For the second time in as many weeks, John Calipari sat down for his weekly call-in radio show with Tom Leach on Monday evening.
Like Mark Stoops does during football season, Calipari uses this time to break down his team’s recent performances, what to expect against future opponents, and update the fans on potential injuries.
This evening, Calipari talked about his team recovering from a rough stretch of games, Camp Cal starting up soon, and injury updates on Dontaie Allen and Nate Sestina, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the John Calipari Show tonight:
Calipari is impressed with Lynn Bowden and the Kentucky football team
Before he could get into any basketball talk, Calipari was asked about UK football star Lynn Bowden and his ability to put the team on his back.
“When you’re an athlete, and by the way, I got to meet Logan [Stenberg] and Calvin [Taylor] downstairs, and I had to get on my toes because I didn’t want to look short,” Calipari said. “I said to them “Let’s go to Florida somewhere [for the bowl]. But as an athlete on a team sport, you always want to know if your attitude and spirit pick people up to do good. Or do you bring people down?”
He looked back at a play he saw involving Bowden rolling his ankle and his response afterward. It was a response the Kentucky head coach wants his team to learn from in terms of overcoming adversity.
“The play I remember, Lynn rolled his ankle, bad,” he said. “He got so mad because he rolled his ankle, and I didn’t think he would be able to go back in. You can have that one guy will the rest of the guys to win, and I’ve had basketball players like that. Michael [Kidd-Gilchrist] was that way. I’m just happy for them, I’m happy for their staff. It’s not easy when you have injuries, especially at quarterback. But when you have a leader like that, you let him do his thing.”
He then tipped his cap to Mark Stoops and what he’s doing with the football program not only this year, but as a whole.
“It was a great decision by Mark [to move forward with Bowden at quarterback],” he said. “He’s been here seven years, and it hasn’t been easy. Someone told me they have 18 redshirts, 18 guys coming back. It’s a great thing to look at and watch, to walk in our stadium and know what it’s like. It’s neat.”
Basketball players are adjusting to playing for others
For most of the players on the Kentucky basketball team, they grew up being placed up on a pedestal and playing for themselves.
Now in Lexington, they are adjusting to playing for their teammates and putting others in position to succeed.
“These kids are so young, most of their life their thoughts are about themselves and their own satisfaction,” Calipari said. “They sleep at night dreaming about themselves. Then they come here and they have to be about someone other than themselves or they won’t survive. They’re teaching them about joy, it needs to bring unbelievable joy to you. When you invest that kind of time, you won’t surrender. One play doesn’t change you. If a player is struggling, you go get two easy shots for them to make them comfortable and give them confidence.”
Calipari got advice from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro today
Practice started on a positive note today, with Calipari saying the players “came in with an unbelievable attitude.”
“I was so happy with the attitude of guys on our team today at practice,” he said. “They came in with an unbelievable attitude. When you’re working hard, sometimes the success doesn’t come on your time. You can’t start thinking “This isn’t working.”
Then, Calipari said he called Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro and told them he was trying to get his team to be more physical.
“I called Bam today and said “What are you doing where all these reporters are calling me?” He laughed, said he got another double-double,” Calipari said. “I said “Bam, I’m trying to get these guys to fight. I want them to dominate against the guys they are playing against, fighting the other guys.” He said, “If you don’t fight, you can’t play in the NBA. Tyler Herro said the same thing, said “You can’t play here if you aren’t fighting. You’re not making it.” You must fight, you can’t exchange baskets, you need to look and say “I’m beating you.”
Either they thrive defensively or lose early in the tournament
Calipari said for this team to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year, they have to be an “unbelievable defensive team.”
If not, they’ll be out early. Simple as that.
“We must be an unbelievable defensive team, or we will not be playing in March or April,” he said. “Every time you get on the court, if you’re not defending, we can’t win. I love you, I’ll make breakfast for you, but I can’t play you. If you don’t have defensive confidence, you won’t have offensive confidence. You get scored on five times in the row, you’re going to be so confident on the other end. No you’re not! You’re going to air ball five times in a row. You want to be a confidence player, you be a defensive player.”
… and Ashton Hagans has to lead the charge on that front
Calipari said Hagans has the ability to be the best point guard in all of college basketball, but only if he remains disciplined.
“Look at Ashton, he’s so confident defensively, he almost gets undisciplined,” he said. “If it were up to me, I’d say he’s the No. 1 point guard in the nation. He’s shooting 90% from the free throw line, 50% from the floor. If i had to take one [point guard], I’d take him. But when he’s undisciplined, he’s not very good. When he takes chances, some of our freshman have to [clean up his mistakes], and they’re just not ready for that.”
What does he expect from Camp Cal in the coming weeks?
Every year, the Kentucky players go through “Camp Cal,” a teaching and coaching experience throughout the team’s winter break.
“Here’s what’s crazy. We’re starting, I’m not doing two-a-days yet. It’ll be more [like three-a-days],” he said. “We’ll do something in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Could be a film session, could be dinner with the team, could be free throws, could be a movie together, but that’s when they’re out of school [for winter break]. Sunday we had a great practice, today we had a terrific practice. We’re off tomorrow, then we’re back at it on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before we play Saturday. Then we repeat it all next week.”
For Calipari, it’s an opportunity to finally get in practice and work on things like defense and inbound passes.
“Camp starts when they’re out of school,” he said. “They’ll have two and a half weeks without class, and then it’ll be just basketball. We haven’t had time to [learn different things in practice], now we’ll have time.”
Overall, he’s hoping for a more consistent effort.
“I want a more consistent effort [during Camp Cal]. We’ll play 30 minutes of really good basketball,” he said. “Against [Lamar], we were up 46 points in 30 minutes, in the other 10 we were down 21. We need to be able to sustain. We’ve done that where we should have won by 30, and we only win by 8. You look up the score and it says we’re up by just three. THREE? I know the importance of game-to-game, but I just have to know each guy is bought in, and from there, it’s easy.”
This is a veteran-led team
A major reason for optimism for Calipari? The veterans are thriving and leading this basketball team.
“The great news for us is that we have four veterans,” he said. “Nick is playing out of his mind. He’s feeling good about himself, he’s confident. No one can take that away from him. EJ shot it really well. What more can you ask for from a 6-foot-11 forward with his skill? Immanuel is playing really well, he can make baskets. Ashton, we’ve got four vets.”
Now, he wants them to help the young guys catch up so the team can reach their full potential.
“It’s their team, and I’m telling them that they have to drive this,” Calipari said. “In practice with the freshmen, make them fight you, and then fight them back. If we’re not fighting, we won’t be playing in late March and April. But if we do, we can be special.”
When will Dontaie Allen and Nate Sestina return to action?
Calipari had some fairly positive news on Dontaie Allen, with the Kentucky head coach saying the freshman wing was a full participant in practice for the very first time today.
“He practiced today for the first time,” he said. “When we played five on five, he jumped in. He’s behind, but it was great seeing him out there. It was rough out there though, we could’ve had football helmets on. He walked in and was like “What in the world?”
As for Nate Sestina, he says he’s still on the same timeline as before, with a re-evaluation coming in the next few weeks.
“He was supposed to get an appointment today, he was at practice today on the side,” he said. “I think he’s still 2-3 weeks away. He’ll probably get re-evaluated after two weeks, look at his pain and all those things. Then we’ll see.”
Nick Richards is looking like Willie Cauley-Stein
Through seven games, Richards is averaging 14.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per contest, nearly doubling (at the least) his numbers in all three categories from last year.
Calipari actually feels he’s playing like former Kentucky star Willie Cauley-Stein right now, being a difference maker on both ends of the floor.
“He really reminds me of Willie Cauley-Stein in his third year,” he said. “In his third year, you started seeing him do things both offensively and defensively. PJ took time. It takes two or three years, what’s the problem? Every kid is on their own path. I want kids leaving when they’re mentally and physically ready to succeed, when they’re ready to go. ”
Again, he wants more fight
In a point he seems to be making quite regularly, Calipari said he’s begging his team to fight and be physical on both ends of the floor.
He went through several players and broke down whether or not they were accomplishing those goals at this point in time.
“The one who has learned to fight and play from behind is Johnny Juzang. He was behind everybody, but he just kept working. There had to be down times where he was down on himself, but he kept fighting. Now, he’s playing as well as anybody,” Calipari began.
“Tyrese [Maxey] plays tough defensively, but offensively, he doesn’t play with physicality. Kahlil [Whitney] is getting there, he struggled offensively, but I’m confident in him.
“Keion [Brooks Jr.] is learning to fight. He’s a skilled basketball player, but he’s learning how to fight. Who did I have him going against today? Nick! Nick got the first two offensive rebounds on him, and then Keion fought through and got the next rebound, almost threw Nick out of bounds. Fight! Battle! If you’re watching the ball, you’re going to get killed. Either you create contact, or they create contact and you get thrown out of the play. This is all new.
“EJ was really good. He had as much aggressive offensive guard (as we’ve seen). That’s what we want. We want him to fight for post-ups, make aggressive plays at the basket. He should be a great shot-blocker (with Nick Richards).”
All in all, though, he’s having a great time coaching this team and feels they can be special by the end of the year.
“Every year is a dog fight, and it keeps me going,” he said. “It keeps me up at night asking, “How can I get this player going? What can I do? How can I do this? Am I being too hard?” We’re changing it up every year. If you’re watched us play offensively, we’re playing differently from last year. This team is different from the team I had a year ago. Now, it’s like, how can we be an elite defensive team at the end of the year? Great kids, I’m having a ball. I told them I was having a ball today. I think they had a lot of fun today.