This afternoon, Kentucky head coach John Calipari met with the media for his weekly pre-game press conference to discuss his team’s recent stretch of play and UK’s upcoming matchup on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Among the individual topics discussed? Kentucky scheduling a three-game series with Michigan, defensive intensity, injury updates on Nate Sestina and Dontaie Allen, and what he’s seen from Fairleigh Dickinson on tape, among others.
Here are eight things we learned during his press conference:
John Calipari is a fan of Juwan Howard
After scheduling a trip to London to take on Michigan in 2020, along with a home-and-home with the Wolverines, John Calipari told reporters this afternoon that he did it to return a favor to UM head coach Juwan Howard.
The reasoning? The former Miami Heat assistant took Bam Adebayo under his wing when the franchise drafted him in 2017, and now, he wants to help him out at the college level.
“When Juwan Howard was hired at Michigan, I called him and I just said, “Listen, if there’s any way I can help you or your program [let me know]. We can talk scheduling, and that’s something I don’t do lightly, but with you, I will,”‘ he said. “The reason is, he took Bam [Adebayo] under his wing [as an assistant with the Miami Heat]. [Adebayo] had Kenny [Payne] doing what he did, and he went right to that culture and had Juwan Howard take him under his wing. And look what [Adebayo] is doing now. … I said, “You took care of one of mine, so if I can help you in this [let me know].” … But that’s where it started. Then we got together [to talk] about a neutral [court game], and then a home-and-home. It should be a good three-year thing for both programs. It should be good.”
Calipari isn’t worried about Ohio State, Louisville, or any other future teams on his schedule
While it’s tough to ignore that Ohio State and Louisville, two of Kentucky’s upcoming opponents, are playing exceptionally well right now, Calipari is focused on his team and his team only as they prepare for Fairleigh Dickinson.
“I’m worried about today’s practice. All I’m trying to do–how good can we get?” Calipari said. “I said publicly, if we don’t become an unbelievable defensive team, we will not be playing late in March. We will not. If we are that and we rebound and have some toughness about us, fight, then we’ll have our chances to advance and do what we want to do. The teams that are winning right now are playing great defense. Most of them have veterans. I mean, that’s what it is.
With how busy things are about to get and how crazy this schedule is about to get, he’s happy that he gets this time to just focus on practice and Kentucky’s upcoming opponent.
“We need this time, this practice time,” he said. “We need to have another opponent. And then it goes to Georgia Tech, I believe, and then it goes to Utah and then it goes to Ohio State and then I believe the next game would be Louisville. Now all of a sudden, you’re talking holy cow. Like, this is–and at the end of the day, we may have the No. 1 schedule in the country. Now, it’s not where some of you like it to be, but at the end of the day, we still got to go to Texas Tech.”
Two words: Fight & Finish
Over the next two weeks, Calipari is focused on preaching two words to his team.
The first? “Fight.”
“The two words that all I’m focused on for the next two weeks: fight. Fight for rebounds,” he began. “You fight harder than he’s fighting. You’re try to get open. He’s fighting you to keeping from getting it. You fight harder than he is. You’re trying to fight for post position. You fight harder than he is to try to keep you from catching it, and if he’s in there, you fight harder than him. Fight. You’re fighting over a screen, fight. Run him into the screen. He’s fighting to keep you from catching it. Everything is on every possession, fight.”
The second? “Finish.”
“The second word is finish,” Calipari said. “Last four minutes of games we have been atrocious, but we were last year too. And so now I’m working on how we finish the last four minutes of games, what we’re going to do, what’s your mentality. And so (the) last two days, whew. Really last three practices were like, literally we might as well put helmets on. And today I got–if you grab and hold I’m going to let you do it twice; on the third one we’re running because they are like–literally, it’s like lacrosse. I might as well give them sticks. But it’s been good. We’re still shorthanded but I’m like, forget it, I don’t care, let’s go. I’ve done this before with six and seven guys so let’s go. It’s not like I haven’t done it. I’m not panicked. I feel good. I feel good about my team, but we’re nowhere near some of these other teams. We’re not. But there are other teams that were ranked there and I said they’re not that good either, and it’s proven to be true.”
When will Nate Sestina return to action?
Last week, Kentucky forward Nate Sestina fractured his wrist in practice, an injury Calipari said would keep him out anywhere from three to four weeks.
What’s the latest with his status? Is that timeline still accurate?
“He’s still two weeks, maybe three away from us figuring out if he can play,” he said. “[Right now he] watches practice. Does his treatments. Conditions so that when he comes back–the good news is it’s his left hand. Not going to affect shooting. May even help his shooting, so now you’re really that way vs. anything using this [left] hand, not involved at all.”
And Dontaie Allen?
After Calipari said on his radio show on Monday evening that Dontaie Allen practiced for the first time, the freshman wing has apparently been out the past two practices with “knee soreness” and is “not nearly ready” to return to action.
“He practiced and then he’s out for two more days,” he said. “So yesterday and today, knee soreness. He’s not nearly ready. He practiced one day, half of the practice maybe.”
What does he like about Fairleigh Dickinson?
After moving on from Kentucky’s victory over UAB, what has Calipari seen out of the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights?
“They’re a team that–a lot of switching, a lot of taking their fours and fives out on the floor and trying to beat you on the bounce,” he said.
Another thing he found? They are yet another team that can walk into Rupp Arena and leave with a victory.
“You know, they’re another capable team that’s coming in here,” he said. “You’re seeing now there are no, ‘Alright, we just show up and we play.’ You can’t. Every game is, OK, use the day to prepare to play great. Use the shootaround to prepare to play great. Everything is based on that game day, and so the game is a little bit earlier.”
The Evansville loss was a turning point for Calipari
After the embarrassing loss to Evansville just days after becoming the No. 1 team in college basketball, Kentucky has slowly, but surely, found its groove.
According to Calipari, the Evansville loss “got [his] mind right” and “helped [him]” figure out what to do with this team.
“It helped me, and it got my mind right where we need to go because sometimes we all–like, I’ve done it,” he said. “You get carried away where you think you play in your mind what your team is and sometimes you put your head in the sand, and I don’t want to deal with it because we’re winning, No. 1 in the country, and that one woke me up.”
And that’s not to say things are fixed – he admits they have a “long ways to go” – things are just easier now with the added clarity.
“We’ve got a long ways to go. Like, a long ways to go,” he said. “Individual players have a long ways to go, but at yesterday’s practice, I had so much fun. I was screaming, yelling, and I think I was in bed by 8. I told them, ‘I’m having a ball.’ Held them accountable, put them on the line, was not–if anybody was talking, ‘I’m talking. Get on the line. Let’s go. We’re here to be professional. We got work to do. I’m not wasting my time.’ And it was like, alright.
“And they’re great kids. If you demand a lot, you’ll get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re getting it every single time, especially as a basketball coach, especially with young kids that have had their own way to do whatever they wanted. Now, you’ve got to raise the bar. They’re all capable of reaching what I’m asking them to do, but they’ve never had to.”
Calipari is trying to slow things down for his players
While some players are finding immediate success, others are still trying to find their grooves in Lexington. And for those individuals, Calipari is hoping to help them out and make life easier for them by slowing the game down in their heads
“Look, the minds of the kids operate different. So some guys, kids, their minds go so fast that you’ve got to get them to slow down – their mind,” he said. “You don’t want them to slow down their feet; you just want them to slow down their mind. Other guys, their mind moves slower and they don’t react to things as quick and you try to speed it up because they really never had to do it that way because they were always the best player and whatever I do is good enough. It’s who I am.”
What he can’t do, however, is make his players want ‘it.’ He can’t force an individual to play the game and better themselves for the right reasons, they need to find their ‘why’ on their own.
“The thing that is hard, you can’t give a kid a ‘why.’ He’s gotta create his own why,” Calipari said. “What are you doing this for? Is it ego? That goes away. What moves you? What are you trying to do? Where are you trying to take this and why? All of the things that we do off the court, the Thanksgiving and the Christmas, is trying to show them the impact that you can have on other people. If you become that, then use it. I’ve had kids from Haiti say, ‘I want to start an orphanage in Haiti.’ Well then get real good and do well, make a lot of money, and go back there and do what you want to do. That’s a great why. Other kids talk about their mothers, but like I said, this is, for us–I’ve got on my wall, ‘Coach your team.’ That’s all I’m doing.”