Conference play begins Saturday, so today the SEC hosted its first coaches teleconference of the season. Over lunch, John Calipari joined and chatted for about ten minutes about the state of his squad following the big win over Louisville. Here’s what stood out to me.
1. The team had two “monster practices” this week
We’ve heard through the grapevine that the mood in Kentucky’s practices has changed dramatically in the past week during “Camp Cal.” Calipari said as much, telling reporters he’s been very hard on his squad the past few days.
“We’re getting better. That’s about what I can say right now. Guys are trying. We’ve had two monster practices. I’ve been tough. I’m like my UMass days the last couple of days.”
That being said, with Saturday’s game vs. Missouri coming up, he’s pulling back just a bit.
“I’ve got to back up a little bit now. We’ve got a tough opponent, Coach (Cuonzo) Martin’s got these guys playing. They’re defending and made 16 threes last game.”
2. He’s trying to brace his team for league play
The win over Louisville was big, but Calipari is warning his guys that the road’s just going to get tougher as they start the SEC schedule.
“What I’m trying to explain to my players is league play is totally different than non-conference play,” Cal said, bringing up the Ole Miss team that took the 2014-15 team to overtime during the 38-1 season. “Andy Kennedy brought his team in here and they had us beat. His guards cramped up. They tried so hard they cramped up.”
Simply put: no babies allowed.
“Kids gotta grow up first. Can’t pout here. Can’t be a baby. Babies gotta sit on the back of the bus. You’ve gotta sit on the bench and watch us. You’ve got to compete and play.”
I love that quote.
3. He wants the fans to be loud like they were at the Louisville game every game
The crowd at Rupp for the Louisville game was amazing. Calipari implored fans to be that loud every night to help this team finish games.
“Our fans last game, I raised my arms a little bit like, come on, time to get into this. I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t stomp. I didn’t do a backflip. I just raised my hands, ‘Come on.’ And they went bonkers and had a huge impact on that game. That’s our fans. Now, going forward, we may need that the last five minutes of every game. No one sits down. Stand up the whole — forget about scores. Stand up and get these guys finishing games.”
He also took a playful jab at fans who may have questioned his coaching ability after losses to Evansville and Utah.
“Ah, they’re all with me. These fans, it’s amazing how they support me and they never question me. The great news about this job is we’ve got four million coaches because that’s how many people we have in this state. And it’s all part of this job.”
4. He really likes Arkansas coach Eric Musselman
The SEC may not be as strong as we thought before the season began, but Calipari made sure to dole out plenty of praise to the league’s coaches, specifically Arkansas’ Eric Musselman. He retold the story about how he went into Jerry Jones’ suite at the Kentucky-Arkansas football game in October and raved about “Coach Muss.” Now, the Razorbacks are 11-1 with a big win on the road at Indiana, which knocked Cal’s socks off.
“All of a sudden they come out the gate and they’re not afraid of anybody,” Cal said. “I expected them to play a different way and play with a toughness, swagger. He is giving freedom to his guards, which are their strength, and the kids are responding. They’re playing small ball but who cares how you play? It’s about winning and guess what, they’re winning.”
Kentucky plays Arkansas in Fayetteville on January 18. Big game.
5. He was eating a salad while he talked
It wouldn’t be John Calipari’s turn on the SEC Teleconference without some kind of background noise. Usually, it’s a car door slamming or beeping. Today, he did the call while eating lunch, his chewing audible through the phone. He took to social media afterwards to claim it was a salad, not a sandwich.
Just so all you media members know, I was eating during that teleconference. But it was a salad with walnuts, not a sandwich!
And I wasn’t finished. But I did stop for a couple questions. LOL!
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) January 2, 2020
Just make sure to return the Tupperware to Ellen, Coach.