For the eighth time this season, John Calipari sat down for his weekly call-in radio show with Tom Leach on Monday evening.
Like Mark Stoops does during football season, Calipari uses this time to break down his team’s recent performances, what to expect against future opponents, and update the fans on potential injuries.
This evening, Calipari joined the show to break down Kentucky’s three-game winning streak, the team’s upcoming matchup against South Carolina, key growth from Immanuel Quickley, and what’s going on with Johnny Juzang, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the John Calipari Show tonight:
It wasn’t easy to stop Alabama’s three-point attack
Alabama takes (and makes) threes at an alarming rate, so for the Wildcats to hold the Crimson Tide to just four makes on 19% from deep, it was quiet impressive.
“All three games [during this three-game winning streak] we had a chance to lose, but we showed a will to win, which was great,” Calipari said.
Most specifically, he thinks it’s going to help the Wildcats in the long run by the time tournament play comes around.
“The last five games, it was 13 [three-pointers] per game. 13 makes,” he said. “Look, what I keep saying, the reason that game is a great game, you’re going to play a team like that in the tournament. A team that takes 35 threes. We did a year ago. Who was it? Wofford. They had a guy that was making seven or eight a game, their team was making 12 or 13. You have to be ready for a game like that.”
We’ll see a team like South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, too
While they’re not the same three-point juggernaut Alabama is, they also maintain a style of play that the Wildcats will almost certainly see in the NCAA Tournament, as well.
“We’re about to play South Carolina coming up [on Wednesday],” he said. “Very physical, deny you the ball, you’ve got to work to get free, you’ve got to be strong with the ball. They collapse on defense. If you leave your feet, they take charges. There are a lot of teams in the NCAA Tournament that will play that way. It’s always nice to play a team that plays 40 minutes of zone, just so you know what’s coming and how you have to play when you’re playing to win [in the NCAA Tournament].
More specifically, he expects to see a zone on Wednesday.
“This team will also play a zone,” he said. “They’ll play a 1-2-2 kind of press. Frank [Martin] has got them doing a lot of different things. They can throw it in the post, they can run some high-lows.”
The SEC is bananas right now
Craziness in the SEC right now? It has surprised Calipari a bit, though he admitted it shouldn’t at this point.
“The games we play, it’s crazy, because you really don’t know,” he said. “LSU has to throw a ball in at the buzzer to beat Mississippi State. Alabama beat Mississippi State by, what, 20? Now Florida goes and loses to Missouri by 20. Not a buzzer-beater game. This stuff is crazy. That’s why I’m only worried about my team. I saw some scores I was really stunned at, but I shouldn’t be.”
Making (and missing) shots is “contagious”
To start the year, Kentucky was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in college basketball.
Now that they’ve found their groove from deep, Calipari says it was all about confidence and building off of team success. Nate Sestina started the trend against Ohio State, and the rest of the Wildcats followed.
“It’s contagious. Missing is contagious,” he said. “When you see everyone missing and you finally get your shot, what do you think? Yours is in? But when you see everyone making shots… Nate went basket, basket, basket, then it was like, “Okay, yes guys. It’s okay if you make one too.” Then all of a sudden we’re making them five different ways. But I’ll be honest, we need to make five, six, seven, maybe eight threes a game. Because of how we play, we want to get to the free throw line. You cannot get to the free throw line shooting jump shots, you’re just not.”
Immanuel Quickley is starting to remind Calipari of Jamal Murray
Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has knocked down eight of his last nine three-pointers and 14 of 23 over his last four games, good for 60.9% overall.
The reasoning? Calipari says he stayed the course and let the development come to him rather than force the issue.
“He’s doing great. What’s exciting for me is to just see his growth,” he said. “What makes me lose my mind is we have kids that think it needs to happen in four months. Stop. That’s like, “I want to win the lottery, so I’m going to go every day and buy one ticket.” You’ve got 350 million-to-one chances to win that lottery, probably not a good bet. Every kid is on a different timetable. We’ve had kids here on timetables we weren’t sure of, and they sped them up by how hard they work. We have other guys where it just takes time. PJ [Washington] in two years. Immanuel now, two years. You’re looking at him now, his skillset, his decision making, he’s defending. His feel and confidence is there.”
How do you build confidence? Calipari thinks he has found the answer
What do you do when your confidence is lacking? According to Calipari, you must focus on the issue at hand and attack it heads-on.
“I come back to, you want to build your own confidence. Whatever is hard for you, focus on that,” he said. “What’s hard for you is conditioning? Great! Come in here every day and only focus on that. Over and over, focus on that. You do that, and you’ll become more confident. Play through bumps and be physical? Great, focus on that every day. Shooting the ball? Great. You’ll build your own confidence.”
Quickley has been the leader of the clubhouse in this regard.
“Immanuel has worked his way into becoming this level of player,” Calipari said. “Whenever we do any running, he’s first. He laps some of the field. The guys respect him. I bring him off the bench, but he’s a starter, and everybody knows it.
Calipari knows his three-guard lineup is the best
For those reaching out to Calipari to tell him that Kentucky’s best lineup includes Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, and Immanuel Quickley, don’t worry. He knows those are his top three options right now.
“Everyone texts me, “Your best lineup is with the three guards.” You may not know this, but I watch the games too,” Calipari said. “I also want to make sure that we continue to bring along Keion and Kahlil, and by the time the season ends, those guys are going to be vital in what this team is able to do. Bringing them along may be, you know, those three guards want to play 40 minutes a game. So if you get some of those minutes, you better help our team. Not do what you want to do, try showing off your stuff, you need to help the team. They’re giving you minutes.”
At the end of the day, it’s not about who starts the game, it’s who finishes them.
“In terms of shooters, on-ball defenders, and leaders, we have no one on our team like them. No one,” he said. “So, I get it. I’ll be surprised if I don’t finish every game with those three on the floor. This isn’t personal to me, I’m coaching to win.”
EJ Montgomery is right on the cusp of taking the next step
EJ Montgomery’s sophomore season has left a lot to be desired, but Calipari feels the 6-foot-10 forward is close to breaking through.
It all starts with confidence.
“EJ, it’s really important. We’re trying to the anxiety of “How am I playing? What am I doing?” gone and have him stay in the moment,” he said. “The thing for him is, conditioning, and then some toughness. We want him to get where he wants to get bumped. I come back to focusing on one thing and doing it over and over again. If you don’t like to get bumped? Drive in there and get bumped. Like, purposely, I’m going to get bumped. And then you’ll want to drive in there in games and get and-ones. And then all of a sudden, we see a confident player.
At the end of the day, Calipari knows what he brings to the table as a player.
“He is a terrific player,” he said. “He led us in shooting today. He made 65 out of 75-80 shots today. You should be shooting the ball with great confidence. I’ve seen it, so I know he’s capable of it. It’s just about confidence. He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached, one of the nicest.”
Calipari was never planning on playing Johnny Juzang against Alabama
After missing the last week with an illness, Johnny Juzang was officially active against Alabama, but didn’t register a single minute on the floor.
This evening, Calipari said that he let Juzang know that he was never planning on playing the freshman wing since he’s so behind with conditioning and on-court activity. His time, though, is coming.
“He was in there today. He had a virus, so we separated him from the team,” he said. “I told him, “I hope you know I had no intention of putting you in the game. You know that right? Just know that you didn’t practice and you’re behind those guys.” Look. I’m coaching to win. He’s going to do great. He shot the ball pretty good today. You know how hard this is for [guys like Juzang]?”
Nate Sestina’s role is an important one for the Cats
With Nate Sestina’s leadership as a graduate transfer, Calipari expects the 6-foot-9 forward to play a huge part in Kentucky’s success this season.
He wasn’t too impressed with what he brought to the table against Alabama, but long-term, Sestina is crucial to the Wildcats playing well this season and making a run in March.
“He’s such a big part of this, based on the fact that he’s a leader on this team,” Calipari said. “He kind of took a step back last game. He made a couple shots, but he didn’t play as well as he had been playing. I told him, I didn’t like the look that he had. I told him that we need him. We need him to make shots, we need him to rebound. When we played on the road down in Georgia, every tough rebound late, he was grabbing. How about the tough shot he made? Ball fake, one dribble pull-up? That was a big play. It kind of spread the game out.”