Last month John Calipari sat down with some of the finest media members Lexington, Kentucky has to offer, and Ryan Lemond, to discuss the upcoming 2013-14 college basketball season and his University of Kentucky Wildcats. The interview was embargoed until October 1, but now it’s free to roam the internets without restriction.
Rather than transcribing the entire 55 minutes of Calspeak — because who really wants to read all of that text? — I handpicked the stuff I think you’ll like. Enjoy it and, please, someone buy Ryan Lemond a new tape recorder.
What did he learn from last season?
“The number one thing is that you have to have, you can’t do what I did last year and have eight kids on scholarship. You just can’t.”
“There were guys that needed to be out of the game and they knew it, like Alex at times. So it’s kind of like you’re playing golf and it goes south so you try to play 27 more holes and it just gets worse. Your best bet is when it started to go south is to go home, have a beer, laugh about it, and go out tomorrow and you play better. Well that happens if you have enough players. So it’s not just the competition. There were times Archie needed to just sit for a while. ‘Kid, I’m not mad at ya, just sit out.’ Well we couldn’t do it. I did it and I looked and thought, ‘Oh my gosh go back in.’ And you can’t do it that way. I know there’s a number that’s too many but you can’t do what we did a year ago and that was my fault. It’s what I did, it was my choice. We look back and say we put the kids in a bad position on a lot of fronts.”
Does he expect any issues with players being too high on themselves this season, considering the hype?
“(Last season) we had guys that were delusional about who they were, and when we started practicing we knew. After the Maryland game I knew.”
“This team will be different. I worked them out the other day, you know, it was what I’m used to seeing. I don’t think that will be a problem. The issue for us is going to be how quickly can we come together and can we get in the kind of shape you have to be in to compete at the level we’re trying to compete.”
Was it frustrating waiting on James Young and the Harrison twins over summer?
“They had academic stuff they had to finish which they did, it was nothing crazy. You gotta understand, our summer school, (the two sessions) overlap. I haven’t talked to our president about it but we almost got to do something. I have never heard of two summer schools overlapping. Now why would that happen? We don’t even know why. Why wouldn’t you have a June summer session and then one that starts after July 4, which is what everyone in the country does. So if you’re in Chicago, those schools don’t let out until the 24 or 25th of June. Guess what? Those kids can’t even get in our summer school. Either one. Like you can’t come to summer school. You’re not out of high school yet. So, the way we do this, we knew, ok, I don’t think those three are going to get done with whatever they had to finish up, and they didn’t. And so that was the issue but we knew, we were comfortable throughout. John or Dewayne said there were all kinds of rumors and I said, ‘There are always all kinds of rumors at this place.’ They’re fine.”
Has Alex Poythress made strides?
“He’s way better, but the guys around him are way better. He’s made strides and I’m happy. This summer, going against Julius everyday, you know, that’s a handful. That’s going against like a 6’9” Michael Kidd-Gilchrist everyday, where he’s not slowing down and he’s trying to dunk every ball on you.”
“I think he’s more confident, he’s ready for the year. His hamstring — he did something to it a few weeks before he got here so he’s been out, but he’s well beyond where he had been. That’s the growth.”
Are there any other players making the most of the competition in practice?
“I’m going to tell you who is better than I thought he was and it’s Dakari Johnson. His body fat is down, I think, seven-percent. So now all of the sudden he is dunking everything around the rim. But before, the question mark we all had was, ‘He plays below the rim, how do we do this?’ But all of the sudden, I’m sitting there watching him and all of the stuff we’re doing, he’s easily dunking balls now. He is one of those bigs we’ve had to play against that puts his body on you and you have to do something, one guy can’t do it. So he is better than I thought and that’s really going to challenge Willie. It’s almost going to make Willie mad.”
“I think Dominique (Hawkins) can do for Andrew and Aaron what they need to see.”
“I even think James and Alex having to go, because I think Alex looks around and says let me play the three some. ‘I don’t want to go against this one, so let me go against this guy.’ So, I think that’s going to be there. But we can play big, we can play small, it’s back to where we are.”
“I’m watching right now and we’re doing drills and they’re just playing through bumps and naturally getting to the rim and they’re banging each other. I went home and I’m singing to myself, ready to start talking crap again, and then what popped in my mind? ‘Oh my gosh, these guys are all going to leave. Where’s my phone?’”
What’s the plan defensively?
“I’m going to press more with this team. I don’t know if we’ll press with a big on the ball, but we can with both Marcus and Willie. Dakari would have to go back and play a normal press. We played with Willie on the ball at times last year and I kind of liked it. We have more players now, we have more toughness, ya know, that kind of stuff. We have more athleticism.”
“This team should be like my teams where we should be one of the best defensive, rebounding teams in the country.”
What defense does he expect to face?
“I think a lot of teams will play zone against this team if we really get going the way we want to play. I think teams will just say, ‘Screw it, play zone, make them shoot.’ The difference is this team can shoot.”
How is Marcus Lee doing and what’s his ceiling?
“He’s different than all these guys and he and I talked the other day when he was in the office and I said, ‘Look, you just keep being you, so what do you do well?’ He said, ‘I defend, I block shots, I run the court.’ I said, ‘Do that. We’ll figure out your offense. You just do that.’”
“In time he’s going to be really good. In these practices, he wants to learn; he wants to do good; he wants to get better; he’s a guy that wants to be in this kind of environment; he’ll be fine.”
What stands out about James Young’s game, other than shooting the ball?
“First of all, his core strength has to improve because to play the way we’re playing, when you get the bump, you gotta be in a position and your core strength is what leverages you to be able to stay the course. I call it ‘bulldogging.’ You can bulldog if you have to. He doesn’t have that yet. His is more of a slippery game. But he can really score and he’s really skilled.”
“He played a team that put a football player on him down in Augusta and I watched the whole game and the guy beat the living crap out of him. (Young) went inside, he wasn’t afraid, he still scored, and it didn’t phase him. And the (other coach) put him in, as a football player, to play (Young) and to try to beat him up. And he held his own and from that point I was sold. ‘Ok let’s get this kid.’ That was my only question, when this stuff gets rough, what is he going to do? And he didn’t back away one bit.”
How ’bout those Harrison twins?
“Everybody’s saying Andrew is way better than Aaron, that’s not true. And you won’t believe this, but they really look the same.”
What’s the rotation looking like?
“Don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll play as many guys as can play. Guys are telling me Jarrod is playing well, okay. Jon Hood is playing better, okay. What does that mean? I don’t know yet until we start playing. Until I put them in the game and they perform. If they deserve to get playing time, they will. If we press, I’ll be playing more people anyway. I’m not going to play 11 or 12 guys, I won’t do that, but maybe a ninth or a tenth guy might play, but we could settle on seven.”
We have more basketball content to free from the September embargo throughout the week so stay tuned and Go Cats…