Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari's Pre-SEC Tourney Quotes

This AW feature includes a transcript from John Calipari's pre-SEC Tournament media session on Thursday afternoon in Nashville.

On the week of practice since the regular-season finale …

“It’s gone good. The guys are good. Tuesday, Wednesday’s practices were sharp. The hard thing about the first game is Alabama and Mississippi are both really good teams. The hard thing becomes that they’ve played and they’ve got momentum and you’re walking in not knowing, and you had to lay around all day. The hardest game is the first game. After that you can still lose but the hardest game is playing that first one when they have already played a game.”

On if UK can improve its seed by playing well this week …

“Well, that I don’t know. That’s obviously the committee. I always come back to when they mis-seed, you don’t hurt the team that you mis-seed; you hurt Ohio State, North Carolina. You hurt Wichita State. [Teams UK has played in the past NCAA tournaments.] You kill them. That’s who gets hurt. I don’t know what our seed is. I have no idea what they’re thinking. I’ve heard three, four, five. This is one of those years where normally I’d say seed matters because the numbers show you that the higher your seed the better your chances are of winning. This may be one of those years that it’s crazy. You could have an eight or a nine seed in the Final Four. Maybe a couple. You could have an 11 seed. It’s just one of those crazy years.” 

On his team heading into postseason play …

“Nothing keeps me up at night. I’m feeling comfortable about my team. I like that they’re being empowered. My message will be real simple for them and that’s one, be the best version of you. Just know what that looks like. We know it. We’ve defined it. You have too. Then the second thing is, be about your teammate. Now’s the time to totally lose yourself because being your best version should come easily now. So that’s the message. This is for us to tighten up anything, to play with great intensity, improve our seed or to solidify our seed possibly.”

On Skal Labissiere’s week of practice …

“He was a little bit light either Tuesday or Wednesday and I absolutely drilled him. Like, ‘You are not doing that. You will not start. If you think you’re doing that, your butt will be right back on that bench.’ Before he let go of the rope he grabbed right back on to it again. So, he’s trying.” 

On the importance of Labissiere to play well at the SEC Tournament for his confidence …

“We know our season is not ending this weekend one way or another, and so he just has to build on it. You know, build on what he’s doing. He’s not a machine. He’s not perfect. He’s not a computer. He can have a bad game and be fine. What we have for the first time and no one is really talked about it is I have a full team. Now you’ve got Dom (Hawkins) healthy. You’ve got Derek (Willis) healthy. You’ve got Alex (Poythress) healthy. We haven’t had that all year, and so we’re coming together at the right time of the year. We’re playing confidently. What happens is like this game will be – my guess is whoever we play will come out of the gate feeling the last game, the momentum and if you’re confident that won’t affect you. You’ll know that you should expect it. That’s what this team is building to. They’re empowered. A lot of stuff they’re doing, they’re doing on their own. Like, we don’t really run plays; we run actions. So, they can play that way. They’re playing with confidence.”

On if he sees light bulbs click on in the players’ heads when he explains it that way …

“We’ve got a couple of guys where I’m like, ‘This doesn’t pertain to you two.’ I’m talking to those other guys.” (Laughter) 

On if one of those guys is Isaiah Briscoe …

“I’ll tell you, in practice he’s shooting the ball so well. I just don’t understand in the game. It’s a mental block right now, but he’ll be fine. Look, for them to be empowered and feel good about self and team, that’s all we’re trying to do. That’s all I’m trying to do as a coach at this time every single year. That’s all I want. I want their minds fresh, I want their legs fresh, and let’s throw it up and let’s go. We’re not, you know, I don’t kill them at this time of the year. I need them on the court. I need them to play. So, like today’s practice will be an hour. The thing we did down in Bridgestone (Arena) was all shooting. I just wanted to make sure we got shots up.”

On how Derek Willis is looking …

“He’s doing good. I think he’s doing fine. And again, you’re playing four guys. Alex, Skal, Marcus and him. And if two of those other guys are going, maybe he doesn’t play as much. If this team comes out, whoever we’re playing, and they’re playing a lot of zone, he’s playing. One of those guys isn’t playing as much (then). Just how it is. But I like the fact that Marcus Lee can settle into energy, block shots, dunk balls, second shots. He can settle into who he is. We don’t need more. Alex can be that bulldog that he can be. He can settle in. Those other guys, shoot jumpers. Do the stuff that those other two don’t do as well.”

On if potentially three games in three days can get Willis back into the swing of things …

“I don’t know. You just don’t like the fact that it’s three games in three days, but it is. We’ll use it, and I’m not – believe me, if we’re up 12, I’m not taking guys out. We’ll play to win the game and figure out tomorrow tomorrow. And the good news is I’ve played these guys a lot of minutes, so they know. The guys that will play a lot of minutes, have played a lot of minutes all year.”

On his reaction to all the awards Tyler Ulis has won …

“I’m happy for him. You had a guy that, you know, when he came here, you had everybody tell me, ‘You’ve got a four-year point guard. This is how you should do it. He doesn’t need to have all pros.’ Well, you were wrong again. I mean, here’s this kid that’s going to be a pro. He’ll be drafted this year – after two years. And the greatest thing is I saw him, his game against LSU (on the road) – I did eventually watch that game, after that other game was over – (and) he wasn’t that good. That game, he just wasn’t. Every game we’ve played he’s gotten steadier and more into how he has to play and how our team has to play. He’s led better. He’s made better basketball decisions. He’s got his teammates involved. He deserves everything that’s happened. And he’s made everybody’s job, including mine, easier.”

On when he became happy with his team …

“You’re building that. I’ve always liked my team. I’m never satisfied, I’m still not satisfied, but I’m happy with the direction. I’m happy that they finally accepted confidence is from within; it’s not exterior. It’s not what someone says to you. It’s not how they say it. ‘Come on!’ ‘Oh my god.’ No, that is not confidence. It’s how hard you work. In your own mind do you believe you deserve to play well, and then going on the court and doing it to build your own confidence. It’s like self-esteem, self-confidence. I think we got away from that and started looking for alibis of why I’m not playing well, why I’m not confident, and we kind of come back to this is what it is, and guys are taking responsibility for their own confidence, and – you ready – competence, which sounds really close, doesn’t it? Competence and confidence. Kind of both. Can’t make a free throw, it’s hard to be confident.”

On if they need to get Tyler Ulis rest to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament …

“One of the reasons I don’t like conference tournaments, it hasn’t seemed to have improved our seed if we do well, and there’s games Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Well, there’s nothing that we do all year that’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday – three games. The NCAA Tournament is a game, a day off, a game. So, we’re here to, let’s tune it up, let’s get better, let’s play with intensity, let’s be together, let’s be about each other, let’s play how we have to play for next weekend.”

On the challenges of not having had a full lineup for much of the year …

“Maybe, but it’s been the best thing because all of a sudden Isaac (Humphries) got a chance, Charles Matthews got a chance, Derek Willis got a chance, Marcus Lee got a chance. They all got their opportunity. Dom has had his chance. So, we’re walking into the tournament with a deep team. And I always say, when you have a deep team you can overcome a lot of stuff: foul trouble, injuries, bad play. But when you’re playing five guys and two play bad, you just lost. Last year’s team, we were so deep three and four guys could play awful and you still had five to play with. So, we’re a deep team, but again, our top five or six are going to play the most minutes, but the other guys now we know because of that they played well for us.”

On if they changed Skal Labissiere’s behavior on the court …

“Well, we did it early on when we saw that he’s probably better as a pick-and-pop guy, even though in the post he can score. He’s just not physical enough, and when they really get after him he turns it over. So we’re just telling him, if you catch the ball, shoot it. And then you try to remind him there’s three things that happen when you shoot the ball. Three things for all you Basketball Bennies: The ball goes in. The ball doesn’t go in and we rebound it. That’s good. And then the ball doesn’t go in and they rebound it. Two out of three are good for us, so shoot the ball. Just shoot it. Don’t try to – don’t. Just shoot the ball. And that’s what we – we got a couple guys like that, that want to make basketball plays that end up being turnovers that end up being layups on the other end.”

On whether Ulis will continue to play with a chip on his shoulder …

“Yeah, we talked about it. I talked to the team: ‘Is anybody upset that they didn’t get awards?’ And we talked about it. I’ve had teams where no one got an award. My team got so mad we won the tournament. And then there were other times they voted all my guys the awards because they thought that would soften them up. And I said, ‘Don’t let them do that to you.’ And we won the tournament. It is what it is. I think he and Jamal (Murray) are excited about continuing to play, and I would expect that they’ll play well.”

On whether he would change anything about the structure of the SEC Tournament …

“No. What they’re doing, the gifts they’re doing and how they’re trying to do it, it’s all good stuff. They had us go mandatory to that building (Bridgestone Arena) today. I said, ‘Why do that? We all have practice time set up.’ So I didn’t think we needed to do it. I thought it was open gym. I thought the fans were going to be there and it wasn’t, so we cut it short. Cut it like 30 minutes. I think the SEC has done a good job. I love this venue. I love Atlanta. They’re great venues. I can’t remember, I think there’s one other in the cycle here. (Reporter says, ‘St. Louis.’) St. Louis is fine. I like St. Louis.”

On whether it helps they won’t play any more road games because of UK’s fan support …

“We had support in games we lost on the road. So it’s—we’ve won road games in some tough places to play, and other places early in the year. You know, UCLA, Ohio State, a couple league games on the road where we had big leads and lost them. But again, we’re a young team. Skal wasn’t playing. We’re just now getting it together, and that’s why I say when we’re seeded, again, this team is a different team right now. And a basketball eye would say, ‘OK, now I don’t care what they did in December. I’m looking at them right now.’ And if you mis-seed a team, whether it’s us or anybody else, the team that’s punished is the team they play. ‘We don’t deserve playing these guys. Well, how did we get this?’ So that’s why I said (what I said). I think the committee will be fine. They know the history of how we do this and my teams get better.”

On fans saying he is “Swaggy Cal” at times …

“I don’t know what Swaggy Cal is. I don’t know what Swaggy Cal is. I try to be the same guy all the time. I don’t take—this isn’t life or death for me. You don’t look at me and say, ‘Oh my god.’ It’s not life or death, because if it was I’d die all the time. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy these kids. Take great pride in seeing their growth individually and as a group and want to win every game I coach. You guys know. You’ve been around me. But I’m not—I don’t take it home. If you talk to my wife, we never—she’s like some of you; she knows nothing about basketball. So we don’t talk basketball. I go home and we watch the Alaska stuff. This morning, or this afternoon when I left—anybody watch Alaska Bush People? What’s the term they use when they say, ‘love you?’ More? More. They say more. So today she said, ‘Love you.’ And I said, ‘More.’ She said, ‘Did you say more? Oh my gosh. We’re both going crazy.’ ”


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