John Calipari joined the voice of the Wildcats, Tom Leach, on his radio call-in show Wednesday evening, where he gave his opinions on everything from Ashton Hagans’ ankle to Tyler Ulis to Rupp Arena’s atmosphere to – surprise! – the team’s “will to win.”
Here are the highlights from the hour-long show.
On Ashton Hagans’ injury, NBA future
Hagans’ ankle was on everyone’s mind before the Cats’ game against Georgia Tuesday evening. Kentucky’s point guard didn’t seem limited by the lower-ankle sprain during the matchup, and Coach Cal kept his latest update on the injury short and sweet.
“He says he felt good today… He said I don’t feel any pain.”
Calipari also lightened the injury talk by discussing Hagans’ quick hands against the Bulldogs, poking fun at Hagans’ flawed thinking when it came to shooting the ball in the first half.
“Ashton had ten shots at halftime – ten! What, are you going to shoot 20 [times] this game? You average 10 a game and you already have that many at halftime? Is it because you’re home? What are you doing?,” Coach Cal said on the radio. “When he missed that first layup, did you think that was his ankle? No.”
But it wasn’t all ankle-talk for Calipari. He also discussed Hagans’ future in the league, saying there were NBA scouts at the game who questioned the guard’s shooting ability. Calipari isn’t worried about that, saying Hagans’ will to win and his pick-and-roll skills will be the “secret sauce” that lands him a job in the pros.
“There is some team up there that’s going to be really happy. Everything is pick-and-roll, dribble-hand-off now. He blows all of that up – believe me,” Calipari said. “One of those teams was talking to me about his shooting. He’s better! He didn’t shoot it better last night, but he shot too much. But he is way better at shooting.”
Hagans may be getting better at shooting, but he’s still no Tyler Ulis. At one point in the show, Calipari responded to a fan who asked him to compare the point guards.
“I hate to compare anybody to Tyler because you’re not going to bode too well. His feel for the game… On the ball they’re really similar but in different ways. One bothers you like a gnat [Ulis], and the other one will bust you up and steal the ball from you with his long arms [Hagans]. They both play the post pretty good… Tyler probably shot the deep perimeter ball a little better. And Ashton is getting better.”
Will to Win:
You can’t have a John Calipari press conference without mentioning the phrase “will to win,” right? Certainly not this one, as that phrase basically served as the theme for the entire interview.
There was something a little bit different about it though. Calipari has often criticized his team’s fighting mentality this season, saying his players hadn’t necessarily found that will just yet. But after the past few games, Coach Cal is changing his tune.
“Here’s what we know about this team – we’ve got a tremendous will to win. Now, I go from Utah to Ohio State to Louisville to Missouri… to how we finished the last eight minutes of the game [against Georgia],” Calipari said. “The best teams I’ve coached here have had a will to win – the most important thing to those guys on the court was the will to win. How hard to I have to run? What do I do defensively? I do what we’re supposed to do because we’re all in this together. That will to win showed through.”
On EJ Montgomery
Similarly, Calipari saw more fight out of EJ Montgomery during the Georgia matchup, especially at the start of the game.
“The best thing that EJ did was rebound the ball. He started that game and I saw him play harder than he ever has,” Calipari said. “He’s absolutely doing what we’re asking him to do. The hardest thing for him to do is to play hard, and he’s getting better.”
Still, Kentucky’s head coach wants to see more out of the team’s sophomore big man.
“EJ is playing good; he’s capable of being great. But he’s got to be one of those 10 rebounds, five blocks a game guy. Then he’s as good as anybody in the country,” Calipari said. “He’s going to be fine, but for us to be one of those teams, EJ has got to be one of our standouts. It may take him time. I’m good with that.”
On recent atmospheres
It also wouldn’t be a call-in show without Calipari talking about the in-game atmosphere. He started by praising the members of the BBN who made the trip to Athens.
“How about we go to Georgia and we had a lot of people in the building. Big Blue Nation cheers! At the end there was a big cheer. Like, where are all of these people coming from?”
He also has a request for the fans moving forward this season.
“Those last five minutes of every game, we need everybody standing. I know the students will be there, but we need the whole lower arena too,” Calipari said. “We need everybody to make Rupp Arena the loudest, classiest place a team has ever been to. We don’t boo the other team; we don’t care. We aren’t there to watch the other team; we’re there to watch our team. That’s what this is about here.”
Coach Calipari also took some time to look ahead at the Wildcats’ matchup with Alabama this Saturday. Kentucky will return to Rupp Arena for a noon game, and Coach Cal says to expect a lot of three-point shooting from the Crimson Tide – like, 30 three-pointers, a lot. Through 13 games so far, Alabama has averaged 30 long-range attempts per game, and they’ve connected on an average of 11 per outing. Calipari said he expects half of the Tide’s attempts against Kentucky to come from behind-the-arc.
“I’m looking at tapes like, I’m panicked now. If they make 16, 17 threes against us, that’s next game,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be hard for us to win. That’s going to be hard to do. With nothing to lose they could make 17. We’re going to guard it, but they do a heck of a job.”
Even though Calipari acted in his (normal) pessimistic way leading into the game, he’s still excited for the matchup. The SEC doesn’t have a lot of teams that can shoot like that from behind-the-arc, which makes the Alabama game a unique opportunity to prepare for potential post-season matchups. He compared their offense to that seen in Wofford (although he referenced Winthrop?) during last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“This is a great game for us. It’s going to be really hard for us to win this game, but everything we do is to prepare for March,” Calipari said. “We want to play teams like this… You have to be able to go back and say remember Alabama? That’s how you win in March. You don’t know what you’re going to get in March, but it is best of five. Oh wait, no – it’s one game. That’s it. If you’re not ready for what that one team is doing, you’re out.”
The Cats will take on Alabama (and all of their three-pointers) this Saturday inside Rupp Arena. Tip-off is set for noon and can be seen on ESPN.