Here's what the UK boss had to say:
Q. John, there seems to be an awful lot of emphasis on your size and their ability to create turnovers. What factor would you look at that maybe has been overlooked this week in some of the pregame analysis?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, the one thing is that both teams are playing well. They've settled into a groove of how they're going to play, how they're creating shots for each other, how they're creating turnovers. And when you watch them, they're playing really good basketball. Everybody on their team has settled in to what they have to do for their team to win. They're playing extremely hard and playing with great energy, playing physical, not afraid to bump and grind whether it's inside/outside. They're a good team. They're a really good team. And, again, of all the teams left, they may be playing better than anybody.
COACH CALIPARI: Maybe. I mean, obviously they watched that tape and they'll have an answer for it. I think their zone and their matchup zone could be an answer for it. Putting Harrell on him, they put Van Treese on him during that game, I imagine they'll put Harrell on him. But we're playing different, too. So the game is we're both just two different teams than we were that game. Some of the things we did in that game I shook my head and I imagine he did the same thing.
Q. John, can you talk about the difference between the team that kind of struggled throughout the regular season and the team we saw in the opening weekend that played really well against Kansas State and Wichita State?
COACH CALIPARI: We didn't struggle throughout the whole season. Every game we lost was like a two-point, three-point game. What happened was we found ourselves at Florida and at home and at Mississippi and we thought we figured it out and we went the other way, after the Mississippi game. Then we went into conference tournament, and we started really gelling because we accepted roles and we did a better job. And a lot of this was on me. I mean, we hadn't really defined the roles because we hadn't really figured each other out. And I wasn't real specific on how we were going to have to play. And so I can't blame an 18 19yearold for that. That falls back on me. What I told John out in the hallway, I'm happy we didn't run out of road before we got it or run out of runway before we finally figured it out.
Q. John, can you just generally trace the evolution of your team throughout this season, and at what point did you feel like they started to really get it?
COACH CALIPARI: Our conference tournament. And you know, early on we were just trying to bulldog everybody. Early on, we weren't creating good shots for each other. It was almost like we were five individuals. And I will tell you, when you're starting five freshmen, that's what it's going to look like if they've never played together. Only two played together. As the year went on, we got better defensively. We started figuring things out. But again, I come back to before the conference tournament there were some things that I should have done two months before that I didn't, and we tweaked a couple of things and all of a sudden we saw it in practice like the light went on. And I questioned myself, why wouldn't I have done this two months ago? Now I come back to maybe they weren't ready to accept it two months ago. Then we did something, another little thing that I wish I had done two months earlier before the NCAA Tournament. Now we've tried one more thing for this weekend. And again, these guys have taken them on. They've owned them. Small changes nothing different ways of thinking, basically.
And so I'm really proud of them that they stuck together. Now, here's the other thing, because you're all saying very disappointing regular season. It wasn't disappointing, but that's what they had to hear. They had to hear how bad they were as players, how selfish they were, they're not together. This isn't a team. You can't do this. This is what's wrong. They had to deal with that. And instead of separating, they stuck together. They kept believing in one another. They kept believing in the staff and wanted answers, how do we get this right and accepted answers. So I'm proud of them. And I told them. I mean, you guys, of any team that's still standing, there's no one that's gone through what you have to be strong enough and have enough character now when the adversity hits. Because every one of us still playing, there's going to be adversity hitting these games. It's can you hold on to the rope? Can you continue to move forward even though the stuff looks a little bleak? And I think this team's been through enough that they can do that.
Q. A little two parter, did you have an opinion on the ruling yesterday about the Northwestern players? And then kind of along those same lines, there's this big debate about the way you run a program and the way let's say Rick runs a program, the one and done versus keeping players. Is there like a right way or a wrong way there?
COACH CALIPARI: There isn't first of all, the first question has nothing to do with this game, so I leave it alone. But the second thing, I want you to understand there's no plan that, who knew Eric Bledsoe was going to leave in a year. No one knew that. Who knew Josh Harrellson was going to grow up and be ready to go. Who knew that DeMarcus Cousins would mature enough to be able to leave. You've got guys who stayed two years, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and other guys who have gone on and done well. But our kids in general are going into that league and done well. They did the right thing by leaving for them. Now, would I rather have had Anthony Davis still on my team right now? Yeah. I'd like to still be coaching him. But I kind of like what he's doing in the league for he and his family.
We are doing things this year with my team that I've never done. Late in the season, anybody that knows me, knows we practice an hour and 15 minutes. We've been going 2 hours and a half, 245, 3 hours. I've never done that before. Guess what, this team needed it. All of us, Rick never played zone before. He never played zone, now he's playing zone all the time. So we're doing what we can do with where we are. The rule is not my rule. I believe it should be a twoyear rule. But it's between the NBA and the Players Association. Has nothing to do with me or the NCAA. So I just think we're all playing the hand we're dealt. Kids are going on to the league from us and performing. And I'm proud of that. Would I like to have had them for four years, yes. But I also like what's happened for them and their families.
I'll give you an example. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins both go to the league, sign max deals and the first thing they do is give a million dollars back to charity. Well, you're talking about great kids who deserve the opportunity and not at the expense of academics. We've had a 3.0 grade point average for the last four seasons. And they go to class. It's not Internet, correspondence. They go to class, for four seasons. Brandon Knight was a straight A student. Alex Poythress is a straight A student. They all go to school. They all know why they're there. The rule the way it is, I'm not punishing these kids. If they choose to leave, even though they maybe shouldn't leave, but they still choose to leave, I'm going to support them. It's their decision, for them, it's not about me or about the University of Kentucky at that point.
COACH CALIPARI: People grieve for a year after the game. People celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work. It's one game. Shut up. (Laughter.) They're in different leagues. It doesn't matter what I say. But I have told the team: We will not make this game bigger than it is. It's an NCAA Tournament game. We've gotta play a basketball game against a really good team. Every team still standing is playing a really good team. So that's my message. Don't make it bigger than it is, just play.
Q. John, you talked a little bit earlier about the evolution of your team. Can you address specifically James Young and how he has figured it out?
COACH CALIPARI: He's still figuring it out. James as things changed for our team, became a little bit easier for James, when they're playing together it's hard to tell them if you all give up a little bit, it will be easier for each of you. But they all want theirs and their piece of the action and their piece of the pie. You can't play basketball that way. It's a team sport. As we all became our brother's keeper, and we started sharing the ball, creating good shots, it became easier for James, he took off, went to another level. But, excuse me, he can guard and rebound and he's got length. We're trying to get him to go to the basket a little bit more. Obviously he can really shoot it. But he's a big part of this.
Q. You talked about some of the things that your kids had to hear, do you think that gives them motivation right now, and also, too, how much of an unfair comparison is it for any freshman now at Kentucky considering what your group did two years ago?
COACH CALIPARI: You mean with Anthony and the National Championship team? I just said in the hallway it's not the same because you had Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas went to the Final Four the year before. So they could talk to those freshmen. Our freshmen, it is all on them. When Anthony Davis went 1 for 10 in the Championship game, at halftime he said, Guys, I can't make a shot. All I'm going to do is rebound and block shots, you guys do all the scoring. This is on these kids. I mean, there's no, OK, you do it, I'm going to have a tough day. So it's a different deal. But I will tell you that I'm really proud of what they've been able to do, that they've grown a ton. They've come together as a team at the right time. But this is a different deal. This is, all records, their record, our record against each other, their conference, none of it matters in this game. This is a onegame shot. Get out there and have more fun and play, do what you do.
Q. Coach, over to your left, Coach Cal, I know for all teams it's important to try to keep the outside noise to a minimum in the locker room. Obviously in this day and age, fans can get on there in an instant with Twitter. Is there a way you try to shield your guys from hearing some of these harsh comments, what's your policy as far as that goes?
COACH CALIPARI: It's hard, because I say to everybody, obviously Twitter and social media is not going away. All you people that say I'll never do it, okay, you're like the only one in the universe. It's not going anywhere. But how you deal with it, I never see anything. My job is to get information out, to pick people up, to let the Big Blue Nation know how I'm feeling, to do things, prayers, other things to get out information, and I see nothing coming back. But our people say, Yeah, you've got filters, you've got five of us that look at all your stuff so you don't have to deal with it. As a player there's stuff coming back that they may look at. I tell them, Don't look at it.
This week what I told them: Don't watch any TV. Watch the History Channel, watch Biography, watch the Military channel, watch movies and don't read anything, don't look at anything. It has no bearing on this game we're about to play. Let's just focus on that. But it's hard for these guys. If you and I were 18 and people are throwing stones at you, you're going to see it, catch it. But they're doing a good job. It's not tainted them. They're not mean and nasty, they're not that way. They're a bunch of good kids that got rattled. They got rattled. But they stayed together and they stayed strong. It shows a lot about their character.
Q. Coach, get a lot of questions about the one-and-done kids, but how about a guy like Jon Hood who has been around as long as you have?
COACH CALIPARI: He's as old as I am, you're right.
Q. How helpful has he been when you get a lot of turnover on your roster you have some stability there, is he like another coach? What has he brought to the team?
COACH CALIPARI: He's been I can't begin to tell you how much he's grown. From a young man that felt overwhelmed think about it, he played against 17 NBA players in his time. 17. And they tried to kill him. He had to go against them. It's not like he was sitting on the side. He was playing against John Wall and Bledsoe. And we tell stories, I said, Jon, am I lying? Like I tell these guys a story about how they were. Jon, is that? Yes. But the second thing I want to tell you, he went from overwhelmed to a little angry to one of the greatest kids I've ever coached, that understands, is playing with joy, which is what we try to teach. You can't have the weight of the world on you. That when he goes in he's not afraid to play. And he says, The light went on, Coach. He said, I went from hating every one of you, including you, to now understanding and I love every bit of this.
He would make a great coach if that's what he chooses. Right now he's coaching. I can't remember what game it was. We were playing against a zone and he looked at me and comes down, says, Coach, the lob is there. So the next time out I said, The lob is there. We throw the lob, dunk, and I went down and high fived him. So he graduated. He's working on postgraduate stuff. He's got people lined up to give him jobs if that's what he chooses to do. But that's what you want. That's why I wish I had guys four to five years. But it's not my rule. It's not my rule. It's not what I want. But I'm not going to hold a kid back. Just like Jon Hood, I want to do right by him. I want to do right by John Wall, and Anthony Davis, you want to do right by those kids.
Q. How would you characterize your relationship with Rick and where do you think the perception comes that it's sometimes a little bit cold?
COACH CALIPARI: I would say we're friends. I mean, he and I have… we were in touch throughout the year back and forth. He'd throw something at me, I'd throw something at him. Different things about our teams. But, one, we're getting older, both of us, and I think I'm not on his mind and he's not on my mind, so to speak. We all got tough jobs, what we're doing. I know that he's a great coach. He's done it at different programs. His kids play with great energy and they play with confidence, and it's every year. And so the stuff about they're at each other's throats, it's just not accurate. I'd be stunned if he thinks of me in a week, like my both of us have tough jobs that we have to be engulfed in what we do.