What does it take to send John Calipari to his happy place?
A simple question about his former players in the NBA and how they’re performing.
On Monday afternoon, the Kentucky head coach hosted his weekly pre-game press conference, where he answered questions on his team’s performance against Eastern Kentucky, how they’re responding to being the No. 1 team in college basketball, and what he expects out of Evansville, among other topics.
At the tail end of the media opportunity, Mohammad Ahmad of the Kentucky Kernel asked Calipari about his former Wildcats in the NBA and if any of them in particular have caught his attention to tip off the season.
“Any former Cats in the league that have caught your attention so far?” he asked.
“A bunch of them,” Calipari began. “But you know who I’m really proud of? Devin Booker. Now, we can all talk stats. Like, his numbers are ridiculous. Fifty-something percent, 50% 3, 90 from the 2. But how about Phoenix is 6-3? Now that makes me feel good – that he gets what he’s doing is about winning. Couldn’t be more proud of him. I shouldn’t start down that road because there’s 30 of them that are, you know.”
But once that door was cracked, Calipari rushed through it like a freight train.
“PJ (Washington). How about PJ? Come on,” the Kentucky head coach continued. “This guy, he had 16 last night again. I mean, he’s just–it shows that everybody’s on a different path. Get yourself prepared mentally and physically and if it’s after one, two or three years. It’s like Nick right now. Nick wasn’t ready to leave after year one. Certainly wasn’t ready to leave last year because we walked in and told me. ‘I don’t even want to look. I know I’m not ready.’ Now you look at him now and you say, ‘Wow.’”
He then proceeded to say Anthony Davis was “the best player in the league” and a “generational kind of player.”
Calipari also added that it’s pretty impressive that LeBron James – arguably one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball – has allowed Davis to become the anchor of the Los Angeles Lakers on both ends of the floor.
“They’re all on different paths and what they want to do, but there’s a bunch of the guys, Anthony (Davis), what he’s doing,” Calipari said. “In my opinion, he’s the best player in the league. And I know a couple of my other guys will be mad I said not them, but I would tell you he is a generational kind of player. He just is. He’s got the heart of a lion and he wants to win, which really means something to him. It’s not just playing to him. I know him. It is, he wants to win. And it appears as he and LeBron (James)–LeBron in understanding who he is and he’s going to let him be who he is, and LeBron is being who he is. So that could be scary, too.”
To close things out, Calipari discussed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, comparing his status as a role player to start the 2017-18 season before taking the team over 10 games into the season to current Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey.
“How about Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander)?” Calipari said. “I mean, don’t get me started, but come on [media laughs]. Here’s a kid, I mean, he didn’t start his first 10 games here and he did just what Tyrese just said to me. I said, “Feeling comfortable but you’re fine, blah, blah, blah.’ He said, ‘Coach, I trust you.’ It’s exactly what Shai said to me. ‘I trust you. I know. I got you.’ You look at him like, ‘whew.’”
A 13-word question sparked two-and-a-half minutes of praise for his former Wildcats.
And I’m sure if he was asked the same question again tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, he’d be just as giddy talking about his past players and the success they’re finding in the NBA.