During his interview on KSR this morning, John Calipari did more than talk about his longtime support for players’ likeness rights. He also gave us some updates on his squad ahead of Big Blue Madness. You can listen to the full interview at the bottom of this post, but here are six highlights.
1. He’s still worried about toughness
Echoing his remarks from Media Day, Calipari said his number one concern about his team right now is toughness, which could lead to some guys being pushed around early in the season.
“I think we should be terrific defensively but I worry about the toughness because I think people will just try to beat us up. And it’s not as though you’re not going to know it. You’re going to have to be physical, have some toughness to you and have all that stuff. Expect it, and not have it affect your game. That’s going to take some time for us.”
2. He loves their potential on defense
Cal is a defensive-minded coach, so for him to dole out this much praise for his team’s defense this early on is pretty major.
“We have the returning [SEC] Defensive Player of the Year in Ashton [Hagans] and a player that guards almost as good, maybe not as physical, but almost as good is Tyrese [Maxey]. Immanuel [Quickley] has gotten way better and has a better idea of team defense, off the ball. You’ve got shot blocking behind it and the guy that stood out in the Pro Day was Keion Brooks. He stood out. He blocked shots, he rebounded balls, he mixed it up. You’re talking 6’8” and long, really long. Kahlil [Whitney] has the physical strength to do it.”
3. “When [Johnny Juzang] shoots it, you’re surprised if he misses it”
How good of a shooter is Johnny Juzang? I love how Calipari phrased it.
“We recruited guys here to make shots and they were shooters, they just weren’t makers. So, this guy, so people are understanding what I said, when he shoots it, you’re surprised if he misses it. Thank goodness. You’ve got a guy that’s going to stretch the court and has the green light to let it go from NBA range if he’s open.”
4. The team impressed scouts with their communication
With another week of practice under them, the team continues to follow Nate Sestina’s lead when it comes to communication, so much so that the NBA scouts at Pro Day complimented Calipari on it afterwards.
“The reality of it is, at Pro Day, we talked and it was one of the comments the NBA personnel said to me, ‘Man, this group talks.’ And they know in the NBA, that the teams that chatter, that really have that on the court while they’re playing are the best teams. The other teams are – basically, each individual is worried about their own game and how do I get to that next contract and this that and the other, and they’re not very good teams because they don’t talk.
“So, what I said to my guys after, if you will talk like this everyday – you did it because we talked about it prior to the guys walking in the gym, the NBA people – and if you go as hard as you went in this setting, we’re going to be fine.”
5. Yesterday’s practice started off badly, but ended well
Coming off an impressive showing at Pro Day — “Everyone helped themselves. It was a big deal. It went better than I thought it would” — the team reverted a little bit in practice yesterday, which Calipari said is natural, but he was pleased with how they regrouped.
“What they ended up doing — I had to point it out, I had to stop practice — most cases, players have to conquer themselves before they can worry about conquering somebody else. The moment you feel your worst, if you can end up having a great practice or great game, you just conquered yourself. And yesterday we had a great practice by the end of practice. Early on, it scared me. But it was good. It was a good practice. And they learned something and I learned something about individuals there.”
6. He’s forcing Nick and EJ to compete with each other
With PJ Washington in the pros, Reid Travis overseas, and no N’Faly Dante or Kerry Blackshear on the roster, the post is clear for Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery; however, Calipari still wants them to feel a sense of urgency.
“There was competition. Now, there isn’t and I’m telling you, that fight, you’re going to have to bring it out of yourself and force yourself to understand and not be delusional. This isn’t just about giving me more minutes. This is being a more effective basketball player.”
“Those two, I’m putting them against each other a lot because I want them to compete with each other. But again, yesterday I put Nate and EJ on the same team and Nick is way better. Way more confident. Way more conditioned. The biggest thing with both of those guys has been that strength and conditioning more than the basketball. So, they’re getting better. I’m really proud of both of them.”