Q&A: SEC men’s basketball summer teleconference

Kentucky head coach John Calipari joined the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball summer teleconference on Monday morning to discuss a variety of topics, including the one-and done rule, freshman forward Kevin Knox and scheduling exhibition games.

Coach Cal

Opening statement …
“We’re going to be really young. Really, really the most inexperienced team that I’ve coached. So, that’s going to be interesting to deal with. I love the length. I love the group of guys. I love that they all want to win. When you talk to them, that’s what they talk about. It’s always fun when you get a group like that. That is fun. I’m looking forward to it.

“We’ll see. I still don’t know how they’re going to play. I’d imagine we’ll be fast and disruptive, but I don’t – how we’ll do that, I have no idea.”

On the one-and-done rule …
“I made a statement. Someone said to me about the baseball rule, and I’m fine with the baseball rule. It wouldn’t bother me. But whatever we do, I think we’ve gotta really, really consider the kids. The sport of basketball, the NBA is going to be fine. It’s, ‘OK, what kind of effect is what we’re doing (going to) have on the kids?’

“I’ll give you an example, I wasn’t – the people on this probably know when I say this – I wasn’t a big – back in the day when they started raising these standards, I was like, ‘Boy, I don’t know if this is good because I think we’re going to lock out a whole group of kids.’ So, what the NCAA did was challenge kids to do well. If you really want to do this and go to college and have a gap year and prepare, or maybe stay at school two or three of four years, you gotta get up to these standards. Well, I thought it would shut people out. Very rarely do I speak highly of the NCAA, but in this case what it did was it challenged a generation of kids to do better academically, to be on point, to get themselves where they need to go. The NCAA this year reported we had the highest graduation rate this year in men’s basketball for African Americans, ever. Ever.

“My kids all finished the term. I don’t know where they got this, ‘they don’t go to school.’ Look, it’s kind of like fake news. If you say it enough, it becomes what’s real. It’s not real. My kids have lifetime scholarships, so when I tell you that whatever we’re going to do, let’s not look back a generation from now and say, well, we did this because we want these kids better prepared to play basketball. We did this because we’re trying to eek out more of this and this and have more control over our, quote, assets, and we think we can do a better job of teaching when you’re talking about a 17-year-old leaving his bed in his home with his mother, who was waking him up, and walking into a man’s world right now. Where you go to college to get a gap year. Maybe you stay two years.

“Whatever we do, I’ll be on record, if we’re trying to get kids to go to the D-League. If it’s a baseball rule and they’re going to get $20 million contracts right out of high school and the NBA thinks they can deal with that, I’m good. I’m fine. If they’re trying to get kids in high school to go to the D-League, I will be shouting from mountaintops saying what is this going to do to a generation of kids who say, ‘Alright, I’m going to do this.’ You get one or two years to make it and now you’re out without any opportunities. Who’s taking care of those kids now?

“I’ll come back to, my kids have an insurance policy: they have a lifetime scholarship. Three, four kids have already started that path to come back and start finishing up. Now, they may do it when they’re out of their NBA run, or if their NBA run is short. But I’m good with the baseball rule, as long as they’re going directly to the NBA, they’re paying them what they deserve to be paid, and then it’s on them to look after these kids and give them a gap year if they think they can do that in the NBA.”

On if the one-and-done rule has been good for college basketball …
“I would tell you that there are many who would say, ‘These kids need to stay in school four years.’ And then if you said, ‘What about your son? If he has an opportunity after one year he gets prepared and he goes to the NBA. What would you say then?’ ‘Well, that’s different. It’s my son, and my son should be able to go and be prepared for a year and then go on to the NBA.’

“Let me just say this, I’ve had now 20-some lottery picks and every one of them has gotten through a second contract because they have been prepared to go in the league and do well. Every one of them. And I’ll say this: It’s the coach’s choice to recruit these kinds of kids. Don’t recruit them. Just don’t recruit them. ‘I want four-year guys.’ Then recruit four-year guys. I don’t understand what the issue is.

“I would say this, if you’re old school and you’ve been following college basketball and you liked it as kids staying in school four years and all that, then you probably say, ‘This has ruined what my game used to look like.’ Well, the world has changed. It’s changed in the NBA, it’s changed in Europe. The game has changed. The world has changed. Forty years ago, guys in the NBA made half-a-million dollars. I can remember Michael Jordan having a million-dollar contract. Michael Jordan. Dwyane Wade just said, ‘My stats, if I was 25-years-old, I’d be making $24 million a year.’

“Think about this: Many, many of the kids that I’m recruiting, this is the first opportunity for their families to breathe. Why do they cry? Because the American dream is right there and they’ve done everything to keep their son on the straight and narrow. They’ve sacrificed. They’ve worked three jobs. They’ve done what they can to get them to go to camps and the AAUs and all the other stuff that they do. They want to travel, they’ve saved money, they miss payments on cars and houses to make sure their son is taken care of, and now here’s this opportunity for them. Now, some may say, well, this is about basketball, not about the child. I just differ with that.”

On what he saw out of Kevin Knox at the USA Basketball training camp and what he expects out of Knox this season …
“Kevin was terrific. He was the best player, or one of the best. There were three or four guys who stood out and he was one of them. There were times I just shook my head and said, ‘Wow.’

“PJ (Washington) is playing really well. Hami (Diallo), I’m really excited. I wish Kevin would have made the trip, but you look at it and say, it’s not worth it. Go back, get yourself healthy.

“But what’s going to happen is, with Hami and PJ I get a chance to be with them for three weeks and they get a chance to be with me. I get a chance to watch them closely, to learn more about them so I can do a better job of coaching them. And then they know what my expectations are and it’ll be a little bit easier road.

“But again, the three or four days I spent with Kevin were great. He’s going to be terrific. Boy, he is really good.”

On how Kentucky goes about scheduling exhibition games …
“Mostly family and friends. Usually people we know. … Yeah, we’ve played Clarion a few times, where I went to school. We’ve played Ottawa, our AD’s school, we played Montevallo, who was DeWayne Peevy’s school. We played different schools in the state. We played Transylvania. Transylvania had a 4-0 lead on us and they took their picture and it’s framed over in their campus. They’re up on Kentucky 4-0.

“It’s one of those things that we’re doing it for people we have relationships with. It’s more about helping that other school. We give a great guarantee for a Division II, Division III team and we’ve done an NAIA team. We’re kind of forced to do it versus a scrimmage, which a lot of people do. Our fans want to see these kids play, so we just continue to do what we’re doing.”

On how much the guarantee is for teams to play exhibition games at Kentucky …
“The guarantee is usually around $20,000 to $25,000. So, when you’re a Division II school and you get $25,000 to put back into your program, that’s a big deal. And we get it. I mean, we could give $5,000, we could give $7,000, we could give $3,000 and schools would come. But that’s not why we’re doing it.”