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John Calipari, Davion Mintz, Olivier Sarr preview Bluegrass Showcase

This morning, John Calipari, Davion Mintz, and Olivier Sarr took turns chatting with reporters on Zoom about Kentucky’s first three games of the season (Nov. 25 – Morehead State; Nov. 29 – Richmond). Watch their remarks below, or keep scrolling for a partial transcript.


HEAD COACH JOHN CALIPARI

On playing this week with everything that’s gone on in the pandemic and the status of Keion Brooks Jr. …
“Keion first. I do not believe he’ll be here the first week [leg injury]. It’s day-to-day kind of stuff, but he hasn’t done live stuff yet. So, we’ve gotta get him doing live stuff even though he’s conditioning and all the other stuff. Until he’s in there, I don’t feel comfortable. Second thing is, you know, this thing is, we don’t control it, it controls us, the virus. So, I just heard Mississippi is out now until December 7th. What I’m doing is everything I can to mitigate here. You guys know – anybody that knows us – knows this situation. We’re in the lodge. Nobody else is in there. They got their own bedroom and bathroom. The chef cooks their meal there. He’s there. He gets tested. They walk across the parking lot to our practice facility. No one is in the offices, so there’s no, like, it can go through the system. There’s no one in here. And so, you have us and the women on different sides. We come in different doors. We don’t see each other. The problem is when we start playing. The good news is, they’re saying of all the sports, they don’t believe anyone has caught it from the playing field or the court. They think it’s meal rooms, hotels, planes, buses. It’s contact with others outside of that area, and we’ve done a pretty good job. So, all I can tell you is, even though we think we’re doing good—we’re wearing those (Kinexon) chips to every practice, every scrimmage. We’re having the officials wear them. The managers, the coaches (are wearing them) to mitigate all this. I just want to make sure our kids are safe. We’re talking with right now – and I’ve never done this before – we may travel on game day. Like, game day. You would say, ‘Why would you travel on the day of a game? Wouldn’t you be better being rested?’ Yeah, but it’s another hotel stay. We’re going to have our personal bus bussed to wherever we’re playing that when we get off that plane, we’re on a bus that is sanitized with a bus driver we know. And then go to the gym if we have time to shoot around. If we don’t, we don’t. We go to the hotel, lay around for an hour or two, have a pregame meal, play the game, immediately get on our own bus, on that plane that didn’t leave – it’s that same plane we came in on – we get on it, we go. We may have face shields and masks. I may be overdoing it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

On if all three opposing teams in the Bluegrass Showcase are good to go …

“Yeah, I called Brad (Calipari) last night and asked when (Detroit Mercy is getting in). They’ve been good and they had another test yesterday. They’ll get it back today in Detroit. I’m hearing Morehead has been good and Richmond. So, it appears as though we’re good to go – but that’s today.”

On his thoughts on moving the tournament to one location and if they might do S-curve seeding for the tournament …
“I’ve gotta give it to Mitch (Barnhart) and that (selection) committee. Bubbling it up is the safest way for these kids to play basketball. Having six courts in Indianapolis where they can play, and kind of like the old NAIA, if you remember, where there would be 32 teams come in, and when you lose, you’re immediately out. You’re on the bus and you go home. Just play it down. They told me the reason the NBA bubble basketball was so good is because the teams didn’t have to travel and they got in a rhythm of playing. So, the rhythm they didn’t want was three or four days off and have to play. They wanted to play every other day. Well, you know what, we can kind of do the same thing. And it hurt us in Lexington because we had the first and second rounds, but this wasn’t about Lexington. This wasn’t about Kentucky. This was about, we’re in an environment that we feel is the best way, and I agree with them. I think what they did and the stance they took, I think, was a good one.” 

On his comfort level with fans being in the building this week and the impact fewer fans will have on his team …
“Here’s what I would say: The team that gets hurt the most – and forget about financial – by not having fans or only having 15% or whatever is Kentucky. And the reason it is, people coming into this building are always playing in front of 20-something thousand. And it’s a big advantage for us. Our fans and our building play a big part in our success. I don’t know what our record is during my 11 years here, but I think it’s pretty high in this building. Well, if it’s just a building and a court, we don’t have the advantage we usually have, so it’s going to hurt us more than anybody else. My hope is we figure out a way that fans that want to come to the game can be tested so that we feel comfortable being in our building – not just with the thermometer and saying, OK, they don’t have a fever. Because there are asymptomatic people. But there is a test given a couple of days before. Now, a test isn’t the vaccine, but people will feel more comfortable having a mask on and having social distance. Maybe we can get more in our building if we figure out a way to try to test so that everybody is comfortable. And maybe we show the rest of the country this is, like, the only way you can increase the number of fans there. But I think we’re a ways away. We’re just going to try to get through these first three games in five days, which is going to be hard for my team. Just so you know, we scrimmaged yesterday and I came home smiling. I told my wife. She said, ‘Wow, was it good?’ I said, ‘It was our worst scrimmage since I’ve been the coach here.’ I’ve got both feet and hands on the panic button right now. I’m just hoping that they needed to play against somebody else and they just got tired of each other. Because if not, I’m going to have to be the most patient soul on the earth when we start the season like 0-6. ‘Just be patient.’ That’s what you should say to me: be patient. Because I like the team. Not playing hard enough. Not enough team defense. Everyone is still locked into their own thing. ‘I need my stuff,’ instead of making easy plays. ‘I’ve gotta make a play.’ And so, it leads to turnovers or putting guys in bad positions. We have a ways to go. And again, we’ve got 10 new guys. ‘You do it every year.’ We have 10 new players. So, we’re not very good right now, but I think in time we should be OK.”

On a young team not having a Blue-White Game or exhibitions and how helpful those games are usually to get a team prepared in a normal season …
“I’m not worried about giving people a feel. I’m worried about giving me a feel. Like, what is this team? And so, no exhibition. We’ve scrimmaged in the past (Blue-White). We’ve had none of that. They’ve only played against themselves. They’re tired. They’re playing our plays, if you know what I’m saying. They know what the plays are. They’re playing against each other. And so, it’s hard to make a pass. And again, guys, as you’re doing this, you and I know there are certain games, certain guys that will stand up and other guys will stand up, and by the end of the year, we’ll have seven guys that have scored 25 or 30 in a game. But, you’re not doing it every game. We’re still—we’re not trusting everything. We’re not trusting each other. We’re not trusting how we’re playing. You would say, ‘Well, why wouldn’t they? Haven’t they seen the history of what’s happened for the kids?’ Yes, but, ‘I want to do this.’ So, they’re fighting it a little bit. We’ve got good kids. We’re asking guys to do stuff they’ve never done before, which means they’re going to be a little uncomfortable. Asking them to create habits they’ve never had before, which means they’re a little bit uncomfortable. We have shot blockers; we just don’t block any shots. I don’t understand it, but we don’t. We have length but we’re not really good defensively right now, and I think a lot of it is team defense.”

On playing Richmond, an experienced team that thrives on playing against indecisive teams, on Sunday …
“We haven’t because we have Morehead (first). They haven’t heard me talking about Richmond. There are things we’re doing in practice to try to prepare them, so the day between the Richmond game we’ll say, ‘Remember all that stuff we were doing? Here’s why we were doing it.’ Their experience, their ability to control the game, to make you play through every possession. If you play 15 seconds, you’re getting beat. You’ve got to play the whole possession. On offense, because of how they play, you cannot take high-risk plays. You’ve gotta be efficient offensively. Attack and run and get in the lane. But not make a 50-50 play. It’s gotta be a 70-30 or 80-20 or don’t make it. If you’re going to take a bad shot against them, you take it late in the clock. Me saying all that to you, we have no chance of being like that. Just so you know. It’s the third game of the year, 10 new players. They’ve never played against a college team let alone a team that runs, quote, Princeton kind of stuff. I’ve got two feet and two hands on the panic button. If I was worried about Richmond right now, I would have my head pushing it down, too.”

On if there is any one aspect of a game that would keep him up before an opener and in what ways that’s magnified during this unique time …
“The mistake I may have made with this group, I should have worried more about fight and playing the whole possession. Done less – maybe not had enough to really win a game – like, less offense, less out of bounds, less situational work and more throw it up, let’s go. Fight. Every drill, fight. Body to body. But you worry (about) injury. You worry about, you’ve gotta play games. You worry (about) our schedule, which is way, way too top heavy – way, way too top heavy for this group. So, you try to balance it, but I think I went a little bit too much (of), let’s be prepared to look like a basketball team. One of the teams I coached here, my first year, was the worst execution team I had, but they would fight and we won a lot of games. We knew, that team, we could win a national championship unless shooting did us (in). In the Elite Eight we shoot 0 for 22 from the 3 or whatever it was. But we knew that’s the one thing that could get us and it hit us that time. But this team, if we’re not fighting, if we’re not playing full possessions, if we’re playing tired – like, ‘I played every minute in high school’ – you can’t. You’ve gotta keep it on. It’s all stuff that I think we’re going to have to learn as we go.”

On playing against his son, Brad, on Friday …
“I’ve already told our team, ‘If anybody blocks his shot, you’re out.’ And I told him we’re going to play a box-and-one. ‘So, you’re not getting any balls, just so you know.’ But, I’m so proud of him. I’ll tell you what, what he’s done discipline wise. His diet. What he’s done training. He went up to South Dakota and trained on his own. Like, he said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ And he stayed in the hotel and washed his own sheets. He loves his team. He loves Mike (Davis). He said their team is better. He won’t give me any hints on how they’re going to play or anything like that. I said, ‘Well, how do you think you’re going to play?’ He said, ‘Dad, do you think I’m going to tell you? We’re trying to beat you.’ I want him to play well and we want to beat Detroit. The only problem is Mike’s kid could go for 50, and so you better have someone to guard him and you better understand he’ll ball fake you, he’ll get you to foul. That’s how he plays. And he could get 50 on my team. I don’t have an Ashton Hagans that I can say, ‘We got this. We’re OK.’ We don’t have that guy. He’s playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.”

On if this feels like uncharted territory with 10 new players even with his normal roster turnover …
“Yeah. It was a different kind of team. Maybe a more physical team. This team isn’t really physical. The team I had in ’14 (2013-14 season), we started five freshmen. The two guards (the Harrison twins) were physical. Julius (Randle) was physical. Even James Young was physical. And I think, was Dakari (Johnson) on that team? I think he was. He was physical. So, this team doesn’t have that physique. If you remember that team, we didn’t figure it out until March and then we tweaked some stuff and it totally changed who we were. But early on, I mean, we played Michigan State and we were down 20. It was like we were getting smoked. Not quite as bad as when we had Tyler Herro and that crew when they had us down 40. This is a different one. Trying to get them on the same page. I think what’s going to happen is, they’ve gotta get smacked a little bit to where they’re looking at me like, ‘Coach, tell us how we gotta do this because we’re not liking this.’ I think the biggest thing this group—I just met with two of the guys, which is why I was a little late. They gotta understand we’re all tied together. Your jobs are to pick each other up. Your jobs are to make it easier for each other. If you’re out here doing your own thing and these two guys struggle, you two, all the stuff you think is going to happen ain’t happening. Believe me, I’ve done this 35 years. I know I look 40 but I’ve done it a long, long time. And so now, you’ve gotta be those guys. Can’t have body language. Can’t have meltdowns. You’ve gotta be with these guys and really locked in. Yesterday showed us that we have that in us. Oh my gosh. Let’s hope we got it out yesterday, because if that becomes who we are, whew, going to be rough.” 


#10, Davion Mintz, Gr., G

On what he’s learned from Devin Askew …

“Just to attack practice every day with a competitive spirit. Just being able to teach him the fact that you have to have a great relationship on the court and that’s by him competing against me every day and that’s by me competing against him every day. That’s just us guys wanting better for each other. It’s been fun and he’s been doing really well so far.”

On how much he’s relied upon to lead this team if Keion Brooks Jr. is out this week …

“It’s tough to kind of say that I replace responsibility for a guy like Keion (Brooks Jr.), a guy who was significant to a really good team last year and a guy who has been very mature for us. Even though he hasn’t had his presence with us on the court, he has been doing a lot of things off the court as far as team meetings. So, I’m still learning the type of things from him, although he’s younger than me, but he’s just been here and has a sense of knowing. It’s been fun and I also do have to step up in that nature and keep guys level-headed. I’ve got to carry that culture that he brings to the program even though he isn’t playing right now.”

On where this team stands heading into the season after it seems Coach Cal is worried …

“Right now, we didn’t have our best scrimmage yesterday. Hopefully, we got the kinks out. We wrecked the car yesterday just to get it back rolling for Wednesday. It’s just one of those things where I feel like it has to happen, and it was a humbling experience. I think we’re just fine. I think we’re tired of playing each other. That was like the biggest problem for the flaws yesterday. I think we’re just really excited to get out there and play other people. I mean, it’s been the same faces for I don’t even know how many months now. We’re right there at the finish line. We’re just ready to get it going.”

On the arena’s atmosphere with fewer fans …

“We’re trying our best. They had like a crowd simulation noise at our scrimmage. Times are very different. I personally – and I’m sure my teammates with the kind of players we have – like to perform in front of big crowds. Fortunately, enough we’ll be able to have some people there, some sort of support. We’re definitely going to have to find energy from within ourselves. I know that it will be very different. I say that it will actually be pretty tough coming out starting, but like I said we have to find energy from within each other, kind of get each other motivated. Realize that we are on TV playing, so there’s still our fans around the world watching. Just try to make it work.”

On how he is mentoring the younger players through the pandemic …

“Just by having people that I talk to that they’re helping me through the situation. I mean, I’m going through it too. It’s pretty tough, and just sharing information that I’m talking with my previous teammates and my friends across the country. Guys who have had situations where we could go home and see families and how they’re coping with not having that luxury anymore and just sharing that with these guys here. Everyone is facing what we’re going through right now. We’re probably in the gym than a lot more people across the country, so that’s helping us. It’s just one of those things that we can’t escape from. We have to deal with it and we have to act responsibly until times are better for us to go back to some sort of normalcy again.”

On what has been the most difficult part of the isolation …

“The isolation part, just not being able to get out and experience. You’ve got to be very careful with where you’re going, curfew times, just trying to be mentally sane. Knowing, all right, it’s probably safer for me to go to the gym or Door Dash food than go get it myself.’ It’s just having the responsibility is the hardest part.”

On what he feels his emotions will be the first time he steps on the floor …

“I’m definitely very excited. I feel anxious is probably the better word. I can’t even remember my first freshman game. I might have air balled it. I don’t even know. I think that Coach Cal prepares us for. Like, he puts us in situations and we’re playing against guys every day to where like you don’t even really think about failure when you’re with Coach Cal. He puts you into situations where it’s OK to fail with him. I feel like this is the most comfortable I’ve felt going into a season. I know that I’ve matured and got older through it, but why I also probably feel a little bit more comfortable. But just the fact that Cal has prepared me and prepared us and got us to the mental state of going out there and playing a season. It’s really good to be in this mindset right now.”

On what goes through his mind when he sees other teams’ games being called off …

“That’s the tough part right now especially going right to the tipoff that you have these unfortunate things happen. That’s another tough part. You’ve just got to stay focused through the situation and know the importance of health and wearing a mask and the importance of social distancing because it could easily be us if we have the smallest slipup. This is still important for us guys. We try not to get too caught into the negative of what’s going on and guys losing a few weeks into the season. We’re just really trying to focus on us and make sure that we’re doing our parts so we can’t be to blame when things like this happen.”

On if it is tougher on the younger guys …

“I think it’s tough for us all. It’s kind of very different for those guys because they haven’t had the normal experience. I feel terrible for them because these are really good players and really good guys. Everyone deserves an opportunity to showcase their talent in front of big crowds. But it’s completely different and who knows when it will change.”

On what this team will fall back on in crunch time or when their backs are against the wall …

“Just our trust. I mean, our principles that Cal has been teaching us. Like one big thing that we have focused on and that he’s tried to help us with: Don’t worry about making or being the guy that has to be the playmaker. Rely on your teammates. Trust your teammates and realize that it is so much harder when you feel like you’re the guy who has to do everything. Realize that you’re out there with a bunch of talented guys. If you’re not on, maybe the next man is. Just figure out who has the hot hand, and in the moment, who is getting things done whether it’s anyone. Hopefully, I don’t feel like everyone is going to be off, but just trying to be together and trust that someone can get it done and rely on the great coaching that we’ve had preparing us for these couple of months.”


#30, Olivier Sarr, Sr., F

On how much of a responsibility does he feel to be a leader …

“Keion did a great job so far being on the sideline, talking to the guys, being a leader because he knows. He’s been through it already. I think for Davion and I, it’s going to be a responsibility for the first few games. It’s going to be on us to make sure that everybody is locked in, making sure that we huddle up every time we can and talk to the guys, guide them and lead them through the first few games.”

On what the players think about Coach Cal indicating they may struggle to begin the season …

“Yesterday’s scrimmage wasn’t the best, obviously. But we’re not thinking about the second, third or fourth game. Right now, we’re thinking about Morehead State. That’s our next game. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re going to give our all, and like we’ve seen yesterday, we have to be ready from the jump. That’s the biggest takeaway.”

On what made yesterday’s scrimmage tough …

“I think that we didn’t bring the energy from the jump. The second team really punched us in the mouth from the get-go. It took us time to react. Stay organized. A lot of mistakes are going to happen, but we’ve got to stay locked in.”

On what excites him about the potential of this team …

“Yeah, I mean, first off we have depth. That means that the other team, our team, the second team that played against, the blue team, really did a great job. That means that we have other guys that are ready. So, it makes the five guys that are starting yesterday realize that you have to pick it up from the jump because we have a lot of options and if it’s not you it’s going to be somebody else. But that’s good for our team. The positive is that we failed yesterday. We failed early. And like Coach said, we’d rather fail at practice than Wednesday for our first game. But we learned a lot. We’re going to watch film. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and be ready for our first game.”

On how excited the team is to play against another opponent …

“Yeah, I think everybody is just ready to go out there and compete for Kentucky against another team. I think it’s been great. We worked out a lot. It was a great summer, a lot of practices together. But I think guys are definitely ready to play another opponent.”

On who made up the starting five …

“The usual like you’ve seen in the scrimmage before. The white team against the blue team.”

On who he played with …

“The white team was Devin (Askew), BJ (Boston), TC (Terrence Clarke), Isaiah (Jackson) and myself.”

On if he celebrates Thanksgiving in France and if not, what he makes of it …

“No, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all. It’s not part of our culture. But, as long as it’s good food I’m ready for it. I’ll celebrate it every time.”

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.