It was relatively quiet at Tuesday afternoon's men's basketball media availability, as John Calipari and select players spoke before Kentucky (15-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) heads south for the Wildcats' first SEC road game against Auburn (10-5, 0-1 SEC). Above is a video of Calipari's comments and you can also go to this link to see interviews with Marquis Teague and Twany Beckham.
Since it was fairly uneventful, I'm going to run down a few notes and quotes rather than do a full-blown feature or preview. Without further ado:
- As he did yesterday in the SEC coaches teleconference, Calipari talked about the challenges UK will face in hitting the road. He isn't sure how his team will respond playing outside the state of Kentucky for the first time since early December, but the players knew what they were in for when they made the decision to come to UK. "That's what it means to play here, this isn't for everybody," Calipari said. "If you're hoping to walk in to a half-empty arena and slide by and go get a meal after the game then this is not your place to play basketball. Every game is someone's Super Bowl, you have a target on your back; every road game is sold out."
- The Tigers are playing their second season in the recently opened Auburn Arena, so no player on the UK roster has yet played there. However, returners like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas know what it's like to play SEC road games and figure to help their four freshman teammates. Another player with experience on the road in-conference is Beckham, who played two full seasons at Mississippi State before transferring to UK. Calipari has suggested he has played Teague too many minutes on occasion this season (he's averaging 30.9 per game) and wants to change that. Accordingly, Calipari broke the news to Beckham that he should prepare to play more minutes than he has since becoming eligible at the conclusion of the fall semester. "He told me that yesterday in a meeting," Beckham said. "It got me kind of excited. I've been working hard on the defensive end all season so hopefully I can get out there and show my teammates that I can help them." With his experience, Beckham could provide a steadying presence. "It's going to be tough," Beckham said. "Every team is going to come to play and make every shot it seems like so we just have to be ready to put up a fight and play hard and we'll have a chance of winning."
- Calipari has been preaching to his team that the season is going by quickly and they need to capitalize on every practice, workout and game, but he was sure to remind everyone that things aren't do-or-die just yet. "I told them let's just worry about getting better every game and the wins will take care of themselves," Calipari said. "If we lose a couple, we lose a couple. It's not football." The goal for the conference slate, according to Calipari, should be for the team to get to the point where it's running on "six cylinders" compared with "two or three" as has been the case most of the year.
- Calipari and Auburn head coach Tony Barbee have a shared history and a close relationship, as Barbee played for Calipari at Massachusetts and coached under him at Memphis before moving on to become head coach at UTEP. "He helped me build two programs, UMass as a player and as an assistant at Memphis," Calipari said. "I'm standing here in front of you all as the coach at Kentucky and a lot of it is because of Tony Barbee." Calipari and Barbee, now in his second year at Auburn, have matched wits with one another many times, but it's still not an enjoyable experience for the UK head man. "I don't like playing these kinds of games, but we'll play the game and get out of there," Calipari said.
- The strength of the SEC has been a debated topic each of Calipari's three years at Kentucky and on Tuesday Calipari offered his opinion of the state of the league. "I think the league is really good," Calipari said. He went on to predict the conference would have four teams in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and was especially effusive in his praise of Vanderbilt, whom he called a "top-five team" with center Festus Ezeli healthy. The Commodores handed a 65-35 defeat to Auburn this weekend and Calipari expressed relief that UK doesn't have to face off against them until Feb. 11.
- Calipari closed by talking about Darius Miller. The senior guard's production has varied greatly throughout his final season at UK and Calipari says he has been "fine" this season. However, he wants more. "I don't like fine or good, that's our enemy," Calipari said. "You don't want to be good, try to be great. Do the things you are capable of doing every day in practice and every game. You have to come with the mentality that you are going to work on everything and get better." Whether or not Miller produces, Calipari said UK can be a good team. However, if he plays at the level that made him the Most Valuable Player at the 2012 SEC Tournament, the Cats become "really good."