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Calipari on EJ Montgomery: “He’s just gotta get better”

EJ Montgomery and his off-season improvements have been one of the main storylines throughout Kentucky’s pre-season as well as throughout the Cats’ two opening exhibition games. The front court is already a bit of a weak spot for the Cats, and Nick Richards’ potentially-lingering injury doesn’t help (get an update on his ankle here). Montgomery didn’t calm the uneasiness, putting up two average performances during UK’s exhibition games – he had five points and five rebounds against Georgetown and six points and four rebounds against Kentucky State.

Simply put, the Cats need to be able to rely on EJ Montgomery. That’s something Calipari says they’re still working on at this point in the season.

He’s just gotta get better. I mean, I’ve had so many players go through [similar struggles]… Let them learn in those kinds of settings,” Calipari said. “Gotta get in better shape. Until you do that and until you conquer yourself in some different areas, it’s hard to change anything else.”

Part of that process stems from a player’s specific focus, according to Kentucky’s head coach

“Think about rebounding and blocking shots and nothing else. Just do those two things,” Calipari explained. “And then all of a sudden, you start changing. But it’s hard to accept that until you get in and you don’t really do the things you’re capable of doing.”

In addition to rebounding and blocking shots, improvement also begins with toughness. We’ve heard Calipari harp on getting his team “tough” enough for weeks (months?) now, and it’s more obvious than ever he’s sending the message out for Montgomery’s benefit.

“The only thing that we’ve been working on is them understanding what toughness is, and it’s not pushing and shoving,” Calipari said.

He went on to ask a series of questions, setting up a good definition of what the word “toughness” means to him when it comes to basketball and how he expects his team to compete:

“Are you in the kind of shape that you need to be in mentally and physically? Are you beating workouts? Are you conquering yourself? Before you can try and conquer someone else you have to conquer yourself. Are you in the frame of mind that you can be tough? That you’re not going to get pushed off a screen? That you’re not, on a shot, going to run to the rim? That you’re going to have enough discipline and toughness to go hit a body before? Are you going to, on an offensive rebound, run to go get it or are you running back? Are you going to put your chest on his back on an offensive rebound because it’s easier? Are you tough enough to try and get even?

Even though Calipari is honest about Montgomery’s need for improvement (and pretty direct about his toughness criticisms), he doesn’t think there’s reason to sound the alarms. He compared the situation to one a former Cat recently saw. PJ Washington was able to figure things out – it just took a little bit of time.

“PJ [Washington] went through this, if you remember – especially his first year,” Coach Cal said Sunday afternoon. “Oh my gosh, his first year! Do you remember he lost 17 pounds in like January? Like, over a 30 [or] 40-day period he lost all that weight and then he started playing. These kids all go through that stuff.”

Washington wasn’t the only player used in this comparison. Coach Cal and his staff also used LeBron James as an example.

“Are you tough enough to set a screen? Are you tough enough to dive on the floor? How about, like, take a charge?,” Calipari continued to ask. “We just showed them the tape of LeBron James taking two charges in the game. The best player in the world – he took two charges. Then we showed them the five [or] six opportunities that we had that we turned sideways.”

To beat Michigan State this Tuesday, EJ Montgomery doesn’t have to be LeBron James. He just has to be a solid version of EJ Montgomery. Still, anything can happen.

“All of the toughness things, [and] you still don’t know what’s going to come out in this game. You just don’t. I knew we’d have a tough time with Duke last year. I didn’t know it’d be 50 [points], but I thought it would be tough,” Calipari said. “I didn’t know when we beat Duke [in 2015] that we were nearly good enough to beat Duke, which we did. Or Kansas [in 2014] when we beat them like we did. You don’t know walking into these games because they’re so early.”

It took a lot of “Cal talk” to get there, but the very first five words Calipari said about the matter sum it up the best: “he’s just gotta get better.”


Article written by Maggie Davis

I love sports, podcasts, long walks on the beach and Twitter (@MaggieDavisKSR)

18 Comments for Calipari on EJ Montgomery: “He’s just gotta get better”

  1. WKY Cat
    10:36 pm November 3, 2019 Permalink

    Cal knows we are in trouble in the front court.

  2. 4everUKBlue
    12:04 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    EJ I have faith in you, please don’t let me down.

    • gobble gobble
      1:14 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

      Yes, I’m sure EJ is yearning for your approval…

    • Urincatland
      4:05 am November 4, 2019 Permalink


    • catsarerunnin
      6:34 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

      So does your BF…

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:27 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

      What gg, you not proofreading this article? I guess Jack didn’t embarrass you enough.

  3. gobble gobble
    1:12 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    Wouldn’t say they were “average” performances by EJ… definitely below average. He hurt us more than helped when he was in the game

  4. terwilliger
    1:15 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    Cal likening EJ to first-year PJ. Only problem is this is EJ’s second year.

  5. kjd
    6:13 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    Get in better shape…. that’s what the off season is used for. Troubling comments from Coach Cal.

    • Matt10
      7:13 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

      Not so much. There’s a difference between in shape and really being “in game shape.” Are you just running sprints or are you trying to win every sprint? Are you playing hard in games or are you playing to exhaustion? I tell my players the same. A player has to push him/herself to the limit and the more you do that the longer and harder you can play like that. It’s a mentality that’s tough to learn.

  6. bd2153
    7:20 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    Bunch of immature people commenting here.

  7. UKFanSC
    7:58 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    He’s a 6’10 small forward who will never be a formidable post presence. Square peg, round hole.

    • chris43
      9:50 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

      He’s def more of a stretch 4 than a 5. He has the talent but lacks confidence and plays timid a lot. We all knew the post was going to be a MAJOR issue coming into the season. I think our best shot tomorrow night is to play small ball, press like crazy, shoot 3’s (hopefully we’re burning the nets up and the rim is looking like the Atlantic!) and literally try to run them outta the gym. MSU is thin in the front court also but if Richards doesn’t play that makes our lack of bigs scary. I sincerely hope that I’m bad wrong but it’ll be a very tough game tomorrow.

  8. topcat1
    8:51 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    If you will recall, the coach belatedly, in fact very belatedly figured out that Skal was not a physical post player. Once he figured out that he was infinitely better facing the basket from 15 or 20 feet away, then Skal started to shine.

    In other words, some players mentally are not wired up to be physical, tough players. You can tell by EJ’s demeanor that he is one of those players.

    I know we need a post presence this year, and we desperately needed Kerry Blackshear, but if we are going to pin our hopes on EJ playing physical then I fear we are going to get the same result as with Skal L.

    Hopefully Cal can learn from his mistake.

    I am afraid that this is a case where, like Skal, the coach may not win the battle of wills, as he likes to say, “I’m not going to lose that battle. YOU will change, not me.”

    However, all is not lost. The option is to play small ball. Play EJ a max of 15-20 minutes if he’s not going to rebound or block shots, and loiter on the perimeter on offence. Give his minutes to Brooks who IS the fierce, physical, hustling type. I vote a hustling freshman Brooks over a laid back EJ.

    If EJ can in fact shoot, he may make a better pro than college player.

    But EJ, you gotta rebound while in the game. With your length you need to average 7 rebounds in 20 minutes. Hustle Hustle hustle.

    You can’t hide. You can’t avoid exposure.

    Don’t worry about point. Just go gobble up the rebounds and block out your man on defence. Interrupt and block some shots.

    • Bluehender
      4:26 pm November 4, 2019 Permalink

      topcat, you nailed it.

  9. ColoradoCatFan88
    9:17 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    EJ was a below average player last season & unfortunately he is the exact same player this season. No improvements were made to his game. That falls on him & the amount of work, or lack thereof, he put in during the off season. It’s a shame too, because we desperately needed him to make a PJ-esque type jump & be one of the leaders of this team. Let’s just hope that Sestina & Brooks exceed expectations & make up for Richards & Montgomery.

  10. yoshukai
    11:11 am November 4, 2019 Permalink

    Get a dictionary and look up the word ” enforcer” , then look up the word “opposite ” . That’s EJ’s game.