For the first and only time in June, Kentucky head coach John Calipari spoke to the media today for well over 30 minutes long, breaking down just about anything and everything you’d want to know about the current state of the UK basketball program.
Among those topics? Whether or not the 2019-20 roster is complete, what he thinks about the team, Brad Calipari’s transfer status, and his thoughts on various proposed rule changes, among several others.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Calipari’s presser today:
Potential addition? It’s possible
The biggest story of the day had to do with Coach Cal’s thoughts on his current roster and whether or not he felt another addition was possible before the season starts.
In short, he’d be content with rolling into the year with what he has now, but if another opportunity presented itself, he’d certainly consider it.
“I’m really happy with where we are right now,” he said. “If there is anything that can help us, and also help the player, then I would consider that.”
Part of the reason another addition is on the table? Injury insurance. While likes the pieces he has up front, they are just one injury away from only having two available big men. And though he’s flirted with small ball lineups and he could probably work in four-guard sets, he’d rather not have to risk it.
“You’ve got [three] guys, but what if one of them gets hurt? Now you’re playing four guards, which I haven’t done before, but I can figure it out,” he said.
Another reason why he’d be open to going all-in on the roster he has now for 2019-19? He’s expecting breakout performances from all four of his key returning players next season.
In fact, he used the term “breakout year” in reference to three of them.
The first two he pointed out? Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards.
“This group, the three guys that obviously considered leaving to go to the NBA, Ashton [Hagans] who I think will have a breakthrough year based on the fact that he gets it now. He’s going to be much more focused on things,” Calipari said. “You talk about Nick [Richards], I fully expect this to be his breakout year. The opportunity, the minutes, and where he is maturity wise and physically.”
For sophomore point guard Immanuel Quickley, though Calipari believes he shot well last year and did “some really good stuff,” he’s expecting a completely different player next season.
“He played well, shot the ball well. He’s gotten better,” he said. “Again, I expect him to have a breakout year. He did some really good stuff last year. … But he’s one of the great teammates, terrific. Got so much better defensively, like so much better defensively. And he’s getting a better feel for this.”
While he didn’t use the term “breakout” specifically for Montgomery, the sophomore forward got arguably the biggest praise of all the returning players.
Calipari said that he expects Montgomery to be a “difference maker” on this team and that there are only four or five players he has coached in the past with as much upside as he has.
“You know, he will be a difference maker on both ends because he can block shots, he’s quick to the ball. He’s got to get physically stronger and mentally a little tougher. He’s got to be in some wars, all of those kinds of things. The upside for him is ridiculous,” he said. “I think his upside is as much as (anyone). I’ve had about four or five guys maybe I would say were beyond where he is, but there’s not many that have the upside that he has.”
In fact, Calipari pointed out that the last time he had this much talent return was during the 2014-15 season when the Harrison twins, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Alex Poythress all decided to come back.
And we all know how that season went.
“We have four really quality players back,” Calipari said. “The last time we had four players back who were quality players like that was 2014-15. I enjoy coaching guys two, three and four years. In this, what I do, you just want people when they leave to be prepared and ready for success. That’s the whole thing. We’ve had some guys leave too early, but it wasn’t my choice. They were counseled, ‘It might be too early. You might want to think about this.’ But, when they decide to do it, you’re all over it to help them. But, it’s nice to have guys back.”
When discussing how he wants his players to prepare over the offseason, Calipari was quick to say he wants individual workouts to be kept to a minimum and group efforts being the focus for the team.
In his eyes, dribbling around cones by yourself does nothing for your development. He wants to see pickup basketball and legitimate competition in the Joe Craft Center.
“In a pickup game where there are no real rules or officiating and a guy plays so loose and calm, you look at him and say, ‘Wow.’ My point is that’s the mindset you have to be in when you’re playing,” he said. “If [playing without structure] takes away from you as a player, it’s your responsibility to figure, ‘How do I get back in that mode where I’m swinging freely? How do I get back in that? Every time I make a mistake I’ve got to come out, I’ve got to quit.’ Stop. Those are excuses.
“How do you get into that mindset? Playing freely. That’s why I want them to play pickup. I watch you in a pickup game, you’re unbelievable. I hate to tell you, but I’m going to be watching every game. You better figure out how you play with me watching, because I watch.”
Calipari then referred to an email he received recently about avoiding excuses and complaining at all costs. He’s implementing that in his own life as a coach, and he wants his players to do the same.
“I just read a great email of a minor league baseball coach. No excuses, no complaining [was the message],” he said. “How could I ever complain about anything? What’s happened for me in my life, I’m coaching at Kentucky. I say to my players, ‘You’re playing at Kentucky. You have an opportunity for the rest of your life. What would you complain about? What would you make excuses about?’ You have that habit. It’s always somebody else and I’m making an excuse why I’m not what I’m supposed to be, whether it’s the coach, whether it’s another player, whether it’s the officials, whether you’re tired. It’s an excuse.”
At Kentucky, the proof is in the pudding. If you work hard enough, you can become one of the 35 players that have gotten drafted and part of the $2 billion players from Kentucky have earned in the NBA.
“You’re at Kentucky. (Thirty-five) guys have gotten drafted, (19) in the lottery, $2 billion in contracts, take what you want. No one holds you back,” Calipari said. “You’ve got a coaching staff that promotes everybody, not one or two guys. … This is different. Think of any of our players. If they’re making excuses or complaining, stop. We don’t do that here. How do I get better? What’s the next step? My staff and me, we should be the same way. We’re at Kentucky. Are you kidding me?”
Speaking of Calipari coaching at Kentucky, he also addressed the offer he received from UCLA this offseason and the “lifetime contract” UK responded with not long after.
In short, Coach Cal said that while he owes it to himself and his profession to keep an open mind, he has no reason to ever leave Lexington. Everything he would ever need is right here.
“Everybody would say, ‘Why would he ever leave Kentucky for anywhere?’ You’re right. Why would I?” the Kentucky head coach said. “What would lead me, a better situation more committed to basketball? Money? Staff? Tell me why I would do this?”
Calipari said that he worked his entire career to get to Kentucky, and he is certainly in no rush to ever leave it.
“‘He’s tired of being here. He’s tired of the fans.’ Really? This is, your whole career you’re trying to get to a point where you’re at a program where it really matters and fans are engaged, you never have to sell a ticket, your son does something small and it trends nationally,” he said. “If I speak, it’s like what did I say that they went crazy about? This is the place, and where else can you prepare young people for the rest of their lives the way we do here?”
Back in May, the NCAA announced a proposal that would push the 3-point line back to the distance FIBA uses, 22 feet and 1.75 inches, from its original distance of 20 feet and nine inches. If approved this week, the rule would be effective for the upcoming 2019-20 season.
In short, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee said the change would create more space available in the lane for more dribble-drive plays from the perimeter.
When asked about the proposed rule change, Calipari said he isn’t sure how he feels about it quite yet, but he’d be open to the possibility.
“The 3-point line going back, well, it’ll open up the lane maybe,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know. The idea may be that they want everybody on the same plane from FIBA to whatever. That may be the reason. Either way it doesn’t matter to me, but there are other things that I think would be important.”
Some of the other ideas he was a fan of? Shortening the shot clock after an offensive rebound and having the ability to challenge calls late in the game.
“I like that [on shorter shot clock time after offensive rebound],” he said. “I think there should be challenged calls late in the game. You should be able to challenge a call, a made call or a non-made call. I challenge that. They go to the monitor and look at it. ‘Oh, it will extend the game.’ Are we worried about time or getting it right – who wins, who loses? Wouldn’t you want to get it right?”
The 3-point rule will be voted on tomorrow by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
Terrence Jones is returning to Lexington
One little nugget Calipari tossed into his press conference was the fact that former Kentucky forward Terrence Jones would be returning to school so he could work toward getting his degree.
Coach Cal says that Jones, who currently plays for TNT KaTropa of the Philippine Basketball Association, is hoping to get back to the states and earn a roster spot with an NBA team in the near future. During that time, he’ll be taking classes at UK.
“I just talked to Terrence Jones, who is coming back to campus to start academics,” he said. “He was here two years, so now what’s great, he’s going through this process of trying to get back into the NBA. You always have a backstop. You can come back. Your education is paid for.”