There was a role reversal in the postgame locker room after Kentucky’s win over Mississippi State. Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe played poorly, so John Calipari made them get up and hug Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel, who turned in arguably their best performances of the season. The moment was a 180 from the North Carolina game, after which Cal made Derek and Wenyen hug Malik to thank him for covering up their mistakes with his 47-point performance.
“[Briscoe] and Malik just played bad last game, and they had to go hug Derek and Wenyen. So, the hug went the other way this time. Those two saved those two guards.”
Monk really drew Calipari’s ire after he pulled up on the rim on a dunk, which earned him a technical and a spot on the bench. After the game, Cal likened the moment to Karl Towns’ technical for chinning up on the rim at LSU in 2015, but today, he compared Malik to another of his former players: John Wall.
“Here’s what I’m trying to explain to him. He is so good, just playing hard and making easy plays, you’ll do three outrageous things they’ll put on SportsCenter. Not even trying! You’re trying to get on SportsCenter. And if you remember, I went through that with John Wall and I said the same thing. John, you don’t have to lose your mind and do something nutty. Just play hard and you’ll make a play. And then he goes 1-9 but that one play was so outrageous they put it on SportsCenter. He’s the same.”
As for Briscoe, Calipari said the two met this week and after Briscoe admitted he played badly vs. Mississippi State (as he did after the UCLA game as well), Cal pointed out how far he’s come since last season.
“Here’s what I love. He and I met, I had a call, and I called him into the office. Two or three people called me, basketball people, and after the Mississippi State game, said, ‘He is so much better as a player.’ It’s incredible. He’s making free throws, he can make perimeter shots, his decision making. He’s even better defensively and rebounding than he was a year ago. It’s incredible. So when I called him in, I just said, ‘How do you think you played?’ He said, ‘I was awful.’ I said, ‘You were awful, but let me tell the calls I’m getting about you. Part of the reason this is happening, instead of blaming me that you were awful — a year ago — you’re taking responsibility yourself, that this is your performance, not mine, and that’s how you’re getting better.'”
What gives Calipari faith that Monk and Briscoe’s struggles in Starkville were the exception, not the norm? After a long day of film and practice, he looked out his office window last night and saw Monk and Briscoe putting in their own workout, long after their teammates had showered and gone back to the lodge.
“I look out my window and Malik and Isaiah are in a full body workout, totally soaked, going again. Proud of that. Makes me feel great because they have to master their craft. They have to be responsible for their own performance and not blame. If you blame, you’re not getting better. If you take responsibility, you’ll get better. You’ll figure it out.”