Q&A: Coach Cal previews the 2017-18 Wildcats

As John Calipari prepares to embark on his ninth season as Kentucky head coach, he met with local reporters in late August to discuss a myriad of topics surrounding the upcoming season. From his eight freshmen, to the team’s versatility, his experience as the USA Basketball U19 head coach and current events in today’s world, Calipari covered a lot of ground.

Coach Cal

On how different this team is compared to his other young teams at Kentucky …
“Well, it’s two. First of all, Wenyen (Gabriel) is playing way better, thank God. So, he’s not the same guy he was a year ago. So that one guy you have coming back, you know, he can be in that rotation and be fine. The other guys seem to be freshmen. So, that’s one thing, you’re playing freshmen.

Of all the young teams Coach Cal has led at Kentucky, the 2017-18 squad will be his youngest. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

“But the biggest thing is last year we had like three point guards on the floor almost all the time. Now, you’re going to have either one or none that are like true point guards. That’s going to be the biggest change. You may have a team of where it seems basketball is going to: No point guard, no center, just players. So, now it’s kind of like, OK that’s different than what we’ve had. For the last few years it’s been three guards, literally, three-point guards. Jamal Murray was a point guard, that’s what he is. That’s one change.

“So, what I’m looking at right now is different in how we’re playing and not – still play fast, play unselfish, we should be a pretty good defensive team if we choose to be. But how we play offensively when you talk that kind of team (will be different). So, I’m in the process right now (of) meeting and talking with some NBA guys about away from the ball. We are a spacing offense and that’s good and we’re not changing that, but you also have to be a movement offense now. So that’s hard cuts and a high-motor offense in the half-court. In the full court I’m not worried about it. You gotta be able to play that.

“The second thing is they’re going to play a zone. I mean, that’s what I would imagine, either sag-man or you play zone, so we’ve got to be prepared from day one, OK, we probably put in a zone. And this could be a team that should play zone. Whether I’ll play zone, I don’t know. But you’re long and big, you know, it could be a good zone team.”

On assistant coach Tony Barbee chipping away at him trying to get him to play zone …
“Well, this year, again, I think from day one we have to have a zone. So, start breaking it down, start adding it and then start working on it because we’re going to have to play against it. And if we can play against our own zone I’m going to imagine we can play against anybody else’s. I mean, we could play with Nick (Richards) or you could play with one of those other bigs, or play with all 6-(foot)-9 guys. And so, you could play with Hami (Diallo) and Quade (Green), who is better than I thought he was, which is a good thing. I knew he was good, but there were some things because of his size I was worried about, but he’s fine. Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) at 6-6 – whatever he is – you can have two 6-6 guards and three 6-9 guys. What? But you don’t have a center. What? And then who does? Who has that guy they throw the ball to and just can score in the post?”

On sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones …
“Sacha went to England and played for the national team and was there two weeks, but I haven’t seen him play here yet. He and Tai (Wynyard), I saw Tai over in Egypt. Tai is better. They’re both better. They’re both better. Nick is probably – looks about 7-foot tall. He’s big.”

On what held Killeya-Jones back last year …
“He’s young, his age. He’s now the age of a freshman right now. This is all new to him. I mean, inexperience. Bam (Adebayo) was better than him. We went to a small lineup so I wasn’t playing two of those bigs together.

UK sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones went overseas this summer to compete in Great Britain’s national training camp that determined the team’s roster for FIBA EuroBasket 2017. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

“Derek (Willis) gave us – and again, we’re totally different this year – a stretch four at 6-9. These are playmaking fours. Derek was a shooting four. That’s what he was. These guys can do it on the bounce, they’re not as good of a shooter as he was, but they can do stuff off the bounce.

“So now, OK, how do you play? Your pick-and-roll becomes more of an action to get the ball back in the hands of the four so he can make plays. With Derek, it was get him to the 3-point line so it’d open up for a guard or he can shoot or he could shoot. So, we’re different. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but there are things we’re going to have to teach (with this team) that I haven’t done before here.”

On if Killeya-Jones, who complained about injuries in the preseason last year, has a different attitude this year …
“Way better. Yeah. There’s things they get away with that I’ll still be OK, and then you get behind – it happened to Wenyen – and all of a sudden every game is on national television, all of a sudden you shoot three air balls and all of a sudden oh my God, I can’t play. Then the season ends. This thing is a daily grind of building your own self-esteem, your own confidence. I can’t build it for you. You work and then you have to have demonstrated performance. If you’re not building your own confidence, more than likely you’re breaking it down yourself. By not working, knowing you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, knowing you’re not doing everything and thinking it’s going to be OK, and then when it doesn’t happen and things go south you know it was me. And now it doesn’t matter what I say, or you say or the fans say. I always come back to that. They build their own self-confidence and they build their own self-esteem. Yeah, we’re there to be positive when we need to be and tell them no when we need to tell them no, but at the end of the day you gotta get in and prove to yourself what you are.”

On if freshman Kevin Knox is playing guard …
“Yeah. I mean, he is. When you talk about shooters, might be he and Jemarl (Baker) be our best shooters. But I’m trying get him, I want him to drive the ball. Have to make decisions. We’ve done some of the dribble-drive stuff, but because of these new rules we’ve had to give them time off now. So, the way they’re doing these days we haven’t started. He’s good. He’s good. He’s a good player. He’s young. He just turned 18 so he’s kind of like Michael Kidd(-Gilchrist) was and Sacha was and Isaac (Humphries) was. They’re really young. They come in. They’re not older that way.”

On if Knox successfully kept him in the dark with which way he was leaning in his recruitment …
“Probably. Hami was really, ya know, no emotion, wouldn’t say anything, and then calls you and says I want to come at midseason – what? And I thought Hami was important for this class because of his athleticism and his ability to get to the basket. We haven’t mentioned him.

“He’s, again, what I’m trying to get these guys to understand is none of them are there yet and if you think you are you’re delusional or you really don’t want this, like, you don’t want the work. Or you’re delusional. None of the guys are where they need to be. This is going to be one of those season-long – we’ve been through it before, it’s hard. It’s hard to be patient for me and our fans and everybody else, but you’re just going to have to be because we’re not even going to know exactly how we’re going to be playing in February and March. We won’t.

“But we’re talented, we got a great group of kids. Again, the fantasy campers, two or three (players) are with each team. Probably had 20 guys come back to me and say, ‘What a great group of kids.’ Some of you in the media that met with them the other day have hit me and said, ‘Another great group of kids.’

“We have that, but it’s just individually they’re not there yet. Collectively, obviously we’re not there yet. And it’s not just athletically running up and down the court. It’s, OK, how do we play – it’s not exchanging baskets – how do we play to win? They have absolutely no idea. They’re exchanging baskets. ‘You get one, I get one. OK, watch this. I can’t get one. Here, you try to get one.’ I mean, that’s where they are right now and that’s where they should be. I mean, they’re a bunch of young kids who were the best player on their high school team, took all the shots. Now we come in and say, ‘OK, here’s how we’re going to have to play.’

“They’re attentive, they want to be coached, they want to win, it’s just going to be that road that we usually take here. It’s going to be hard.”

On why Green is better than what he thought …
“Quade was a, I want to say almost a walk-it-up kind of point guard. Like, would get it and … He runs the floor like Tyler (Ulis) runs the floor. I’m not comparing him to Tyler because that wouldn’t be fair to him. But he runs the court like Tyler did. You guys will say, ‘Wow, he has a lot of those traits.’ But that doesn’t get it here. You have to be able to play fast. Pace matters here. Pace matters because we need more possessions. Why do we need more possessions? Because we got more players. We have to get a minimum number of shots so that everybody gets some shots, to be honest. That’s the bottom line. We walk it up and take 50 shots a game I’m not sure it would work here (with) what we’re doing. So, I told him that. ‘You have to either sprint it or throw it ahead. One of the two.’

Calipari said freshman point guard Quade Green has been playing at a great pace during the preseason. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“I didn’t see him in a high school game do it, but I watched the rest of his stuff. So, the summer unfolds, we do some workouts, they have some stuff, and he’s playing fast. Like, he’s really sprinting the ball up, he’s throwing it ahead, he gets people involved. He’s got some things to do defensively – be more disruptive and all those things because of his size – but I said to him in front of the team the last (workout) before we went home for summer, I said, ‘You know, Quade is better than I thought.’ I said to the team, ‘I didn’t know you were this fast.’ And you know what his comment was? ‘I didn’t know either. I didn’t know I was this fast either.’ And then I said, ‘Why are you playing like this?’ He said, ‘Because you told me, and you told me if I didn’t I wouldn’t play.’

“That’s good for the other guys to hear, like, I told him you’re not going to play now. So, the rest of you understand, you’re going to play the way you have to play for you and us to be on that floor. I don’t care where you came, what game you were in, doesn’t matter to me. So, that was a good thing and for him to be able to tell his teammates that.”

On if they can play with Gilgeous-Alexander on the ball …
“Yeah, because Shai is not like the pure – Shai can run the point, he’s good, but he’s more of a I’m going to try to get some baskets, I’m going to break this off. That feel to be that position. Like, he’s not to the level of Quade. But, here’s this kid, 6-5, he’s long, he can go get baskets. He’s got kind of an old man’s game, around, steps, flips and all that other stuff. Great work ethic. He’s playing. And they can play together. He can play by himself. Could play those two and Hami together if you wanted to.”

On if it’s harder to teach freshmen defense and if that’s the slower process …
“The hardest thing on defense is they don’t play every possession and one basket doesn’t matter to them. They get the ball, I run toward the ball, they throw it over my head and get a layup. ‘You gotta go back.’ ‘Well …’ ‘Come on, let’s go.’ I mean, that’s a typical freshman. You’re fighting every possession defensively. You’re trying to make it so hard on them and if you do and we rebound the ball, we’re not really running offense. Go, make plays. If you don’t have it up one side get it up the other side. It’s an easier way to play if you defend. Sustaining an effort, staying in a stance and talking.

“One of the things that I asked a couple of them, I said, ‘Tell me when you were playing against the Pelicans, what was the biggest thing?’ They talk. I said, ‘Yeah, and they won like 24 games last year.’ Just know. They were like, man, they talk. You have Rajon (Rondo) was talking with Anthony (Davis) how they’re playing pick-and-rolls. And they’re talking to each other and the weakside guys are talking and these guys now are hearing if you don’t talk you can’t survive. If it’s about winning you will force yourself to talk to each other because you’re trying to win. That’s the hardest thing for young kids to do.

“For me, it’s going to be if we’re doing new things offensively, if we’re playing away from the ball different than we have, the good news is none of these guys know. It’s not like I have a whole team and we’re trying to change how we play. It’s a new canvas. This is what I want this to look like. And I’m not sure if it’ll be right. We’ll try it. We’re going to start this week on Friday, Saturday for the first time. An hour and an hour on those two days, those are the two hours, and I’m going to throw in some stuff just to see how it looks.”

On things he found Diallo and PJ Washington can do and still need work on while he was coaching them with the USA Basketball U19 FIBA World Cup team …
“Well, most of it is get in great shape. Most of it is every possession matters and you can’t act like stuff doesn’t matter. Things that I’m not worried about that I could get them to do. Consistency in different areas of their games.

Coach Cal is stressing consistency with his freshmen. (photo credit USA Basketball)

“What happens to young guys, they don’t know how to truly practice. Like, for example, shooting. So, if you’re going to go in the gym and you tip-toe shoot, then you jump shoot, then you tip-toe shoot, then you get in and you start playing, you shoot it different. Now, you all think that different is like this one, this one and this [puts arm at different angles]. Different is how you elevate. It’s OK if it’s a deep shot 3 to elevate or have a little different shot because it’s a deeper shot, but every other shot you shoot – off the bounce, off a catch, stepping in, two dribbles – you elevate the same way. These guys don’t know that. So now they get in the game and their elevation is different every time they shoot, which means they’re shooting a different shot. You watch a professional player, he shoots exactly the same way every time. It doesn’t always go in, but it is exactly the same shot. And they work on shooting exactly the same shot so it’s more muscle memory than mental memory. If it’s mental memory, you will go mental. If it’s muscle memory, you have amnesia because you’re not thinking about it. You’re have the same – and that’s when they say, ‘The dude’s in a zone.’ Yeah, he’s not thinking, he’s just going to muscles. They have no idea. PJ, Hami, even Kevin. I mean, there are times he’s kind of leaning. Go straight up. Every shot has to be the same kind of shot.”

On if these kids just never have to communicate prior to getting to college …
“Yeah, everything is about them. So, you either talk to me or – whether it’s defense or offense, the whole. You think about, you bring in Malik Monk’s high school team, he had no one to practice against and then he played probably two showcase games where someone could play him and give him problems. De’Aaron Fox, the best player on his team, other than him, was a ninth grader. I mean, I can go on. These kids are in situations where they’re not forced to talk. Like I said, you sit on the floor and you’re watching an NBA game, dudes are screaming at each other – not mean, they just gotta talk loud because they have to hear each other. So, there’s so much chatter going on in those games. That’s when a team is empowered.

“When I talk about an empowered team, they’re talking to each other, they’re really playing off of each other, something happens (and) I don’t need to say it. They go to each other, ‘What happened? Alright, so when he does that make sure you’re – OK, we got it. You two know what you’re doing? Yeah, OK, let’s go. Alright, offensively here –’ that’s when a team is empowered.

“This team, they’re probably – you still have this. Things will go wrong, will they take responsibility? They’re 17, 18 years old. Will the people around them have them take responsibility? Oh no. So, they’re going to be enabled and they’re going to start blaming. That’s what we do.

“I put up an excuse board sometimes for some teams. You know what I’m talking about? So, I number like 10 excuses. You know, my girlfriend was …, I have a cold, got a hamstring. They get 1-10 and I say, ‘Look, I don’t have time to hear your whole excuse. Just give me a number.’ Then I’ll tell them you can give me combinations. You can give me a three-five. It doesn’t matter, but I don’t need a whole sentence. Just give me a number so we can move on.”

On if the girlfriend is usually No. 1 …
“It’s one of those. It’s in the top three, I can tell you.”

On how Diallo and Washington did on the camels in Egypt …
“Dr. (Scott) Mair was the worst. He was trying to chase me down.

Coach Cal said he enjoyed his experience coaching the USA U19 team and learned some new things while coaching in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup. (photo credit USA Basketball)

“No, the experience to be able to be there. I enjoyed the experience, it’s just to spend that kind of time away is a hard deal. I did the DR (Dominican Republic) thing for a while. But I will say, I walked away (and) it helped give me a better picture for those two guys of where I need to go with them.

“There (also) was some good stuff that was run over there that I can look at because FIBA plays a little different. There’s different spacing, players are different kinds of players. So, it was good for that experience.”

On players saying they wouldn’t ride a camel again …
“Well, we wouldn’t let them ride. They could only sit on it, but I rode. I rode the camel. The hard one is when it goes down to get you off you feel like you’re going to dive, but the pyramids and all that stuff, to be able to say – you know, it’s one of those place I had never been.”

On Green saying he wants to be Coach Cal’s best defensive guard ever and if he saw that mindset when he was scouting Green …
“He’s a tough guy, but Tyler Ulis was ridiculous. Eric Bledsoe, I can think back. We’ve had some really good guards. It’s a great thing for him to challenge himself with. The biggest thing he’s gotta be is disruptive. The other thing he’s gotta be able to do is how are you going to play in pick-and-roll defense? Are you the guy that can either fight the screen or figure out how to get over? If we switch, can you fight a big? Like, the best way to play pick-and-roll defense is just switch. Then there is no offense. But you gotta be able to guard – a big’s gotta be able to guard a guard, which I think we’ll be able to do. The other side of it is, the guard’s gotta be able to guard a big. Can he do it? You can say, well, you can pass him off. Well, there’s some coaches that do it in a way that you can’t. When you switch, those two gotta play those two. Those are things he’ll have to learn and we’ll have to learn if he can do them.”

On if a guard defending a 7-footer, ala Ulis, is a mentality type of thing …
“And guard him! That’s why I don’t like comparing anybody to him. I told you the first – well, the first time I saw De’Aaron Fox I wasn’t sold. The first time I saw Tyler I wasn’t sold. Then the more you watch him, and then you get all the little things and you start saying, ‘Yeah, he’s good enough.’ ”

On if Diallo can be a defensive stopper like a DeAndre Liggins …
“No, DeAndre was, again, I don’t want to compare him to him like that because that kid would go in and just, you know. He may not let you catch the ball and then he’d go after it. He had a different mentality. But he has the athleticism, the length. As a matter of fact, he’s bigger than DeAndre is. He doesn’t have the discipline, but I would imagine neither did DeAndre early on. But again, he doesn’t have the defensive discipline, but that’s right now. None of them do. But yeah, he could, but that’s a tall order right there. And when you saw DeAndre playing that way he was what, a junior? Probably 23 years old.”

On if he thinks he has more of a defensive presence inside this year than recently …
“You’ll have shot blocking. Nick (Richards) is a shot blocker. Jarred (Vanderbilt) and PJ and now all of a sudden your other guys are big. We will be a long, athletic team. I mean, that’s not the issue.

Though he’s known for his athleticism and high-flying dunks, Coach Cal loves Hamidou Diallo’s defensive potential. (photo credit USA Basketball)

“The issue I come back to, alright, how are you going to play in the half court? How are you going to play if you have three forwards? What are you going to do if you play a smaller lineup and what does a smaller lineup mean? And how will you play that? Those are the questions that have to be answered.

“Defensively, what’s your best defensive team you can put on the floor? Can you press with this team? Would it be better to press to get more people in games? Can you play a zone with this team?

“We’re walking in to where we are so far behind every other team. Like, literally, we’re walking in with I don’t know. You don’t have the time in the summer. You’re working two hours a week. They come back, we can’t touch them for seven days or whatever it is. We’ll be behind.”

On how he’s smarter now in dealing with freshman teams than he was perhaps eight years ago …
“I’ve always played young players, even when we were at UMass. I mean, I played guys as freshmen. So, I’ve always played freshmen. I just didn’t always play all freshmen. Like, three guys, four guys, five guys. But there was always one or two freshmen on my team (at) UMass and Memphis. And what they have to do is catch up to the other guys. But in the end, a lot of times they were just as good if not better than the other guys. They just had to get more disciplined, get a better feel for their teammates and stuff like that.

“This is a totally different deal. This is kind of like we had in 2014 where you have a good group of kids, you have a talented group of kids, but they’re not ready to win basketball games. They’re exchanging baskets. That’s where this team is.

“Hopefully, because I’ve been through it – you know what, that’s like saying, ‘OK, you’ve been through a root canal, you can do this again, right? You’ll be better prepared. You’ll be fine, right? You know what’s coming.’ No, no. It’s still going to be painful.”

On who will fill the leadership role on the team …
“It’ll develop. When you watch the court you’ll say Quade will lead them. But you need Hami. If you’re going to be that guy, you gotta lead, and leading means you gotta serve them. I talked to Hami about it. I said, ‘Man, you can’t off in your room and put your headphones on. These guys gotta know you’re there for them. They gotta know it. They gotta know you’re not here just trying to do your thing. You cannot lead if that’s who you are. And when your stuff goes south no one is going to help you if you’re that way. If you want to lead, everyone here is going to be about you. That means they gotta know Hami is for me.’

“But that’s all new to these guys. Bob Rotella tells me all the time, you gotta teach ‘em how to lead. If you want them to lead you gotta teach ‘em because if you think they know that you’re crazy. They don’t.”

On what he’s told the older guys what their roles will be with such a young group …
“We haven’t gotten to that yet, but in most cases they will dictate what their role is. What I always say here is if you want to play at Kentucky you gotta be willing to carve out your own space because you’re not going to be the only guy. Are you willing to carve out your own space? If a guard calls John Wall and says, ‘John, I’m thinking about going to Kentucky.’ He’ll say one thing: Can you get your own shots? The guy will say, ‘Why?’ ‘Because he ain’t running plays for you. You gotta go get your own shots, and you’ll be playing with your teammates but if you think run something – he doesn’t.’ And he’s right. When he said somebody came back to me and told me that, I said, ‘Well, I hate to tell you he’s right.’ So, guys like Wenyen, Sacha, Tai, gonna have to carve out space.

Asked about what the returners’ roles will be, Coach Cal said, “in most cases they will dictate what their role is.” (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“When Karl(-Anthony Towns) came here, both Willie (Cauley-Stein), Dakari (Johnson) and even Trey (Lyles) were better than Karl. Like, we all forget that. ‘Well, he was a pro before he got here.’ He was rated like ninth or 10th or 11th at the McDonald’s (All-American) Game. When he showed up here, Willie and Dakari were far ahead of him. Then he carved out his space. Now, he forgets the path. He just, he has amnesia about everything. If you ask him he’ll say, you know, from day one I was this and – no you weren’t. Stop. So, he figured it out, and we’ve had other players that have had to carve out their space. That’s what you have to do here.

“In Wenyen’s case, ‘Wenyen, there’s some other guys just like you, but they’re young. They haven’t been through this. But I can’t do it for you and it’s not, well, you’re older so – that’s not how I do this.’

“That’s why when you ask me about freshmen – I’ve probably started, my guess is 30 to 40 freshmen since I’ve been in coaching. I’ve probably had the Freshman of the Year in the league, I’m guessing – how many years have I coached? Twenty-three. I’m guessing 20 of those years I’ve had Freshman of the Year in the league. I’ve had national Freshman of the Year. And if they weren’t Freshman of the Year, they were on the All-Freshman Team and the reason they weren’t Freshman of the Year is someone else on our team was Freshman of the Year so now you’re just First-Team All-Freshman. I’m playing freshman if they’re better than the players that were here. And that is not my fault. If you were here, you had the experience, you’ve been coached, you’ve been challenged. If you let that guy be better than you, then he’s better than you. Doesn’t mean you’re not going to play or you won’t make it. Devin Booker came off the bench and has done fine. So, that’s kind of how it rolls.”

On if there’s an alpha dog personality on the team …
“Yeah, PJ has that mentality. I would say Hami has that personality. Quade has that personality. I think you have a couple.”

On who the most positionless guy is on the team …
“Probably Jarred. Like, what the hell is he? He’s 6-9 and everybody loves him. You talk to anybody that evaluates us they’re all like, Wow.”

On how accurate a comparison to Chuck Hayes would be for Washington …
“Chuck had a bigger body, just a wider frame kind of guy. PJ, you know your arms (wingspan) are supposed to be like the same as your height. Now, most of you in here have those short arms. You don’t like to reach in your pockets and all that stuff. Alligators. You just can’t reach for anything. But his are plus-eight inches. It is so ridiculous. Plus-eight inches when he does this. Around the goal it’s a basket, but we’ve gotta prepare him for more than that. Running the floor, being an initiator. If he rebounds it, bring it up, be the point guard. The same with Jarred. If you rebound it you’re the point guard. Go. Everybody fly. But the other side of it is, his strengths around that basket, rebounding the ball and coming up with balls, he’s good. He’s good.”

On Washington struggling at the free-throw line in the FIBA U19 World Cup …
“In Egypt he was awful. I told him. I said, ‘It’s good you’re getting this out now because you know you can’t be in the game late if this is who you are.’ But there’s no reason for him to be a bad free-throw shooter. But I think, again, everything comes down to his lift. Even his free throws. Even if you’re getting just on your toes, the lift makes it about muscle memory. If your lift is different it’s just your mental with it. It’s more mental than muscle memory.”

On Vanderbilt also struggling at the foul line and if he thinks Vanderbilt and Washington will be good free-throw shooters …

One of the many ways in which UK will play differently this season is that the Cats now have multiple playmaking fours. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

“Yeah, I think they’re both tough enough late in games they’ll make shots, but that’s an area they gotta improve. There’s one way to do it: Get mechanically right and then get in the gym and just shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot, so that you build your own self-confidence. You can’t sit there and just say, alright, you’re going to be OK, when he’s in his mind saying there ain’t no way I’m making this. ‘You’ll be fine. You’ll make this!’ ‘I’m not making this.’ ‘Yes you will! You’re gonna be great. He’s making this.’ Then you tell him to walk to the line, ‘OK, he ain’t making this. You guys make sure you rebound and go get the ball.’ ”

On how he hopes the forwards’ passing ability can make an impact …
“Weakside actions, which we haven’t done before, which is part of why I’m saying what I’m saying. All these guys can really pass and so if that’s the case then you can’t put them in situations where they’re just catching it to score. Now you’re initiating offense through them. So, the pass goes to seven feet and they square up. They are now the point guard. So, if they’re the point guard, what are you doing away from the ball? That’s what I’m talking about, and I’m still walking through exactly – like, you have to put them through drills to get them to understand what you’re doing. Defenses will sag, they’ll switch, OK, now what are you doing? They’ll chase you, what are you going to do? They’ll try to go under, what are – and they have to learn how to play basketball. Just like the dribble-drive – which we will teach – teaches them how to play, the drills, how much straight dribble-drive have I done? Well, it depends on the team.

“How much have we played through a four the last couple years? So, the four was (Reporter: Derek Willis) as a playmaker? (Reporter: No.) Alex (Poythress) as a playmaker? (No.) OK, now you got playmakers. How we play to their strengths is just totally different.

“Somebody said to me, ‘You’re going to be a better shooting team than you think because your guards – this guy, this guy, that guy – you’re going to have enough on the floor. And the other guys are good enough to where, you know, you’re going to be better than you think.’ But I still think they’ll sag and play zone. That’s what I think teams will do to us. I don’t think anybody is going to stretch the floor, which they haven’t most years. If they stretch the floor or try to press us it plays to our advantage.”

On Towns’ essay in The Players’ Tribune
“I liked reading it because it was thoughtful, and I liked it because he had an opinion that was an educated opinion. There were people (who) probably read it and didn’t agree. There were people that agreed. People really happy, probably people really mad. So, he has an opinion, but it was an educated opinion, it was well thought out and it made you think. It was good.”

On if that’s the model to do something like that as far as weighing consequences …
“Well, I said it a year ago: Educate yourself. Don’t be at the front of the line because they want you at the front of the line because of your name. Educate yourself. What are they protesting? Do I agree with what they’re protesting? Is everything involved in this what I agree with? What are consequences if I do this act? If I break windows, is it worth me going to jail? Is there another way I can make it known? Is there another way to protest? Is there another way to get my point across? Karl’s point is, he wrote a blog. I’m going to let people know this is how I feel. There’s all kinds of ways. Now, educate yourself, understand what you’re now protesting and what it stands for.

“We’ve had that talk. I walked through the Civil War with the guys. A little disappointed they didn’t know more.”

On if he talked about the Civil War with the team in light of monuments being taken down around the country …
“All the stuff that could happen, should happen. People are going to come at you. Do you understand what this is about? Do you understand it’s not just this, it’s – you know, we walked through it. And I said, ‘Now you’re having athletes again choosing not to stand for the anthem.’ And I said, ‘We’re not there yet because we’re not going to be in front of anthems, but we will talk about it, and I need you to talk to me and tell me what you think. Let’s educate each other. You educate me and I’ll educate you.’ We’ll talk about it and I will be with them like I’m with Karl. I may not agree with everything, or how they choose to let their feelings be known, but if it’s educated, they understand the risks, they understand the consequence and I’ll be with them.”

On if he, personally, has ever had to restrain himself because he’s wanted to speak out about a topic going on around the world …
“There are sometimes I’ll say some stuff and they’ll say, ‘Why don’t we hold that back.’ But the best thing that we have going here is I cannot tweet, myself. I have to give it to somebody to do it because I don’t have a computer. I can’t see the phone. I’d probably mess it up. So, it goes to somebody first and then it usually hits six eyes, maybe eight eyes before my stuff does anything. And then we talk.

Coach Cal tells each of his teams to be sure to educate themselves before getting involved in a cause. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“And the reason is because I am sensitive to the seat I hold. I’m also sensitive to not getting into the political fray of Republican/Democrat. Just kind of here’s how I feel. But I am American – I’m an Italian citizen too, by the way. I am a citizen and I have the ability and the right to speak my mind, but it’s different for me because I have a seat that I shouldn’t try to sway politics. I shouldn’t. If I’m not in this seat that would be different, but I am in this seat and that’s just how I feel. I know some people won’t agree with me. ‘Well, you should even more.’ There are things that I will stand up for if I think something is right and something is wrong. That’s a totally different deal. But how you get to the end result of taking care of people, getting more people to work, healthcare, there’s different ways of doing it.

“Now, I think we should have more jobs for people. I think we should have healthcare that works. I think our immigration should be fixed, where people within the country who have worked and done, how do we fix it? I can’t stand ISIS. Basically what I’m saying to you is there’s stuff out there and there’s all kinds of ways of doing it.

“It’s really funny, if I stood with President (George W.) Bush, which we have, I mean, I got people mad that I’d even go near this guy. When I sit down with President (Bill) Clinton. They go nuts when we showed up and took a phone call from President (Barack) Obama. I talked to President (Donald) Trump before he was President Trump. And people go nuts. If I’m sitting with Mitch McConnell they’ll go crazy. When I took a picture with (Congresswoman Nancy) Pelosi, oh my gosh. You would have thought I was just – me meeting with somebody and talking to them, or asking them questions – I sat down with (House Majority) Leader (Kevin) McCarthy when I was in D.C. We had a great conversation. Whether he’s a Republican, or Democrat, or independent. Those guys are impacting lives. I’d like to know what they’re thinking. I’d like to talk to them.

“But in this seat it’s not my job to move somebody to believe there’s an issue and here’s how we should deal with it. I just don’t think I should do that. Some don’t agree with me. Some think you should do it because you could impact. Well, what if I impact it not the way you see? ‘Well, then don’t impact it.’ Oh really? So, I should only impact it if it’s the way you think I should impact it? OK. That works.”

On if he has any political aspirations after he’s done coaching …
“No. I don’t know where that came from, but no. Let me just say this, coaching is getting – we are above the fray, but it’s still nasty. Like, people say stuff. Like, just what? Like, none of those guys are one and done. I mean, just say stuff. It is nasty. Let me say this, compared to politics, we’re in a playpen. So, no. I could have a better impact donating money and doing stuff like that.”

On what President Trump is like as a person …
“I don’t know him that way, but I did talk to him. I didn’t meet with him, I talked to him by phone. Everybody that tells me they met him, in person he’s totally different than when he gets in front of a camera. That’s what everybody says to me. And I may try to get with him just to – look, my grandparents came through Ellis Island. Didn’t speak English. My parents were high school educated laborers. And I can sit down with presidents? ‘Well, you shouldn’t do it.’ Screw you. I’m gonna sit down with the president whoever that president is. You kidding me? So, at some point I’d love to sit down with him and just, you know. But everybody tells me the same thing: In front of a camera he’s a certain way, but if you meet with him and you’re around him he’s different.”

On if he would share his Twitter policy with President Trump …
“I wonder if I have the chutzpah to say, ‘Mr. President, can I ask you something?’ ”

On if President Trump told him to back off the Russian investigation …
“No. There was no Russian investigation when I talked to him.”

On Vanderbilt’s family being from Houston and how Hurricane Harvey affected them …
“They (Vanderbilt’s family) drove to Austin, (Texas), so they’re not in Houston. I hit the Fox family today just to make sure they’re OK. Marcus Camby is staying there. I hit him. I haven’t heard from either of those. The Harrisons, the same. So, I’m waiting to hear.

“But it looks like it’s just going to get worse too. You know, you see the flooding and that stuff. It’s just, ugh. The worst part of this will be when the flooding recedes and those houses are all – if you don’t get back in there and deal with the mold, you might as well tear down the house. And let’s be real: Who are going to be affected by this the most? (Reporter: Poor people). No question. So, here they are, they don’t have money to tear down walls and do that stuff. They’re probably in low-lying areas just like they were in New Orleans (during Hurricane Katrina).

(Reporter: Many were probably from New Orleans and relocated). You know what, didn’t even think about that, but I bet you they get hit twice. Can you imagine that in your lifetime? So, how they deal with this, it’ll be the same way. The initial stuff will be we’re all doing stuff and then it recedes and we’ll all move on to the next issue. Well, it’ll be another two years before they, ya know. I mean, nursing homes I saw. I mean, ugh.

“I heard FEMA this morning, and it appears as though they learned their lesson from Katrina. That’s what it appears to me because they’re like everything they need, we have this, we have that, we have this. But this is going to be different (than Katrina) because it’s going to be here for another week. Like, we have some recruiting trips (Sept. 10) and I’m not sure we’ll be able to go down there. It may still be raining.”