John Calipari is currently out of town, so he only had about 20 minutes to spend with Tom Leach on his radio show this week. But if you’ve ever heard Coach Calipari talk, you know he can fit plenty of words and ideas into those limited minutes.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from his abbreviated radio show.
Looking back: Vanderbilt recap
The main lesson from Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt, at least in Calipari’s mind, is simple: the Cats got it done on the road. Calipari challenged listeners to look around the country this season and realize one thing:
“If you win on the road, it’s a heck of a win.”
Additionally, he liked what he saw from a diversity standpoint. Tyrese Maxey may have (at least partially) stolen the show with a game-high 25 points, but Immnauel Quickley, Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans all notched double-digit point totals as well. That’s what Coach Cal is always looking for with his team, especially this time of the year.
“We had a lot of good play from a lot of different players – that’s what this is going to be about,” Calipari said on the air waves. “You don’t know what’s going to happen with foul trouble or anything else. You’ve got to have a team full of guys that are playing well. That’s happening.”
And finally, the question that was on everyone’s mind during Tuesday night’s game… What on Earth did Calipari say to his team at halftime?!
“They made eight threes and you guys missed six one-foot shots. Well, what do you think the score is going to be? You’re not going to be up.”
One of Calipari’s common threads this season (beside “fight and finish,” of course) has been the word empower. Throughout the past several months, Coach has repeatedly said either his team was empowered, or they should have been. Against the Commodores, Calipari saw a little bit of both.
He specifically referenced one moment the camera caught on tape – he only saw it upon reviewing the film. At one point in the game, Ashton Hagans wraps his arms around EJ Montgomery’s head and neck, and the two of them are just smiling, laughing and having fun together on the court. That’s the kind of team Calipari wants.
“When you’re truly happy with someone else’s success and it doesn’t infringe on you or your success, that’s when we get this. I saw that [Tuesday night] with that little move right there.”
Calipari was also happy to see the moment come from one of Montgomery’s fellow teammates, rather than from one of his coaches, saying “the encouragement can’t always come from staff.”
“If it’s player driven, those guys know. So yeah , it was good to see.”
He added there were still moments that showed the Cats’ lack of empowerment, and he says they’re not quite there yet in terms of taking the reins all for themselves. Still, little things like making their own suggestions in the huddle and holding their teammates accountable are steps in the right direction.
“Servant leadership is you care more about another person than about yourself. If you’re on a team where everybody has that mentality, you have an unbelievable basketball team. You know why? You’re on the floor with four guys who care about you, and you know it.”
Looking ahead: Ole Miss preview
Calipari also found some time to preview the Cats’ next opponent: Ole Miss, who will come to Rupp Arena this Saturday at 2 p.m. For Coach Cal, their ability to quickly switch up their style of play is the trickiest part of their game.
“They are really good. The way they’re playing right now both inside and out; throwing the 1-3-1, playing some zone, denying on man…,” Calipari said. “And they’ll change it up in the same possession. I just watched their last game [against Mississippi State], and that won the game for them… The 1-3-1 really hurt Mississippi State.”
The other big factor? Senior guard Breein Tyree.
“Their guards are playing good; they’re shooting the ball. My man [Tyree] has had three 30 point games in the last three games maybe? Maybe he had a 40 point game against South Carolina?,” Calipari asked.
Almost. Tyree is averaging 20 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists this season, and Calipari is dead-on about his recent hot streak. He’s been on fire throughout his team’s past three games, scoring 38 points against South Carolina, 23 against Florida and 40 against rival Mississippi State. The 6-foot-2 guard plays for an average of 34 minutes per game, and he’s been committing an average of just two turnovers per outing. Tyree is shooting 43 percent from the floor, 37 percent from behind the three-point line and 79 percent from the charity stripe.
Whether he’s talking to the fans, the media, his players or maybe even himself in the mirror, Calipari always “hypes up” the Cats’ next opponent. Still, he makes a valid point about this Ole Miss team.
“We’re going to need our fans and everybody else understanding – forget about the record,” Calipari said of the 13-11 Rebels. “Some teams let go of the ropes, and other teams are starting to build. Mississippi is one of those teams. They started off slow, they had some injuries and now they’re playing.”
For his full comments, watch the video stream posted on the official Kentucky basketball Facebook page here.