Q&A: Coach Cal discusses NBA Draft, USA Basketball

Kentucky head coach John Calipari spoke with the media about next week’s NBA Draft and his upcoming experience as head coach of the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team on a teleconference Tuesday morning.

Kentucky has five underclassmen (Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox, Isaac Humphries and Malik Monk) and three seniors (Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis) who have been trying out for various NBA clubs over the past few weeks. The NBA Draft will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on June 22 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Training camp for the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team runs from June 18-25 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Among the 28 players who accepted invitations to the camp are three freshmen Wildcats, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox and PJ Washington. The 2017 FIBA World Cup will run from July 1-9 in Cairo. Team USA will be competing for its third straight title at the FIBA World Cup.

Coach Cal

Opening statement …
“First of all, let me thank all the participants here. It saves me 10 hours of doing individual calls to the different cities and the different guys about these kids that I can get done and answer questions, and whatever we need to do here I’ll do it. So, I appreciate it.

“I’m excited how it’s unfolding. The kids are about where I thought they’d be, even what’s happening for Isaiah and what’s happening even for Isaac, Dom and Derek and Mychal. You’ve got up and down the line, they’re showing well, which makes me really happy.”

On how the Kentucky players would fit in with the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers …

Coach Cal believes Malik Monk or De’Aaron Fox would both be good fits with the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“Well, again, I think, one, Philadelphia right now is on the cusp of a breakthrough because they’re going to have guys healthy. Their guard play is good but that’s probably an area that needs to be strengthened. Again, you look at Malik and I think the interest in Malik is because he can play both 1 and 2 and he can score the ball. So, if you play other players and playmakers, he’s done it here. With Malik, what people have talked to me about, the teams, is we didn’t realize he was as good in pick-and-roll as he is. And I laughed and I said, well, they said the same thing about Eric Bledsoe, but both of those guys played with point guards that were truer point guards than they were, even though they both could play the position. And I would guess, if I’m those Philadelphia players, I’d like to see Malik there.

“But in the same sense, if it’s Foxy, De’Aaron would walk in more of a true point guard and be able to do some things that they need done both on the defensive end and offensive end.”

On what Fox needs to improve on with his 3-point shot …
“Just be more consistent. He has to get in the gym and be committed to it. But when you can make free throws and you can make 15-17 footers at a high clip then you can make 3s. There’s nothing mechanically wrong. That’s why, I think at the end of the day there will be a lot of stuff thrown out there. I was in that league so I know how that works. Guys try to camouflage who they’re taking and then come up with a surprise pick. But the reality of it is, when you look at guys like De’Aaron, unless they’re trying to win in a minute, I mean that should be the least of their worries. What you have is a long guard that can pick up 94 feet, that will be as fast as anybody in the league. When you ask John Wall, ‘Is he as fast as you?’ John Wall will even say, ‘No, he’s not as fast as me,’ but John Wall will say, ‘He is really fast.’ So, when you have that it becomes – and he’s really good in pick-and-roll – he’s on a scouting report. How do we play this? How are we going to guard this? What are we doing in transition? When he gets the ball in his hands you have to get back in the lane because he’s coming.

“Both of those guys, I said with Malik you just have an elite, elite, special talent, athlete. How many guys jump that high on their jump shot and are consistent with it? If Philly got either one of those two they’d be in pretty good shape, especially with the guys they have in the organization already.”

On the Minnesota Timberwolves passing on Jamal Murray last year but potentially taking Monk with the seventh overall pick …

If Monk were to be taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves he could help space the floor for former Kentucky All-American Karl-Anthony Towns. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“Well, Thibs (head coach Tom Thibodeau) and I are good friends and I got on Thibs about that. Jamal is quite a player. I talked to him a few days ago. He always has a smile on his face. I’m happy for what’s happening for him. I was at the All-Star Game when he got his 50 – or whatever the heck he scored in that (rising stars challenge) game.

“Again, you have a Karl(-Anthony) Towns. Karl Towns is special on so many fronts. The pieces that you bring in are to fit around him. And so it becomes he can’t be double-teamed – by the way, Karl, as you know, is a heck of a passer, too. He can really do it. Then you gotta look at their situation and say, what is it they need, because we have this piece, that piece, that piece. What’s the next piece that we need?

“One of the things, and I’ve gotta say this to everyone, it’s kind of like Bam. Right now, everybody is stunned at how Bam shoots the ball. I must have had 10 calls. Like, ‘I didn’t realize he shot the ball this way.’ But they also didn’t realize Karl shot the ball that way and you also didn’t realize that Anthony (Davis) shot the ball the way he does. And so, you would think following this thing how we do it, they all have to share, they all have to give up something to each other to be able to do what they’re doing here.

“Eric Bledsoe, Malik Monk, even Jamal Murray, who, because Tyler (Ulis) was here he couldn’t have been our point guard. If Tyler wasn’t here he probably would have been, or Isaiah Briscoe, who could have just had the ball in his hands and maybe been different. But, they come here, they share, they become great teammates, they get challenged by each other every day in practice, which is why they go on to the league and perform. But they also understand I gotta give up a little bit of my game, but you can still see it.

“That’s why I look at this stuff and say, like, ‘Bam, I can’t believe he –’ well, you could if you were here watching this stuff. He’s doing it, and he’s been exciting people.”

On if there’s something the NBA personnel hasn’t seen from Monk …
“No, I think Malik is, I would say he’s a (No.) 3, 6, 7 (pick) maybe. That’s what I would guess. Foxy is a (No.) 2 to 5 (pick), possibly. I would say Bam is anywhere from (No.) 9, 10 to 14, 15 (pick), in that range. There were teams that Isaac went and worked for and they liked him. The job that I’m hearing Isaiah is doing, and those guys, they’re going to have their opportunities now. That would be my guess of what I’m hearing.”

On the biggest things he hopes to get from his USA Basketball experience …
“The one thing I’ve found out from the players, when you bring a group of really good players together and they get a chance to play, five-on-five, even if it’s semi-pickup, maybe a little more organized, it’s good. So, the guys that are coming out there for three or four days, who I guess there are 29 or 30 (players), I don’t know exactly, but there will be 16 after the third day. Even the guys that are there the first couple days, you get of playing, and any chance you get to play against other really good players is good on a lot of fronts.

“One is, where am I right now compared to these other guys? And then the second thing is, if you’re there all week and you’re really playing, it elevates you because you’re doing it against other (really good) guys.

“For me, it’s a chance to give back. I was asked to do it a while ago and for me to give back and have a chance to do some stuff, and really I’m kind of excited to workout with some players, to have a chance to work players that aren’t just my own guys, to give something to some of these kids before they go on to college or a few of them back to high school. I just want to enjoy it and have fun with it.

“Again, here’s what makes it hard for the U.S. teams. The teams from the other countries have been together for, at times three and four years. We will have been together for like five days and then you gotta start playing and figure out as you go. People will say, ‘Well, you do that every year.’ No, I do it over five months. I don’t do it over five days. And so, this will be a little bit different. Try to make it simple for them, get them to play hard.

“Having Hami and PJ and Kevin out there, I’m excited about it because I’m going to get a chance to see them against not only our guys – we had a workout last night where I was able to get them all in the gym and work guys out, which made my day. I went home with a smile on my face because it’s what I enjoy doing. But, to get them out there in that environment will be good for them too.”

On the NBA potentially changing its draft eligibility rules to the baseball model (declare for the draft after high school or stay in college for three years) …

Coach Cal said he believes the MLB Draft eligibility model would work for basketball, but he does not believe the NBA owners would be in favor of going back to drafting high school players. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“Let me say this, Matt (Norlander), to start off: This isn’t, for me, about Kentucky, and whatever happens in this as we go forward, Kentucky eats first. I’m not saying that to be arrogant – you know it. So, however they play this, it isn’t me talking about, ‘Well, this is what would be best for Kentucky, or my program. Or let these kids get out of here so I don’t have to coach against them.’

“My concern are the kids. What is the best thing? Would the baseball rule work in my mind? Yeah. Heck yeah. I’d love the baseball rule. I’d love the baseball rule for the kids so they have the chance to go right out of high school and get on an NBA roster, and if they’re a lottery pick they’ll make $20 million. I love it.

“But the issue is the NBA doesn’t want to do that. They don’t want to go back to drafting high school players. So, whatever you’re hearing, I can’t see that happening. Now, if it would happen I would love it. I think it would be great.

“The issues I have are, right now – and this probably won’t be printed, but – in college basketball, in the NCAA, we had the highest graduation rate of African-American players ever last year. Whatever we’re doing for these kids is right. My kids are on lifetime scholarships. I heard somebody say, ‘Well, they don’t go to class the second term.’ It’s not true here. They all go to class. They finish the term academically. Every player on my team that left early, all five guys, finished the term academically and can come back here whenever they choose. They have a lifetime scholarship. They have an insurance policy by coming here.

“So, if they want to take kids out of high school, I’m all for it. It’d be great. But I just don’t see the owners wanting to go back to drafting high school players. It would be interesting if they did something like that, and right now they have a board that kind of projects where these kids will be drafted. It would be neat if they went to that. That board also projected for high school players whether they’d be drafted at all, so they wouldn’t have to put their name in the draft and not be drafted. So, you don’t have 300 kids putting their name in the draft and kids not getting drafted. But there are other things out there that we probably all have to sit together as the NCAA, the NBA, the players association and come up with something.

“But at the end of the day, for me, it’s not – this university 50 years from now is going to be fine. You won’t believe this, but this basketball program will probably be about where it is in 50 years. But what we’re doing for these kids now and going forward, by having to go through college, what’s happened is young kids know I have to do this academic work or I can’t even go to college to play basketball to have a chance for the NBA. And it’s worked that way. Now, is it great for the kids? Not a kid that can leave after high school, no. But the NCAA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, which is educating these kids.”

On how Monk would fit in with the New York Knicks and if the emphasis on the triangle hurts players …
“Well, there have been some hall of famers play in the triangle, so I’m not sure that’s the case. I think it gets overplayed, some of it, how it’s hurting or helping.

“What I would say – just taking about Malik – what Malik is, (is) an elite, special athlete/talent. When he gets in a zone and he just locks it down, you just kind of sit there and say, ‘Oh my goodness.’ Like North Carolina when he had 47 (points) and I’m telling him to drive the ball and he shoots a 3 and it goes down, doesn’t even hit anything – net or anything – just goes straight down. He also could be, and I believe in the NBA will start to become, a terrific defender and rebounder for his position, because there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be. He’s long enough, he’s athletic enough, he’s bouncy enough. Never once did I have to use a board to draw up stuff with him. I could just tell him, ‘Look, you’re coming off that screen, I want you to step out, but go back, don’t come out.’ He’d say OK and then he’d go do it. He was really a great basketball mind and pick up things quickly. He would be one of those guys for the Knicks that fans would pay to go see and say, ‘I gotta see what he’s gonna do today.’ ”

On if he has had any safety concerns on traveling to Cairo with USA Basketball …
“Well, I think whether you’re in the NBA or the Olympics, traveling around the world has changed a whole lot. USA Basketball had recognized that having General (Martin E.) Dempsey become the new chairman of USA Basketball at this time for this trip was kind of helpful. He’s able to call the ambassador of Egypt, and he and I have had a bunch of calls because, again, I feel that I’m going to be responsible for 12 kids and their parents and I want to be sure where are we on all this. All I can tell you is, at this point, there are two levels within the USA Basketball security that we’ll have. The president of Egypt is involved in this, and the arena and the hotel. The hotel is where the Pope stayed.

“Let me just say this, I was very curious of how we’re going to do this, and at this point I’m very comfortable that this team will be in a good position when we travel and go over there to play.”

On Fox’s performance in the second game against UCLA and how he changed as a player throughout the season …

Coach Cal had high praise for De’Aaron Fox and his selfless leadership. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“It’s a great question. Sometimes you see a direction when you’re coaching, especially young guys. Here’s what people may not know, these kids are 18 when I get them. They’re 18 years old, some of them 17. I mean, Kevin Knox this year is 17. Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) was 17. Devin Booker was 17. And they walk into Kentucky where every game is a Super Bowl, where our postgame in Lexington has 20 cameras and 100 media people sitting like you’re in the NBA Finals after you play anybody. And so, you see growth. They are unsure of themselves. They are anxious. They know they’re good, they think they’re good, I hope I’m good. And then they come in here and they play against other guys that are just as good as they are. What happens is, by playing against each other, being around each other, they all grow that way as much as anything. The saying, ‘Well, they were already developed when they went there,’ and this and that. It’s just not true.

“But again, the biggest thing with De’Aaron was the leadership that he – early on he didn’t try to come in and say, ‘This is my program.’ But about two months in, we’re playing games and I look at him and I said,’ Hey, kid, this is your team. You’re my point guard. You’re it. Go do your thing.’ And I think he became more challenged and more challenged and more comfortable taking over.

“Now, I’ll tell you with UCLA he’s really playing. At halftime, I walk in and I look at the team and I go, ‘Are you all watching this game?’ And they look at me like, ‘What?’ ‘Are you watching what he’s doing? How about we just play through him this half?’ And the first guy to speak up and laugh was Malik Monk, and said, ‘Put it in his hands! We’ll play off him. Go do your thing.’ That’s from Malik Monk to De’Aaron, because Malik knew De’Aaron led the right way. He led for his teammates more than he led himself. But he learned that, and he learned it over five months.”

On if Fox has the leadership abilities similar to a John Wall to guide an NBA franchise …
“I love that you brought up John Wall. John Wall went to Washington and I remember saying, ‘One player is not going to get you 50 wins.’ It just doesn’t work that way in the league. And do you remember John’s first couple years? I remember John’s first couple years. And I remember John last year, who had an MVP type of season.

“Wherever he (Fox) goes, he’s going to be one piece and he will do his job and he will lead, but there isn’t anybody in this draft that’s going to go take a team and get them 15 more wins. Now, he may lead, if the team is tweaked and now you add him to some other guys, he can be a part of it, yes. But these kids, again, are 18. It’s a different day and age. There aren’t 23- and 24-year-olds going into the NBA now. They’re 19 and 18.

“And so, what you get with him, an unbelievable personality, will be great in the locker room, knows how to be a great teammate, is willing to share, will defer to someone else who has it going, has a tough wiriness to him. Because I looked at his legs when I saw him. When I recruited him, I was like, ‘Look at this dude’s legs. He can’t be this skinny.’ Then all of a sudden he went out there and those skinny legs ran real fast and he’s tough. He’ll go in and get hit and banged, he’s fine. The thing about the 3-point shooting is the least of my worries with him. What I love is, if you want to pick up and play a little bit where they can’t just run your offense right down on top of you, he’s pretty good. And he has a personality that will play in all these communities.

“The NBA, what’s happened is the best players are all good guys, which is what the NBA wants. The best players, when you start talking here are the best eight to 10 players, from Anthony Davis – John Wall and Anthony Davis were (candidates for) the NBA Community Assist Award in the NBA, where they gave back their time – not money, but their time and money to communities. Those are the kind of kids that, now, that’s why the NBA is so hot right now. The best players are great guys.”

On which of these Kentucky players in the draft fit best with Booker in Phoenix …

Already with four former Kentucky guards on its roster, could the Phoenix Suns add another with the fourth overall pick in the draft? (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“Well, either (Fox or Monk) can play. I think what I like with what Phoenix is doing is they’re going after the best players they can get and then they figure it out later. Now, with Eric and with Tyler, who finished the year strong, from Devin to Brandon Knight, you’ve got four legitimate NBA guards. They could take another, but either guard would fit well. Devin is better in the pick-and-roll. Again, here’s another guy who didn’t even start for us, but shot the ball well. So teams passed on him because they weren’t sure how he was in pick-and-roll. Well, he played with Andrew Harrison, who’s playing with the (Memphis) Grizzlies right now, and Tyler Ulis, who when he played with Tyler, Tyler dominated the ball because he should have. So, I would trust Phoenix. They’ve made some terrific draft picks and I would trust them if one of those guards is there that they’ll give a hard look at them.”

On if he will be available to make the NBA Draft this year while coaching at USA Basketball training camp …
“My plan is to be at the draft.”

On what Monmouth head coach King Rice can gain by being a court coach at USA Basketball training camp …
“Well, again, all the people that are involved benefit. You got Danny Manning and Tad Boyle, you got Sean Miller, you got Eddy Cooley, you got Matt Painter. I’m just naming a few guys you get to be around and you get to learn from. I’m going to go out there and the greatest thing for me is I’m going to learn.

“I’m excited about working with Tad and Danny Manning for three weeks. I coached them both at Kansas. I coached both of them. And I am so proud of what they’ve become and so respectful of the type of coaches they are, but we’ve never been in an environment where I can learn from them, see where they’ve gone with their teaching, or what they used that what we used in Kansas, and what is their own. And that’s the great thing about coaches coming together. We don’t get enough of that. We don’t get a chance for that.

“And as players, when the best players from the United States come together, I mean, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be there, even if it’s a tryout setting where you get four or five times to get to go against other players to see where you are.

“I think it’s a great experience for the players and it’s a great experience for the coaches.”

On what he’s hearing differently this year than last year from NBA personnel about Briscoe …

NBA personnel have seen an improvement in Isaiah Briscoe’s shot from last year to this year, Coach Cal said. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“People are more impressed with his shooting than a year ago. The thing that is driving me crazy, he’s a sophomore! He just turned 20. So, when you look at him you think, well, here’s a veteran. No, you gotta look at him. I had a guy call me, one of the NBA personnel, and say, ‘Well, what if this kid had gone to this and done this. What would you think of him now?’ And this and this. Well, I’m looking at Isaiah and I’m saying, he’s like one of the young guys in this draft. But he played at Kentucky, he’s been through wars, he knows how to win, he’s improving his shooting.

“Who played point guard for Cleveland? Who played point guard for Golden State? How many big guys played in those games? The game is changing right before our eyes and he’s fine. Sometimes, whether it’s kids or coaches, ‘Well, if he had played point guard or he had played –’ they’re not doing it that way anymore! Can you play basketball? Can you make plays? Can you rebound your position? Can you space the court? Are you a good layup shooter where they gotta guard you? You’ve played with some length because even though Golden State played small they still had pretty good length.

“So, I think he’s going to be fine. And I think people are looking at him now and saying, ‘Wow, he is better than we thought.’ ”

On the health of freshman wing Jarred Vanderbilt after he was injured at the Jordan Brand Classic game …

“He’s not started playing. Probably two weeks before he’ll really get full going into what we’re doing here, but I think he’ll be fine. There aren’t any issues, it’s just – like I told his family – this is June. I just want to make sure when we get in November he’s in his stride. Right now, taking a couple weeks off. We had him with our doctors and with the trainers, just making sure, giving him a couple weeks. But he’ll be fine. He’s in good shape.”

On if all 28 players in USA Basketball training camp have confirmed they will travel to Cairo should they make the final 12-man roster …
“Until I get out there I wouldn’t know that. But the one thing I think, and I mentioned this, I think General Dempsey probably has to speak on the security. Because the thing that I’ve said, I’m not an expert on security. Matter of fact, I’m barely an expert on basketball, and I don’t think I’m an expert. I don’t know enough about that. So, to say that we’re going to do something with security, we need to have professional people, and they’ve addressed that. There are two different groups going with us. FIBA has addressed what they’re doing. The city of Cairo and the country of Egypt has addressed what they’re doing.

“So, I think, again, if I wasn’t comfortable I wouldn’t go. I am very comfortable walking through the way we’ve done this, which was very thorough, and who the general talked to and how we went about this, that we’re going to be fine.”

On if he’d be a proponent of the Southeastern Conference moving to a 20-game league schedule …
“Well, I wouldn’t be for it. Obviously, I’m not going to get a vote on it, I just think that what all of us do outside our league is very important. There have been teams in those leagues that you talk about let’s do a home-and-home and they’ve all said the same thing: If we have 20 (league) games I’m not going to do that. So, what you do is you take away some of those kind of games that have been good to us. North Carolina, for example, if (the ACC) goes to 20 games I don’t think we’ll have any more series with North Carolina.

“So, I’m not for it. I think teams can (use) those last two games to put your own kind of schedule together. If you need a tougher game, if you have a rivalry game, if you need an easier game, if your team needs a team they can beat or a team they’ll be challenged by, or they need a road game, you can do it with those two games.

“But if that’s what those teams choose to do – a lot of it is for their networks. They need more inventory for their own network so they play more league games. That means you have more inventory for your network to put on.

“Hopefully in our case this league will stay where we are (at 18 league games). But if we don’t, we’ll make it work.”