INDIANAPOLIS – Kentucky head coach John Calipari spoke with the media Saturday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse about UK’s upcoming game against Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Calipari is with us.
Q. John, how late did you stay up last night, and how do you feel about two games within less than 48 hours?
COACH CALIPARI: Last night, looking at my watch is why that I had the response I had. Right now, I’m just worried about coaching my team in this next game. They probably didn’t get to bed until 1:00 in the morning either. Ours was a little bit later than that.
Two good teams going at each other. Should be interesting.
Q. Most observers, when they think about this matchup, of course they think about the game three years ago. What do you remember most about that game, other than winning it?
COACH CALIPARI: It was a long time ago, and I haven’t watched it. I watched it after the game. I know Julius Randle was really big in that game, if I remember right, but a lot of players played well. Their team played well. They had the last shot to win the game, so it was a good battle.
Q. John, Gregg (Marshall) said he showed that tape to this group of Wichita State players to just show them what it’s like to go against a Kentucky team and Kentucky bigs, even though the players are different. What are the chances you could do that to show what a Wichita State team coached by Gregg Marshall is like?
COACH CALIPARI: There’s all kind of ways of doing this, and it’s just not something I would do because the players are all different. And I’m just worried about us playing at our best. We’re going to have to have a heck of a game to win the game, we know that, and play better than we played yesterday to win the game.
They’re talented. They’re big. They’re physical. They’re strong. They’re veterans. Good team.
Q. Seems to be an undercurrent of resentment among the mid-majors about both the tournament bracket and the seedings. Do you think they have a legitimate beef?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, there’s a couple things. I was at those schools, and I used to always say you can’t put them all in one pocket because it doesn’t give a group a chance to advance.
Then you had VCU and this team and that team in the Final Four. You know what I’m saying? So then it was the other way.
What’s happened right now, the fifth-year transfer has changed and made it tough for some of those schools that are building. It hasn’t affected Gonzaga. It hadn’t affected Wichita. It hadn’t affected some of the other schools.
But the reality of it is that’s the issue, and I wish we could deal with it. It’s just guys are losing their best players their fifth year. Guys are losing jobs because kids are leaving and going to a major school.
I would say that’s having more of an affect on those programs than anything else. I just can’t imagine we can’t come up with a solution that you have to sit out. If you transfer, you sit out. It’s just what it is.
I mean, whether you graduated or not, you sit out. From what I understand, there are programs that have the names of all the kids that have a chance of transferring and playing right away. Who can we grab out of that? Come on.
The problem is those kids play for a coach whose job may be on the line. So you take those kids and now all of a sudden, that guy loses his job. I don’t think it says the right thing to the kids. I know it’s not right for coaching.
But we’ll be mad about one and done. Really?
Q. John, Wichita State really kind of took off in mid-January when they made Landry Shamet the point guard. What are your impressions of him?
COACH CALIPARI: He’s really good. He’s really good. He’s fearless. He’s not afraid, can shoot it, runs their team. He’s good. He’s a good player.
Q. Cal, what has it been like this year to finally coach your own son? Just the experience of — I know he’s been around all your programs forever, but to have him in practice, is that a different dynamic for you?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, being a walk-on in this program is a very hard thing because it’s hard to get on the practice floor, let alone the floor. And when Hami came, he kind of had to take a little more of a backseat.
But I’m watching him, and I love the fact that he’s in the gym early. He comes on off days. He’s working on his game. He’s trying to be a great teammate.
My wife’s on me all the time, you’re up 21, why won’t you put him in. Come on. It’s just nice being around him, like when we travel. It was my birthday down at Alabama, and I was feeling awful. I was in a room by myself. I call him, say, ‘Hey, come on up here.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I’m in a room by myself. Come on up.’ ‘Dad, please don’t make me come up there.’
But he still brings clothes over to wash to his mom, though. I know he does that. It’s probably against the NCAA rules, but he does it.
Q. John, Wichita State talked about doing the little things, like boxing out, rotating on defense. How well do you guys do those things? How well do they do them? And what difference could that make?
COACH CALIPARI: I’ve watched four tapes of theirs. I can just tell you that they viciously go after offensive rebounds. If you don’t rebound in the game, you don’t have a chance to beat them.
They also are not afraid to go inside. They’ll be physical when you drive. I mean, you’re not getting a clear drive. You’re going to have a body on you, something on you.
It’s the kind of game that’s just a competitive, you know what it’s going to be, and you love walking into those kind of games, know how good they are. You got an unbelievable opponent who plays with heart and fight and battles, and you bring your team in, your young team, and say let’s see what we are. Let’s see what we are at that point.
Our team has gotten better. We really have. But still, there are gaps. And if you have a gap against this team, it will be bam, bam, bam, bam, timeout. What just happened to us? Let’s get this back in order.
So I’m looking forward to it just because I know how good they are. It’s going to be a hard game, and I want to see how my young guys respond.
Q. John, you seem to be working real hard on coaching your team on the court. You’re pretty animated on the sidelines.
COACH CALIPARI: Not as much as I’ve been. I’m not watching myself either, so I would tell you not as much as I’ve been. But go ahead.
Q. Two or three weeks ago, you were focusing on the importance of empowering your team. Have you just accepted the fact that this is a group that may need your guidance a little bit more down the stretch?
COACH CALIPARI: Here’s what I would say, I think they are empowered. I’ve empowered my staff. Maybe there are times, though, that I’m looking at this game and saying, we could lose this game, and then I’m going to stand up. This is the end of the year now. This is like when you lose, you fall off the cliff.
So if I have to stand up and yell and grab and do — I’m going to do what I have to to try to help the team win. At the end of the day, though, this has got to be what they want, not what I want. I’ve got to be on — this has got to be me being on a ride with them. I’m just here to — I told them today, you’re prepared for this moment because of what we’ve done all year. We’ve worked on all the things that you’re going to have to do in this game to do it. Now you’ll have to perform. You’re going to have to want to be on that stage.
You’re going to have an opponent that absolutely believes they can beat you. They’re coming at you and they’re not going to give you an inch. Do you want it any other way? We know how hard the game is going to be. This is a Sweet 16, Elite Eight game that we’re playing. But that’s OK.
Q. John, on that subject, how better prepared do you feel like your team is now for a physical, grind-it-out-type game than it was earlier in the year? Or do you think it is prepared for that type of game?
COACH CALIPARI: We are. But, again, they play fast now. They’re trying to score, and they’ll press and do some different things to try to muck up the game. Sometimes they hard shell and pick and rolls to get you out of rhythm, pressing different ways on the ball, off the ball. Quick trap, try to steal, go back.
So, you know, we’ll figure out how ready we are tomorrow when it’s tipped off at 2:40. We’ll see. But, like I said, when you got young guys, you just hope they want this moment, they want to play in this kind of moment.
Q. Malik struggled, obviously, with his shooting last night and it’s been several games. What do you see? Are defenses playing him differently? Is the confidence level not quite there?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, he didn’t practice this week because he had a lower back, butt bruise, whatever you want to call it. He didn’t practice for two days. But what I liked was that he took 2s. He drove the ball. He made free throws.
Because you’re not going to be on every game, so you just don’t take 12 3s, then. You’re not on today. Get the ball to the basket, get fouled, take 2s. He’s a great 2-point shooter. They’ll still play him to three because he can make seven in a row. He’s one of those ones you say, man, he’s due. Let’s just hope he’s due. Come on, he’s had about three games where he hasn’t made some shots.
But it’s nice when you have Dom, when you have Derek, when you have Mychal, but he doesn’t have to make 3s. He doesn’t, not for our team. De’Aaron Fox is making 3s now. If he does, it’s great. If he doesn’t, make sure you defend and rebound and take 2s and get fouled and then we’ll see if it’s the next game.
He’ll break out at some point because he’s too talented, and he’s got a great spirit about him.
Q. How does Briscoe fit into the puzzle this year? How has he been the difference?
COACH CALIPARI: I think his leadership, his defense, his toughness, his rebounding, his ability to get in the lane. I mean, if your team is not attacking that lane, and he gets in 16, 18 times a game, his feet are in that lane.
There’s unbelievable value to that. Shooting free throws better, shooting the ball better in the last week or so. His ability to create shots for his teammates. But, more importantly, he just comes up with balls. One we needed yesterday, he’s the guy that dove on the floor and scooped it.
He’s really become that well-rounded player that I would have hoped. And he’s playing with young guys, like he’s the guy — he’s the old guy. He’s like 20. He’s the old guy.
Q. Coach, just to follow up on the Isaiah thing, do you think because of what you just said about his style of play, if he gets to the NBA eventually, he’ll succeed more there because of NBA rules, he can get to the rim and things like that?
COACH CALIPARI: He’s going to be fine. He’s got the body. He’s got the physique, so that’s not an issue. He’s going to have to get in the gym and the shot’s going to have to be more consistent. But do you know how many guys go in that league with that as the one thing?
When you handle the ball like he does, when you’re as tough as he is, that’s winning basketball. Got to shoot the ball better. All right, get in the gym, shoot a thousand a day, make a thousand a day.
Same on getting to the rim. You’re right. The court’s a little more open, but he’s got those traits and all those things that he does in his game.
Q. With Wichita State playing a different game yesterday from their typical body of work this season, does it change how you prepare for them in such a short window?
COACH CALIPARI: As far as what?
Q. Like grind it out, close game, where they won like 20-something games by 15 to 20 points, does yesterday’s game change how you look at it?
COACH CALIPARI: No. You’re looking at a group of games, and maybe each team, how they played them, what they tried to do to them. What worked, what didn’t work. Is there anything they did offensively to them.
I mean, you’re just kind of picking out some stuff. But on a quick turn like this, I mean, if I’m spending all my time worried about Wichita, I know how good they are. I know how talented they are. I know they’re veteran. I know how tough.
I’ve got to worry about my team playing their best. If they don’t do that, then it’s done. If we play our best, let’s see if that’s good enough. We don’t know. We’ll see, though.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, John. We’ll see you tomorrow.
COACH CALIPARI: Thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Q&A: Players preview Wichita State