I love to coach kids for four or five years, but I’m going to be honest. I’m happy for John Wall, Anthony Davis, I’m happy for them, too. I mean, when you’re changing the whole direction of a family, does it matter if it’s one or four years, unless you’re ingrained in this is how it has to be. If not, I hate you. I mean, I’m at a loss. That’s why I don’t read it, don’t care. All I do is let me take care of these kids.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll welcome student?athletes to the podium.
COACH CALIPARI: Can I leave?
THE MODERATOR: I think you have to stay, coach. It will be fun.
We’ll take questions for the student?athletes or coach at this time.
Q. John, a question about the recruiting of Dakari, he played as a younger guy on teams that had people you recruited. When do you think that he first made an impression on you and when did things sort of ratchet up to the place where he was a guy you wanted?
COACH CALIPARI: Dakari, how long did you live in Lexington, Kentucky?
DAKARI JOHNSON: Two years.
COACH CALIPARI: So he had lived in Lexington Kentucky, so everybody said, You got to keep an eye on this young man. He was a real young player when I was recruiting Michael, and I had watched him and he just all of a sudden transformed himself. He was getting up at 6 a.m., he was working out, he changed his body, he became a guy that, he’s pretty fast. All of a sudden, his skill changed, except his free?throw shooting. His skill changed.
I went in and I’m, like, You know what? We got to get this kid.
We went into Florida, and mom was there, and he’s got a really strong mother and family. I think he always had something in his heart for Kentucky. I would think that because he had lived there, I would say. It was just us making sure it was right for him.
Q. Can you talk about if there’s an advantage that you’ve played here before and having three guys on your team from Texas.
COACH CALIPARI: What’s an advantage is we played in this building on that floor exactly where it’s placed. The disadvantage is we lost.
Guys being from Texas, we’re trying to tell them just put the blinders on and stay in the moment right now. But it could be a disadvantage. But these guys have been great.
Last night, it was so fun for me to come back at 10:30 at night, 11 o’clock at night, and they are all in this game room going crazy. Playing video games, doing the card thing, the card games with the spoons. You ever play spoons? They’re in there yelling at each other. I walk in and I’m, like, I have 15 year olds I’m coaching. Look at this.
But that’s what I love seeing. It was really enjoyable last night when I went in. I stayed about 10 minutes, because when I walked in, they got kind of quiet. I said, I’m leaving, boys, go ahead, have fun.
Q. I know you’ve been talking about this for the last couple weeks, but I do have to ask one more time if you could talk about, I guess, the growth of this team. What was the difference from the first few months of the season to now, and why the team has come together the way it has?
COACH CALIPARI: The thing that this team had to learn was the grind. How hard it was going to be and how hard you had to work every single day, they had to learn that. It took them awhile to learn it.
Aaron got up on the stage in one of the regionals and said, Well, coach doesn’t have to coach effort and intensity and enthusiasm. We got that now.
When I was having to coach that, it appeared that I was going crazy, because I wasn’t going to settle.
But the change that happened, and these guys will tell you, they’re not going to tell you exactly what I did, is when I walked into practice and we changed and tweaked one thing, which led to another tweak, which changed our team, when you figure out what it is, you’re going to say, You should have done it earlier, and I’m here to tell you I should have.
What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, You know what, I screwed this up, make me look good. And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so…
Q. Can you talk about recruiting the state of Texas, which is a football state, and being able to find great high school basketball in the state of Texas, players.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, it’s not just a football state. I mean, people may believe that, but they got terrific basketball players down here, too.
The coaching has changed. I’m older now, so I can tell you that coaching has changed down here immensely. You’ve got basketball bennies now coaching and helping these guys get better.
But to say that we’re recruiting Texas, well, we just happened to have three kids we wanted that happened to be from the state of Texas. Yes, we’re recruiting Texas and all, but we recruit every state. So…
But I will tell you that coaching here, from the late ’80s, early ’90s to now, the coaching now in this state is as good as anywhere.
Q. For Julius, coach touched on it before you guys got out here, but in particular because you’re from Dallas. I know you guys got together and did something earlier. But for you, Julius, anything that you do personally before? Do you think about certain things before you go to sleep at night, how you keep a lid on on your emotions for being back home.
JULIUS RANDLE: I don’t really think about it. I’m just trying to enjoy this time on my team. Being in a Final Four is just not something that happens every time, every year for a player, so I’m just trying to enjoy this time with my team. I really don’t think about being in my hometown or whatever. It’s just I’m just trying to have fun.
Q. Julius, your coach earlier described the defense against you as similar to that for Shaquille O’Neal. How have you coped with the number of eyes and the number of hands and arms and elbows that you’ve been in contact with this season, and what have you learned have that experience?
COACH CALIPARI: Not good. Not good (laughter).
JULIUS RANDLE: Well, it’s definitely hard. It’s frustrating. But I think when you win, it kind of takes the place of that. You don’t really worry about it. But, I mean, it’s frustrating, but you can’t put too much into it. The biggest thing is that you try to learn how to affect the game in different ways, and that’s what I’ve tried to learn this year. Just try to help my teammates out.
Q. Julius, talk about what you knew about Dakari coming into Kentucky, how familiar you are with his game and how much has he evolved during the season and especially since Willie has been hurt.
JULIUS RANDLE: I played against him, or at camps and stuff like that. Of course, you’ve seen him play through AAU and high school basketball, and I always knew that he was a great a player, a very skilled player in the post. I have seen him.
He was younger than me, but I knew he was still a really good player. Coming into Kentucky, he was my roommate, and I saw all the hard work he put in and the adversity he faced throughout the season. But he just kept fighting and never gave up. He’s been a really good player for us and a big reason why we are here today.
Q. For any of the players and then a follow?up for Cal. To the players, what is the difference between the Alex Poythress that we see maybe disappear at times, and the one that we saw at the end of the Louisville game? We see in flashes where he’s dunking on everyone and grabbing every offensive rebound. And then to Coach, how important now, with Willie out, is it to get that out of him more consistently?
JAMES YOUNG: I didn’t really hear it. Can you repeat it (laughter)?
COACH CALIPARI: You think they’re no longer freshmen? That’s what you’re going to say to me?
Q. Just the ??
COACH CALIPARI: What to me in timeouts, right, what you just saw.
Q. What maybe flips the switch between the Alex that disappears times and the Alex that we saw at the end of the Louisville game where this sort of out of nowhere can take over a game.
JAMES YOUNG: I think it’s really just focus. We all go through it. When he really wants to, it’s just he really goes for everything, every board, every block, every big block that we need. It’s really just focus, really.
ANDREW HARRISON: It’s, well, confidence. He’s had to realize how good he is and just play like that all the time.
AARON HARRISON: Just like these two said, basically just Alex’s confidence. Alex can do anything he wants to do athletically. If he puts his mind to it, he can do it, so…
COACH CALIPARI: The major thing is confidence. He is physically so far beyond where he was a year ago, it’s not close. His skills have improved so much from last year. The only thing that holds him back is himself believing.
We all look at him as a beast. There are things he does in practice, and these guys stop and say, Do that in the game. He’s got to believe like we believe in him. But it’s hard, because last year was a struggle to get in shape, to get his mind right.
But I’m telling you, he is a terrific player, and if we’re to do something special this weekend, you all will be talking about him this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you.
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Transcript of UK’s Final Four press conference