After a day to mourn the loss to Alabama, John Calipari met with reporters to reflect on what went wrong in Tuscaloosa and how the Cats can regroup vs. Texas A&M tomorrow night. Here are the five things he said that stood out the most to me.
55 fewer passes vs. Alabama
Calipari said Kentucky lost to Alabama because they reverted to bad habits, i.e. missing shots, not passing the ball enough, getting beat on the boards, etc., but he had some numbers to go along with the coach speak today. According to Cal, Kentucky missed 15-16 one-footers on Saturday and passed the ball 55 fewer times than they did vs. Louisville. With some guys beating themselves up for missing shots late, Calipari said he wants them to focus on areas of the game that are easier to improve.
“They’ll make tough baskets. Live with it. But you can’t give them second shots. You can’t miss one-footers. You can’t walk on breakaways where you have a layup. You can’t do those things, but it wasn’t one guy. It’s like I said, we weren’t as willing passers as we’ve been. We threw 270 passes versus 325 against Louisville. How does that happen? Why so many less passes?”
There’s still time to improve — or hurt — the tournament resume
Kentucky’s loss to Alabama won’t crush their tournament resume as long as they don’t have another random slip up on the road; in fact, the Cats only slipped three spots in the NCAA’s NET rankings, from No. 10 to No. 13. With a tough SEC schedule ahead and a non-conference date with No. 7 Kansas on the horizon, Kentucky’s got plenty of opportunities to help — and hurt — its resume.
“We have as tough of schedule as anyone has left. Now, bad news is you have as tough a schedule as anyone is going to be left playing. Good news is you have an opportunity to beat ranked teams. You’ve also got a chance to get beat by those ranked teams.”
After filling up the stat sheet vs. North Carolina and Louisville, PJ Washington’s Draymond Green impression came to an end vs. Alabama, where he had only one assist, one steal, and zero blocks. Calipari said he’s been pleased with PJ’s progress this season, but needs him to bring it every single night, a tall task.
“I want him to be more dominant. Like, the Louisville game there was a two-and-a-half, three-minute stretch where he couldn’t grab a ball, missed a (shot). No! I want none of those. If you eliminate that from the game, he ends up with a double-double and looks like a dominating player who can shoot and make free throws. Well, all of a sudden, wait a minute, how do they really guard you? They can’t guard you in the post, they can’t guard you on the perimeter. If they foul you, you make free throws. And you rebound and you defend and you block shots. Be that guy every game. Whew, is that hard. That’s hard. And that’s what we’re asking. And I told him, I’m not accepting anything other than what his best is. So, I’m proud of him and what he’s doing.”
Defending Reid’s three-point attempt
The only thing odder than Reid Travis’ three-point attempt with 3:35 left Saturday was Calipari’s staunch defense of it in the postgame press conference. Today, Calipari explained that he wanted Reid to take that three because he wanted him to know he had faith in him even though he was struggling.
“I just told the guys today, ‘Look, he missed a 3, he missed a couple of one-footers and he missed a free throw, and you still called the 3 for him. Because I know how much he’s in this gym and I have a lot of faith in him.’ Probably the chances of him making it weren’t great, great, but he was wide open and I knew it would be and I wanted him to know I’ve got faith in you. Go make it.”
The Calipari Book Club is back
As Drew told you earlier, Calipari had the players read “Life Word” by Jon Gordon to focus on their goals in the New Year. The next book he wants them to read is “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday.
“I’m trying to get them to think. And I say this: We’re here obviously, they’re at a great university. These kids have done well academically. They know they have lifetime scholarships, all that good stuff. Then it becomes, OK, what are you teaching in basketball? Just plays? You’re teaching them how to defend the pick-and-roll? What? Well, if you guys know, part of it is how you create joy, reaching out to others, and being involved in others and picking up others.”
My book recommendation of the week? “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. It has nothing to do with life lessons or self-affirmation but I can’t put it down.
Check out all of Calipari’s comments after the jump.
On what he tells the team after a loss with a quick turnaround for Texas A&M …
“We watched the tape about 11 o’clock in the morning so we could be done with it and move on to the next game. We showed them I think 15 or 16 one-foot shots we missed. We showed them defensive breakdowns. We showed them we had 25 offensive rebounds. Why no more breakouts? We reverted in a lot of areas. We went back to where we were, and Alabama played well. And I told them, ‘Teams are going to come, and they’re not going to play bad against us.’ They made some shots and now all of a sudden it’s anybody’s ballgame. I like the fact that we fought to come back, and I said it after the game: You just move on. We lost a couple games this way now that you have your chances to win and should win, and you don’t you give credit to the other team and you move on.”
On Immanuel Quickley’s performance Saturday …
“Better. Better. We’re trying to figure out – what’s interesting (is) I went to dinner last night with Dave Wahl, who is a GM in the NBA, and he said that in the NBA point guards are different. There are some that are slashers and get in the lane, and there are others that are hit and slide away. Well, we’ve got one of each. So, we’ve got a guy who should hit and slide and be ready to make a play, be ready to make a shot. One is really good on-the-ball defender; one is better off-the-ball defender. You can play them both together. But, he’s getting better. I’m holding him accountable. There’s some things that we had in that game it wasn’t just him, when Reid (Travis) had it going I kept saying in these timeouts, ‘On these pin downs, if Reid pins you down, get it back to him. Throw it to him.’ We had two or three guys catch it and throw it the other way. He came off and walked. ‘Are you in this huddle listening to what the team needs you to do?’ Not just one guy. It was – again, we just kind of reverted, and I wish it didn’t happen but that’s part of a growth of a program. They see, ‘Well, the way that you’re asking us to do this is really unselfish and I’d like to be a little more involved, and it’s really hard what you’re asking me to do. I’d like to do it the easier way.’ So, they have these. They’ll revert. Now you have another tough game. Learn from that one and let’s see how they play.”
On the importance of getting a high NCAA seed …
“Important. The reason you want a high seed: The higher seed you get the better chance you have of winning because the numbers say that and I’m a numbers guy. So, you want it to be as high as you’re supposed to get, as high as your team deserves to get, and that’s why I get upset when we seem to be short changed. Why are we there? Why aren’t we two notches up? That’s why I go nuts. It has nothing to do with anything else. It’s numbers. The higher your seed, the talent around you is not as good as when you’re seeded low the talent around you is touch and go. That’s why. Look, there’s a lot of basketball. We have as tough of schedule as anyone has left. Now, bad news is you have as tough a schedule as anyone is going to be left playing. Good news is you have an opportunity to beat ranked teams. You’ve also got a chance to get beat by those ranked teams. But I’ve been in leagues where we had to win every single game we played. Now, I don’t know if you heard what I just said. We could not lose any games because we weren’t playing any ranked teams. So every game was you have to win and it’s the other team’s Super Bowl and every game came down to, wow, ae we going to make shots?’ But it made us strong for the NCAA Tournament. It’s tough to play that way. Believe me when I tell you, we’re not in that boat this year.”
On there not going to be any blowouts now that it’s conference play …
“There were two things: We had some guys that were upset they missed shots late, and I said, ‘Listen, you gave up two offensive rebounds for baskets late. If we didn’t give those up, that game wouldn’t have been at 11. It would have been seven. Now, all of a sudden it’s a different game and you get it to two or three and instead of with 1:25 left. It’s a different ballgame.’ Again, young kids don’t understand that every possession matters as you wind down that clock and you can’t give easy baskets. They’ll make tough baskets. Live with it. But you can’t give them second shots. You can’t miss one-footers. You can’t walk on breakaways where you have a layup. You can’t do those things, but it wasn’t one guy. It’s like I said, we weren’t as willing passers as we’ve been. We threw 270 passes versus 325 against Louisville. How does that happen? Why so many less passes? Our spacing wasn’t as good as it has been. But again, your spacing is good because you’re worried about the big guy. Your spacing isn’t good because you don’t have the ball and you really don’t worry about anybody but where you’re standing. So, all that kind of stuff we hit on. We came back yesterday and practiced, and they did great. We’re shooting free throws and walking through some stuff and we’ll practice this afternoon and get ready for a tough game. I watched (Texas A&M) play Arkansas. They had Arkansas beat. Arkansas made four 3s down the stretch, and they went 1 for 4 down the stretch from the 3. That’s why they lost or they would have beat Arkansas, so it’s another tough game for us.”
On dealing with the clutter from the loss to Alabama …
“I didn’t see any. The issue for them: The clutter is what’s near them, not social media and all that. The clutter is – that (social media) could be part of it. If they’re looking at social media they’re out of their minds anyway. But it’s all near to them, and they just have to shut down all that stuff and focus on what they have to do for this team. And what you’re asking them to do as the head coach is what’s best for them and what’s best for this team. And you have to sacrifice. Everybody is giving up something. It’s what makes this program what it is. There’s not just one guy doing everything. It’s everybody gives up something. Now, what I hope is different games different guys stand up. We have different stars different games so you can’t really play one guy. But these guys – the clutter has changed over the years based on what’s at stake. Like, as this thing becomes bigger and bigger, what the pot of gold is for these guys, the clutter becomes even more. Every basket matters, and that’s why I say you’ve got to stay away from it. You can’t listen to that. You stay in the moment, try to get better every day, do something away from the court, read a book. I’ve given them books to read. You cannot get caught up in, ‘What happens if I make this basket? If I make these two baskets.’ Well, you ain’t making them then. You can’t. And if anybody around you is talking to you in those terms – ‘You must do this, you must do this, you have to hit the lottery, go play that ticket, you must hit the lottery.’ – well, you ain’t hitting the lottery. And that’s why I say – that’s the kind of clutter – just stay away from it. Social media, is there something I should have (known)? I didn’t see anything. I didn’t. If anybody is mad, I feel bad that you’re mad, but I don’t read it and I don’t see it so. I got one thing: It’s coach these kids.”
On how PJ Washington is coming along …
“Better. Better. He’s playing better. Like, again, I want him to be more dominant. Like, the Louisville game there was a two-and-a-half, three-minute stretch where he couldn’t grab a ball, missed a (shot). No! I want none of those. If you eliminate that from the game, he ends up with a double-double and looks like a dominating player who can shoot and make free throws. Well, all of a sudden, wait a minute, how do they really guard you? They can’t guard you in the post, they can’t guard you on the perimeter. If they foul you, you make free throws. And you rebound and you defend and you block shots. Be that guy every game. Whew, is that hard. That’s hard. And that’s what we’re asking. And I told him, I’m not accepting anything other than what his best is. So, I’m proud of him and what he’s doing. Now we’ve just got to, you know – this thing is game to game and every game is a war.”
On how Travis has been shooting in practice to call his number for a shot at Alabama …
“I just told the guys today, ‘Look, he missed a 3, he missed a couple of one-footers and he missed a free throw, and you still called the 3 for him. Because I know how much he’s in this gym and I have a lot of faith in him.’ Probably the chances of him making it weren’t great, great, but he was wide open and I knew it would be and I wanted him to know I’ve got faith in you. Go make it. Part of it is I was trying to get him going. Make that 3 and maybe, you know, (he gets going). Obviously it didn’t work out that way. And PJ’s 3, too, that was a call for PJ to shoot that 3 in front of our bench. That was a call. They did exactly what I thought they’d do. They both ran to the corner to Tyler (Herro) and PJ was standing there wide open. I said, ‘PJ, let it go.’ We were lucky enough that Reid got it and kicked it out and we make a 3 off it, but I have a lot of faith in these guys.”
On implementing strategies at this point in the season that might not work but may help later vs. trying to win now …
“Well, at the end of the game we had been working on playing that way. We’ve been working and so we got the shots we wanted. We got the corner 3. Keldon (Johnson) was wide open; just happened to miss it. We got what we wanted from how we had been preparing to play in late-situations, which we worked on. You could see a little different than earlier in the year. But now, here’s what I told to them today: The last time we’ll have anything morning-wise. This is it because they start classes on Wednesday. Every Wednesday will be off. That means they’re going to have, I think, eight or nine days off. We have eight or nine Thursdays. That’s our practice day. That’s what we have left. Then we’ve got 18 todays — practices before a game. Well, what are you going to do the day before a game? What are you going to go three hours and beat the crap out of them? Run the stadium steps? What are you going to do? So now, what I’m basically saying, it’s on now. We just went through camp. We should be conditioned. We did start slipping. We had slippage the last game. Now we’ve got to refocus and get back on track.”
On what books he had the team read recently …
“‘Life Word’ which is a book that was written (by Jon Gordon) and it talks about – instead of a New Year’s resolution (you have a life word). How many of you have New Year’s resolutions? None of you? Some of you? You won’t, it won’t – within a month you’ll be done. It’s already done? Yeah, it’s already done. We’re nine days in – you’re out! So what this becomes is you pick a word that best describes what you’re trying to accomplish, what your strengths and passions are, and something you need to work on. And so each of them picked a word for this year. And they thought them through because they were all pretty good words for themselves to keep them focused, and I know each word. So ‘fight,’ you’re the one that put that. Fight! Come on, man. ‘Determination.’ Where’s the determination? You’re the one that picked the (word). But the book talks a little bit more in depth, so I gave them all a book, and I’ve got another one, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ (by Ryan Holiday), that I’m not giving them yet, but I’m gonna give them that book and let them read through. I’m trying to get them to think. And I say this: We’re here obviously, they’re at a great university. These kids have done well academically. They know they have lifetime scholarships, all that good stuff. Then it becomes, OK, what are you teaching in basketball? Just plays? You’re teaching them how to defend the pick-and-roll? What? Well, if you guys know, part of it is how you create joy, reaching out to others, and being involved in others and picking up others. The other side of it becomes creating opportunity for other people creates more for yourself so there’s more than just – you’re trying to get a bigger picture for them, and if I can get them to think bigger than just play to play, I think it’s beneficial. I know it is to them and I think it is to your team.”
On what his word is …
“Build. Build individuals. Build the program. Build day-to-day. Stay in the moment. Build. Build’s not sprinting; build is build and stay. You win or you learn. You move on and let’s go. It keeps me focused where I want to be.”