KENTUCKY COACH JOHN CALAPARI TALKS FINAL 4
April 2, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
DAVE WORLOCK: We have Coach John Calipari. Congratulations on advancing to the Final Four.
COACH CALIPARI: Thank you.
DAVE WORLOCK: We'll take questions from the media for Coach Calipari.
Q. There were some writers talking about how your team was underachieving a little bit early in the season. What impact did that have on the players to kick things into high gear and get to where you're at today?
COACH CALIPARI: It played no part. It's a process. You can't skip steps. Part of that process is failing fast, sometimes failing often. The final step to all this is you surrender to each other, you lose yourself in the team, and you understand less is more.
But that really takes time when you're playing seven freshmen in your top eight, and each of them scored 25 points a game in high school, that you must do less, and that would mean more for you.
So it's a process. What anybody said or wrote had no bearing on us.
Q. I know in Indy you talked about Jon Hood, what he does for you guys. How is it having him almost as a translator for some of the kids?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me tell you what he did in the game last night. I just love the kid. He's come so far. He came from a deer in the headlights, scared to death, to an angry, What is this, to a great teammate, to a loving part of our family.
Last night in the game, they are shooting free throws. He says to me, What are you going to do if Dakari rebounds it, because they're going to foul him? He came up to me. Not an assistant.
I said, Aaron, Andrew, if Dakari rebounds, you call an immediate timeout right away. That's what he's done.
In one game this year he came up to me and said, Coach, the lob is open versus the zone. Walked up and told me. We threw the lob. I went down and slapped him on the hand.
See, this is not my team, it's their team. I want them to feel empowered. He knows that. He just left my office. He had the regional trophy in his room. He said, Where do you want me to put it?
I said, You can keep it.
He said, I've had it all night, it's been in bed with me.
He says, If you need me, I'm ready now. It's his frame of mind.
I wish I had all kids for four or five years to see this.
In the other sense, I'm not going to convince a young man that should go chase his dreams to come back for me and win more games. I'm not doing that. But I wish I had him more because I can't tell you how much enjoyment I get from that.
Q. When you look at everything that's happened over the past month, what really jumps out at you in terms of their composure or mental approach that's helped this run?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, bottom line is I screwed this up in a couple different ways. One, we tweaked some things. I've had all different kinds of point guards and I've had guys that have been different types of players. I waited probably two months longer than I should have to put the couple things in that changed how we were as a team.
When I did the first tweak, I told everybody, You will see a change. They saw it. They couldn't believe it. Before we went to the tournament, I tweaked another thing. I said, You will see the change.
Most in the media don't know enough about basketball to know what I've done. When the season is over, I'll go through point by point how I did it. You'll be able to say, Wow, I see it. The question becomes, when you hear it, Why didn't you do it earlier? I don't really have a good answer.
My only hope would be to say to you maybe they weren't ready to accept it two months ago. Maybe they had to fail more. Maybe they had to understand that you must surrender to your team, you must lose yourself in your team, and you must understand less is more when you're talking about team play.
But if they were ready to accept it two months ago, we wouldn't have been an eighth seed playing in the gauntlet that we just played.
Q. After you beat Wichita State, Charles Barkley said that Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the year. You went on to beat Louisville and Michigan. What is the confidence level right now for your basketball team?
COACH CALIPARI: They're in a great frame of mind. But we lost Willie. You understand that Willie changed most games for us. Now, you may say that I was most happy that we won the game. I was happy we won the game. I was happy for the team and the program.
But what made me more excited was Dominique Hawkins walking in that game, defending the way he did, changing the rhythm of the game. I also love what Marcus Lee did. We talked about it for two days what was going to happen. We made the game really simple for him, You're only going to do these three things. Don't give them the ball in these positions, just give it here. Go do and do what you do. The world will be talking about you after the game. He was trending worldwide.
It's not just what your stars are doing. You're here to coach everybody. Our team was ecstatic for him.
It's been a great experience mentally to see these kids mature and change, and me be able to empower them. Aaron Harrison said something with me on the stage, coach always has always had to coach intensity, emotion, effort, and that means you have to get a little nasty. You can't just let them do what they have to do. I've also had to coach body language, unselfish play. I'm not coaching any of that now. Now I'm coaching basketball.
People are saying, Boy, he looks more relaxed. I am more relaxed because I know I don't have to look out there and see a guy not going hard, a guy passing up a teammate, taking five bad shots. I'm not dealing with that anymore. This team has been empowered now and now I can just coach basketball.
Q. You mentioned the gauntlet that you have been through with Michigan, Louisville, Wichita State, Kansas State, even going back to Florida. How much do you think you need to take a step back or somehow refresh yourselves before going forward?
COACH CALIPARI: We're just marching how we've been marching and nothing changes. You're not going to get away from any of that stuff.
Q. What is your secret in recruiting? You've been able to land elite players.
COACH CALIPARI: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. When I was at UMass, we had one McDonald's All?American, Donte Bright. When I was at Memphis, we may have had three over my years there. We weren't getting top?50 players at UMass. We were winning, we were a terrific team. I had to coach guys four years. I was ecstatic. At Memphis I was coaching them three to four years. We were becoming a good team.
Now I'm at Kentucky. There's a combination of the parents understanding Kentucky, what it is, and the young people only know three years. The kids we recruit, all of us, they don't know five years ago. They were 12 and 11, 10. They know the last three years.
When John Wall and Bledsoe and Cousins and Patterson went in that draft, Orton, five first?rounders, it changed the whole direction. The paradigm changed. It wasn't like we planned it. I never thought Eric Bledsoe was one?and?done. No one thought that. He didn't play the McDonald's game. What about Josh Harrellson? What about DeAndre Liggins making it? That's all crazy talk.
What's happened is these kids understand they have to come together and we're honest with them. This is the hardest place to come and play basketball. If you think this is going to be easy, don't come here.
The second piece of it is, if you want to be the only guy that can play, don't come here. If you want to take all the shots, go somewhere else. If you want to be on a team where the coach only highlights one or two guys, you better be one of those two guys. If you want to go there, go.
That's not how it is here. Every game is the Super Bowl. You're scrutinized because people are attacking me, so you're going to get scrutinized because they want to come after me. What we're doing has never been done. You can't do this. So you're getting that hit. If you can't deal with all that, don't come here.
That's a heck of a sale, isn't it?
Q. You've had a team that probably wasn't supposed to make a Final Four make one. You've had teams that were supposed to make a Final Four make one. Is it strange to you to have one team be both of those things within one year?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, again, I wish we could have skipped steps in the process. Probably was trying to do that, which is why I did such a poor job early with this team. I was probably trying to skip steps.
But in the end we got the plane down barely. We almost ran out of runway. This team was built up to be torn down. I always wonder if it's the opinion or the hope of how people feel about this team.
But they withstood it. They were under immense fire. They never wavered. They kept believing. They were their brother's keeper. They believed in the leadership. They believed in the staff. They believed in the system and the process. It never went away. I never stopped believing in this team or the players on it, and I mean each individual player.
So that in itself is a great story of how in the world did you guys overcome that? Well, it made us stronger. It made us tougher. It made us harder.
Q. In what areas have you seen the greatest amount of growth from Aaron and Andrew over the last month? Secondly, what does it say about Dominique and Marcus to remain prepared for the moment that came up yesterday?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I'm going to answer the second one first.
We coach every player like they're a starter. There's no one coached different. You're held accountable just like a starter. You're pushed and challenged and coached just like a starter would be.
We try throughout the season to make sure we're getting those kids minutes so by the end of the year if something happens, they're ready to go. So I'm not surprised.
There are times in practice, those are our best two players. But it's really hard to get yourself ready to play every game when you don't play in six straight games. That's really hard. That means you're a good person. That means you're mature because you know the clutter in their ears is telling them they should be playing more. What are they doing? They're hearing it 'cause it's natural, yet they withstand all that.
The first question about Andrew and Aaron, there's two parts of it. One, the biggest thing we had to help them with was body language. As that changed, they became different players.
The second thing was, we had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year, by the end of the year. I can't believe it. I was angry when I realized what I had done.
I coached all different kinds of point guards. We had to get Derrick Rose to shoot more. We had to get Tyreke and Brandon Knight to shoot less. We had fast point guards, point guards that weren't as fast. John Wall, Eric Bledsoe that played the combo. It just bothered me as a coach. That's my job. Their job is to play. My job is to help define their roles, to bring them together, to get them to understand.
I'm happy it was done; I just wish I had done it earlier.
Q. About all the McDonald's All?Americans, five?star recruits. I'm based in Chicago. Will your team have any chance to kind of watch the events this week?
COACH CALIPARI: We'll watch it. If I can't watch it, it will be taped. We got four players in it. We got four great, great kids. They're terrific basketball players. But spend some time with them. You're talking about four great, great kids.
I imagine our team will watch it live because they all played in it. They'll want to see it.
Q. When could you sense this team was changing, playing unselfish? Was it in practice?
COACH CALIPARI: We tweaked one thing and it changed the whole direction. The team, staff and I knew it. I was angry for an hour in practice because I hadn't done it earlier. It changed everything overnight. That's what happened. It was something that, Why didn't I do this earlier? It changed.
In the NCAA tournament, I tweaked another thing, and it changed another way of how we were playing. Now everyone saw it. But, again, you have to surrender. You have to accept. You have to do less, which is more, for you and our team becomes better which means you become better.
But that's hard. Every one of these kids averaged 25, were McDonald's All?Americans in form or fashion. All of a sudden you're asked to do way less. That's really hard. As you're doing less, you start saying, They're talking better about me. They think I'm doing better by doing less. How does that work?
Because your team is doing better, you're being more patient, you're being a better basketball player because you're trying to do less. But you're doing more of the things you need to do: defend, rebound, block shots, fly up and down the court, things that take pressure off you and make the game easier for you.
Q. What is the prognosis for Willie to play this week? If he can't play, what are you going to be asking him to do?
COACH CALIPARI: I doubt he plays. He will be on our bench cheering like crazy. They told me in the locker room of the Louisville game where he got hurt right away, the doctor told me, I asked him about the injury, all that. He said, I got to stop you before. You cannot believe how much he was cheering for his team in there. He wasn't worried about himself. He was going bonkers.
I said, Really?
We had to hold him down, he was trying to run around.
I'm so happy for him. It's kind of like Nerlens. When Nerlens got hurt, they see their career flash before their eyes. I said, You are fine. Our team is not, but you are fine.
I said to Willie, We're going to try to cover for you. It's going to be really hard. But you've proven yourself. They know who you are. They know the impact you have on games. They know you're a seven?foot guard.
This is hurting our team, yes, but we're going to try to cover. You are fine.
I want them to understand we are about them. When you're injured, it doesn't change things.
DAVE WORLOCK: Coach, thank you for your time today. We'll see you in North Texas.
COACH CALIPARI: Thank you.