Once again this season, 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.
Last night, Calipari joined the show to break down Kobe Bryant’s death and his initial thoughts, Kentucky’s recent victory over Texas Tech, Nick Richards building confidence and winning national awards, and the team’s upcoming matchup against Vanderbilt, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the John Calipari Show on Monday evening:
Kobe Bryant’s tragic death hit Calipari hard
When asked about the passing of Kobe Bryant on Sunday, Calipari told the story of his time as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets back in 1996 when he had the opportunity to take the then-high school sensation in the draft.
“I had the [eighth] pick in the draft, and everyone thought I was nuts,” Calipari said. ‘”A 17 year old kid, a high school kid who’s just now getting to the NBA? It shows you don’t know what you’re doing.” But anyway, through all those times, all the years we came in contact. One time he said, “You know if you drafted me, you would still be in the NBA.” He said that too. Just a great, great guy.”
Calipari added that he didn’t want to put anything out the night of his death other than a prayer.
“I didn’t even want to put anything out last night, I just put a prayer out for him. Because, what are you going to say?” Calipari said. “People know all he did on the court, things he did off the court, the impact he had out west, the impact he had in Philly, the impact he had on his family. It was telling that he was taking his daughter to an AAU game that he was the coach.”
After all of the news came out, the Kentucky head coach added that all he wanted to do was sit down and cry.
“Fierce competitor, but he had a big heart. It was like, sick,” he said. “Then your second thought was, “Please don’t let anyone from his family be on there.” And then his daughter, that just made me want to cry. It’s so sad.”
Calipari said Bryant’s training regimen changed the game of basketball
Like many have said in the aftermath of Bryant’s death, Calipari added that the NBA legend changed the game of basketball, specifically with his competitive nature and training regimen.
“Let me just tell you the impact he had on the game,” the Kentucky head coach said. “His fight to win, his will to win. His ability to just never exchange baskets. His, “I’m coming after you every night, this is a dog fight.” What Kobe did, his training regimen was at a level that was so high that he dragged other players to that point.”
He told a story of a past encounter he had out in Las Vegas during a USA Basketball event that highlighted his commitment to bettering himself as a player.
“I was in Vegas when he was on the USA team,” he said. “You know how it is out there, you get up early because [of the time difference.] I got up at like 5 for something, went down for coffee, and he’s out with his trainer. Comes back a few hours later, they practice. I come back for a late dinner at like 7 o’clock, he’s leaving with his trainer again after he practiced. And guys went with him. He’d even used to do stuff in LA in the offseason at 4 o’clock in the morning. He changed what “master your craft” really meant. How he took care of his body.”
Calipari then compared Bryant’s impact on the game to Tiger Woods in golf.
“Just like Tiger Woods changed golf. He changed it in this way: he trained,” Calipari said. “Physically trained, lifted and ran. Golfers looked like me back then, had a belly, walked with a little waddle. Then Tiger [after training] started out-hitting them by 50 yards. Then they all started training like him. Now, they take trucks on tour that are all health equipment.”
His “Mamba” mindset also impacted the next step of his life, with Calipari noting that he wanted to be the best at everything he did, even outside of basketball.
“He won an Oscar for turning a book into a short movie. Then he wanted to be known as the best athlete ever in terms of investing. He was happy that LeBron moved past him [on the court].”
“Seeding doesn’t matter”
Switching over to his team and college basketball as a whole, Calipari noted that he wasn’t worried about seeding in the NCAA Tournament this season because everyone in the country is struggling right now.
“Seeding doesn’t matter this year. It doesn’t,” he said. “You don’t want to be a 16, but anywhere from 8-9 or up, it’s all the same. Even 10 or 11, probably the same. Basically, how certain teams are playing at the same. They’ll see who is playing well at the end of the year, depending on who you are. That’s my story and sticking to it.”
Kentucky had a great practice on Monday
After some inconsistent play over the last few weeks, it seems the team has found its groove with three consecutive wins, including two in hostile road environments.
And according to Calipari, a successful practice on Monday doesn’t lead him to believe a regression is likely.
“We had a great practice today,” Calipari said. “I’ve been on my conditioning stuff. Guess who finished first? Tyrese. He had such a good practice today. He told on himself. Now that I know he can finish first, I know he can do it every time. Conditioning, or what I’ll say lack of conditioning, it makes you surrender. We got better today. We get one practice a week where I can go two hours. [Tuesday] will be about an hour and 15 minutes maybe.”
In particular, he was impressed with the guards.
“Today, they were really good. And it makes me feel better that they understand,” he said. “The way we get better here is by competing in practice. … Ashton, look. His impact on the game goes beyond hust scoring. The way he guards, the way he comes up with all the tough balls. Tyrese, going against Ashton every day, it’s made him better. They make each other better. He’s learning that now. … Our guards, Immanuel Quickley has been terrific. He’s not even the same person he was a year ago.”
Nick Richards is as “confident as he’s ever been playing basketball”
The player turning his head the most, though? Nick Richards.
“Did you know Nick was National Player of the Week,” Calipari said. “In the league he was co-player, don’t know how that happens, but he was bouncing around practice. His boundless energy is from his conditioning and confidence. All the pain and suffering he went through, it was worth it for him. It was really hard.”
He credits Richards’ success to his conditioning and how hard he’s working on the practice floor.
“The thing i would say is he’s the most confident he’s ever been playing basketball,” Calipari said. “And it’s because he’s in the best shape of his life, and it’s not close. He can play minutes and not get tired. He doesn’t surrender. He can raise both hands and grab the ball. People always say “he used to fumble every ball.” Well yeah, he couldn’t raise his arms because he’s so tired. He’s in the best shape of his life. He comes every day. He said after the game that he picked a school for the one and done, stayed the course, and has had the best three years of his life. How about that?”
At the end of the day, he doesn’t want him to read anything written about him online, good or bad. Calipari wants him to keep a level head and continue to progress.
“I just want him to continue to grow. Don’t be satisfied,” Calipari said. “The press clippings are all positive, don’t buy it. Remember what they said a year ago. All of it is poison, don’t drink it. Good or bad, it’s poison.”
Keion Brooks Jr. is sick
Wondering why Keion Brooks Jr. struggled in minimal minutes down in Lubbock? Calipari said he’s dealing with an illness right now.
“Keion, we found out he was sick,” he said. “He didn’t practice [Monday]. Staff said there was something wrong with him, that’s why he didn’t play well [against Texas Tech].”
Dontaie Allen is not ready to play
Will we see freshman guard Dontaie Allen return to the floor anytime soon? Unfortunately, it’s not likely.
According to Calipari, he’s just not ready yet.
“Not at this point, I don’t think he’s ready to get on the court.”
This afternoon, UK assistant coach Joel Justus said Allen continues to work hard in practice, but the coaching staff refuses to rush him back.
“He’s practicing, he’s getting better,” Justus said. “I think Dontaie’s working hard and everyone’s on their own path and their own timetable. When Dontaie’s ready and willing to be ready to go — I think for us, there’s no rush on our part. I don’t think there’s any rush there. You want to make sure you’re in the right frame of mind and the right physical state of mind. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
How does Calipari get guys ready for pressure on the road?
After back-to-back road victories over Arkansas and Texas Tech, Calipari was asked about how he gets his team prepared for hostile environments.
“[Arkansas] must have had 4 to 5 thousand students lined up. The night before, there were about 1000 fans,” he said. “Two different lines, five or six people deep going on forever. They had all these tents lined up. [I asked my team,] are they here to see them or you? They weren’t out here last game? They’re here to see you. Show them something then.”
Does this team have confidence to extend leads past ten points?
When Calipari was asked about his team’s confidence in extending leads, he was quick to crack a joke on the matter.
“Why would you ask that? Every ten point lead goes to overtime,” he said.
In all seriousness, the Kentucky head coach said they watched film on his team’s tendencies after getting ten point leads and why they have been allowing teams to get back in the game.
“Today we watched, we were up 8 or 9 with six minutes to go [against Texas Tech],” Calipari said. “We run an action into more or less an isolation. But that guy doesn’t have to shoot it. That’s how we get it started. It’s not, “Here’s the movement, and you shoot it.” We worked on that a little bit today. I need to be clearer with what I want in practice.”
He said it also has to do with being tougher on the glass on both ends of the floor. Either way, though, he knows Kentucky will find itself in tough situations to close out games.
They just need to capitalize.
“Blocking, getting tough rebounds, that too. They’re getting better,” he said. “We’re going to be in close games. Vandy is good enough to beat us. The only reason they’re losing games is they’re missing threes. you know how that goes against us. They’re good enough to beat us. I’m more concerned with us playing we need to and getting better. And we’re doing that.”
Coaches wants more consistency from EJ Montgomery
To close things out, Calipari complimented EJ Montgomery for his play in spurts down in Lubbock.
The only issue? There were stretches in-between those positive spurts where he didn’t make an impact on the floor. Calipari feels a lot of that has to do with conditioning, something they are actively working on.
“EJ not only defended, but he did a really good job blocking out,” Calipari said. “The first six minutes of the game, how well did EJ play? How do we extend that for the whole game? Better condition. That’s it. Moving your feet, blocking shots, rebounding how he does. In my mind, it’s about getting in better shape. When he stops settling for being in the middle of the pack. Instead of six minutes, how do we get 20 minutes or beyond?”