On if he still wants fans to pump the brakes on expectations after today’s win:
“Yeah, I do. What I liked is we started the game and couldn’t make a shot, and they come back and get it to four and there’s some adversity. You need some adversity. It’s the only way you can really learn. I like the fact that Reid [Travis] kind of busted through today because he struggled, but he’s still — he and I just talked and I said, your habit right now is to gather yourself. It isn’t going to work anymore. Not only here but if you want to be professional, that will not work. And he knows it. He says, you read my mind. I said, anytime there’s any kind of pressure, you’re going to revert to what you know best. And that’s what he knows best right now because we haven’t coached him. So I said, we’re going to get you to where you’re getting balls to the rim quicker, you’re shooting some runners and then go rebound your miss and you’re not going to gather yourself down and bust your way through. There are games he can do that, but not against the good teams.
I told the guys, I’m not intoxicated by this. I just told them, I’m not. At the end of the day, we should be a monster defensive team, we should be a great rebounding team, we should be a team that can fly up and down the court and take pressure on you, both sides of the ball. And we should be a team that shares because we’ve got a lot of guys that are skilled enough to play that way. It seems to me we’ve got some dogs. We’ve got a couple dogs and I like to have a couple dogs on the team that will not back away.
On not having to push guys like in years past:
What happens is, it’s contagious. If you remember, Brandon Knight came to Kentucky and kind of changed our culture and helped push us to where we were trying to go. This group of freshmen, I just told them, you guys are getting guys, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did — you either get in there and become more skilled or you go by the wayside. And it’s forced all the guys — the same thing for the motor. If you play with a high motor, there’s a guy or two out there that aren’t and it’s obvious that you all see it. Like, why isn’t he playing as hard as those guys? We haven’t had that. This is a group that is driving each other. I told them, our practices were so competitive for ten days and they said, you’re right. That these became, let’s play somebody else. It became a little easier for them because they were going at each other the way you’re seeing them go at these other teams.
On the high basketball IQ of this freshmen class:
We’re keeping it simple. We literally did not bog them down with defensive stuff. What I did probably the last three practice days, maybe the last four, was spend time showing them rotations defensively, switching defensively, back line switching, in other words, away from the basketball. We showed them that and had to really walk through it, but they picked it up and then they were doing it here which is making me say, wow because most of this stuff is higher level than us. It was, this is the next step of what you’re doing. Offensively, you’re trying to get them in a groove of how they have to play, not verses how someone else is playing. Quade right now, away from the ball, he’s unbelievable. He can score it, he figures out spots to go, he doesn’t have to pull the ball out. I want him off the ball. I just told him, you’re on a team with Keldon in the NBA, Keldon’s a point guard. You ain’t playing point guard! So be this guy and let them all know this kid can really play basketball. He can score the ball, he’s skilled, his decision making. ‘You know what? I want him on my team.’ And so, he’s doing it and he looks good doing it.
Ashton [Hagans], Immanuel [Quickley], two different things we have to work on. Tyler is playing well. I just told him, it’s good to play well like you did, but now, that’s a standard to grow from. Now you’re going to have to go from where you are to grow. That’s the downside of it.
What would have to happen on this trip to make him “intoxicated” with his team:
Here? It’s August. I’ve been doing this too long. EJ [Montgomery] didn’t even play. Let me say this: I’m happy. And I’m happy with the guys. I really like this team. They like each other, and I’ll say it again, when you’re comfortable in your own skin because you’re not trying to trick somebody, you’re not trying cut into anyone, you’re not the last guy in the gym, if you’re that guy, you want to drag people down to your level. Play games, mind games, but when everybody’s putting in the time and work and you’re comfortable in your own skin, you drag each other. Be happy with me, so I’ll be happy with you. And I’m happy with your success. It doesn’t infringe on my thing. But if you’re not that way and you’re trying to trick somebody, normally you’re the guy that wants to bring people down. Not this team.
On this team having a “Midnight Club” ala the “Breakfast Club” in 2011-12:
What would you call it? The Midnight Club? These dudes are in here at midnight, 1 a.m. I was happy with Quade. He missed every shot the first game, every single one and at midnight was in this room. And then came out and made his first three shots. Is it something I said? Is it something that I did? No.
Nick, I just told him, I had my wife come in and say something to him. She said to me the other day, he’s not even the same kid. He doesn’t walk the same, he doesn’t look the same, he doesn’t carry himself the same. So when I met with him, I said, Ellen, tell him what you said. And she told him all that and said, ‘I’m really proud of you.’ It’s a year. Wouldn’t I like to have guys for four years? That’s one year with him. The scouts out there, the guy they’re amazed with? Nick? Oh, they love Keldon, they love Tyler [Herro], they think PJ [Washington] is way better than he was, but they’re looking at Nick. And he’s seven-foot. If you look at the tape, he’s flying up and down the court.
On asking Reid Travis to change his game and break old habits:
It’s hard. Here’s what I do, I don’t really tell a guy to break habits because you spent 12 years playing that way. We’ve got to create new habits. That’s what I just told him. You’ve got to get quicker to the basket, runners, some little seven-foot shots — not jump shots, just get it to the rim quickly. It’s thrown to you, the first thought is to get it to the backboard. And we’ve got to work with him. We have not worked with him. We’ve done nothing with him. But we will when we get back.
On his old habits coming back:
It’ll pop out. When things get really hairy, he’ll revert, and then we’ll have to go back in the gym. Let’s go. We’ve got to have these new habits. And he said, sometimes it’s mental. He’ll catch it and the first thing is he’ll [gather]. And you just can’t do it. That’s why he came here. That’s why he wanted to be here. You see him on the perimeter shooting and see him making free throws, but how about this: a veteran player, first team all conference, came here and literally, it’s like relearning and he started and he had the jitters. Think about, he has jitters at his age, what about these 18-year-olds, in front of that crowd on national television.
On Reid Travis:
He’s the man. He’s a man. I had a kid at Memphis, Chris Massie, a man. We ended games and I heard guys on the other team, ‘We had to play against a grown man. He’s a grown man.’ This kid’s a grown man. He’s not 18, 19. He’s a grown man. He’s lost about 20 lbs. Probably needs to lose another four or five. Defends, bouncy. How about he blocked a shot? I’m telling you, I watched all of his games. I don’t think he had a blocked shot last year. You’ve got to go show it. You’ve got to show your quickness, your athleticism. He has it but he’s never used it. It’s been more bully ball.
On EJ Montgomery:
He’s probably our most skilled big guy. Shooting the ball, passing the ball, dribbling the ball. Physically, mentally, that toughness that you need, he’s probably behind these other guys, but they’re veterans. They’ve been through the wars.
On Ashton Hagans’ defense:
Yesterday, when we beat the Serbian team, I said to the team, we had six guys in double figures. But you had three points, Ashton, and had as much of an impact on the game as anybody. Maybe more. Then you watch this, his pressure on the ball, he just stole one at halfcourt. Well, get two of those a game. Get your hands on like five balls. He had a cross court pass if you remember that he got a hand on it. I grabbed him in there and said, I am really happy. He’s got to shoot more. He pulled up and made one. He’s a good shooter, I don’t know why — again, what’s his habit? Head down and drive. That’s his habit. And now we’ve been really working on a consistent follow through which gives you a consistent shot. But he doesn’t do it all the time. But he’s a good foul shooter, he’s a good pull-up shooter. He can shoot threes. He’s not great.
I was happy Immanuel missed his first three or four shots. I told him. Now, here’s some adversity. How are you going to play? He comes back and makes a shot. This is a good group. I’ll say it again, every guy here is comfortable in their own skin. And if you’ve got a guy here that’s a little uncomfortable, you know, hoping I’m going to play — they’re a little uncomfortable, and they should be. But they also know that, ‘I’m playing on a team that’s for me, so I’ve got to be responsible for what I’m supposed to do, and these guys are going to help me.
On Final Four talk amongst fans:
I don’t — I’m just happy this is over. This has been a long eight days. Believe me, I’m not worried about anything except, when does the plane leave?
On being comfortable in your own skin and sacrificing minutes:
The max minutes you want to play if you’re smart is 27 minutes, maybe 28. You don’t want to play 34. Too many ugly things pop up. You want to play 27 if you’re worried about you. The team may need you to play more, but you want to play 27 or 28. I think we’ll have a lot of guys do that.
But here’s another one: how about Tyler Herro’s — I’ll use the term “swagger.” I grabbed him and said, that’s what I want from you. I said, I want you to expect every shot to go in and the other thing I told him was, you can’t hold the ball because you’re going to be shooting balls. You can’t then shoot balls and hold the ball. Either let it go or get rid of it to somebody. You’re not going to mess with it because that’s not fair to these guys. He said, I gotcha.
On Keldon Johnson:
I asked him, I said, I knew you were going to be good. We recruited him, and it took me a minute to say, you know what? Let’s do this. We were probably the last school recruiting him. I said, but you knew before I knew. How? He said, ‘Because I knew. I knew I was good enough and I knew what I would do here.’ And said, well, you’re doing it. I said, defensively, you’re going have to give space because you’re going to foul and then he won’t be playing and your length lets you be able to do that. But your motor and your enthusiasm is going to drive us. It is.
When you talk about good players, these guys are evaluating, if there’s five better players than him in the country, you’ve gotta tell me who they are. I don’t care what you read anywhere, I’ve been doing this a long time and I know who’s who. And if there are five better than him, tell me who they are. This kid is legitimate 6’5″, he can play point guard, two, three, and four, shoots it good enough, tough, will fight you, in the gym at midnight, loves the game, high motor, high energy — what! No coolness. Nah. Doesn’t matter where I go, I just want to have fun. Well, that ain’t this kid. This kid is like, okay. Proud of him. I really am.
On what stats stand out on the box scores from this trip:
I think rebounding and you should look at turnovers and say — they averaged like 10, 11 turnovers after ten practices and a brand new team. Wait a minute. That means you have a skilled team that’s unselfish. That’s what you have. Second thing, we’re not going to average 100 points a game. It’s not. I think we’ll probably average more than maybe any team I’ve coached, so my guess would be — I don’t know, what’s the most my teams have scored? It’s probably near 80. And I would say that’s what this team would probably average. That would be my guess. And that’s a lot for us because teams are not going to let us run. They’re going to try to shorten a game like some of my good teams if you played against us. We can’t play in the 90s, they’re going to kill us. This game has gotta be in the 60s. We’re trying to push it. Good. You get 60, we’ll get 80 and we’ll both be happy.
So, that’s what I see. But I haven’t done anything defensively, and I told them, when we get back, my focus is going to be making us the best defensive team because it starts with your point guards. And these guys can guard the ball. That’s the biggest thing. It means, do you have a shot blocker behind those guys? We do. Do you have toughness? We do. How do your wings guard? Okay. Need to be better, but they’re okay.