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Pre-SEC Tournament teleconference quotes

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari

On the upcoming SEC Tournament ...
"The tournament's going to be outstanding. I've only been in the league three years but this is the strongest of those three years. And I stick to what I said. You have Florida that can shoot it and do things, Vanderbilt, a veteran team that executes, a talented Mississippi State team, an Alabama team, and now a Tennessee team that's won eight of nine. They won with (Jarnell Stokes). Without him they weren't as good, but guess what, he's there now. We're talking about a bunch of teams that are going to have a chance to win this thing. LSU, I thought they played really well against us down there. Their big guys made more 15-foot jumpers than I've see any team do against us all year. Again, Arkansas, who has had a terrific year (under Mike Anderson), played a little bit better at home than they did on the road, you're talking about a team that can rat up the game a little bit and can make shots. I just look up and down the line and I think the tournament is going to be outstanding."

On having a guy like Kyle Wiltjer as his seventh man  and his value ...
"He's been playing so much better defensively and rebounding the ball that you can leave him out there. That's why I'm getting on our team a little bit about subbing themselves. You want to get a rotation going and you want to get guys to come out when they're a little tired. I'm telling Terrence (Jones), 'The kid deserves more minutes, get your butt off the floor.' And then the other thing I may do this week is start figuring out if it's Terrence, Kyle and Anthony (Davis) on the floor together, how do we play? So I may start doing that this week because the reality of it is the kid deserves more time except Anthony and Terrence are pretty good. They're pretty good, so it's hard unless you play all three of them together. We just haven't done that that much. You talk about our bench, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer, I need to know who has a better bench than that. We do have a good bench. And I even think Eloy (Vargas) in a pinch will be fine."

On how far the league has come since he's been in it and whether the league needs to win a national title to fight a football-only perception ...
"Nah, you've all these terrific coaches who are building programs. You're talking about young players in the league who can play. You're talking about some veteran teams. You're talking about an excitement level around basketball in this league that is really strong. Yeah, we'd like to win national titles, but when you're talking about a one-and-done format, it's hard because there is luck and fate and all kinds of things. If it's the best-of-seven now, I like our chances, and some other programs would probably like their chances, but I will tell you that it's a different deal. I will say this: In the three years that I've been here, this league from top to bottom (has gotten better). And again, you're talking South Carolina and Georgia and Auburn being those last three and they're good. South Carolina just won a game, Georgia beats Florida, Auburn beats LSU. Those guys, you're not just walking in and winning the game. It's not like 'Alright, we've got to play one of these guys, it'll be easy.' No coach in this league will tell you that. It's hard. And then at the top of the league, I really think you have five or six teams that are all Sweet 16 teams.  I'm telling you right now, Tennessee, Cuonzo (Martin) is doing an unbelievable job of setting the tone and setting the stage of what he wants that program to be about. It's happening quicker than probably even he thought, but that team is going to be a team to be reckoned with. Nobody will want to play them in the NCAA Tournament. Who wants to play Vandy? Do you want to play Florida? They're going to take 25 3s. What if they make 15? You just got beat. You want to play Mississippi State? Well, they've struggled. Oh yeah? Go see who they've got, and if they get it together, try to beat them. Alabama is going to guard you. You're not going to get easy baskets. You're going to score 60-something points. So if they're making shots, if (JaMychal) Green and all of these guys are back, all of a sudden it's a different game. This is a strong, strong league."

On whether he thinks the new single division format has worked this season ...
"Yes I do, no question. Think about what we're talking about now. We're talking about all these teams. And they all have a chance. Hopefully, even if we do go to 18 (regular season SEC games), which I hope we don't but I think we will, that we stay this way and continue and teams will continue to get better and all of a sudden you'll see us with a 14-team or 16-team league and we're getting eight, nine teams in (the NCAA Tournament). And that's the whole goal for this. You're doing this to try to get seven, eight, nine teams in to the NCAA Tournament with a few of those that really have a chance to win that national title. And you do it every year and you got your chances now."

On Mississippi State and whether they can make a run in the SEC and NCAA Tournament ...
"Here's what I would say. I coached against them this year and they were unbelievable. That first half they played against us was one of the best halves played against us. They didn't back down, they were physical, they made shots, they ran their stuff. Now they just got to figure out, 'How do we do that for two halves?' If they can beat us, then probably they can beat anybody in the country. It's hard to do that. That's the thing in what we do as coaches and players, you're trying to do it and they're not machines. They're not computers so it's difficult, but that's the challenge and you know they have it in them with the personnel that they have. It's just saying, 'Look, we're going to do this.' So, yes, I think they can (make a deep postseason run). There's no one wanting to play them now either. All this stuff, the ball is dropped and you're playing Mississippi State or they're in your little pocket of four, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I hope they get beat before we have to play them.' That's what's going to happen."

On Marquis Teague's development ...

"It's funny, as we left there was a player personnel director in the airport in Florida and he just grabbed me and said, 'At the beginning of the year, Marquis drove me crazy. I watched bad shots, turnovers, out of control, playing too fast. I'm thinking Cal you got your hands full. And then he said, 'I'm watching him now run your team, make good decisions, take shots he should be taking, shooting the ball better, making free throws. I can't believe it.' Again, Terrence obviously makes us a different team when he plays, but without the point guard play, we cannot do the things that we're doing. His assist-to-turnover ratio, his ability to run our team, the pace that he's now playing with. He still has speed but he's playing with pace. He's thinking through what we're doing. Very intelligent kid. He's making free throws. Again, he's got a swagger that I like. He's got a toughness. He's a tough ball defender. Everybody talks about our defense from behind. Yeah, we're good back there, but we're also good on the ball because of Marquis Teague. Doron (Lamb has) gotten better, Darius Miller's gotten better. Obviously the three other freshmen have all really helped us, but you cannot do this is the guy with the ball is not playing for his teammates, is not running your team, is not making good decisions or taking good shots. You can't do this, what we're doing. And we're doing what we're doing because he has really caught on. Like all my other point guards, it takes time. There is so much stuff we throw at that position. It's a hard position to play for us, but if you can master it, you get drafted No. 1. If you can master it, you're going into the league like Brandon Knight and setting rookie records in Detroit. It's just hard to do."

Florida head coach Billy Donovan


On the impact of Anthony Davis and having Kyle Wiltjer off the bench ...
"I don't know if there's a player in the country that a team changes more when he's off the floor than Davis. He is terrific. I haven't seen everybody play as Anthony Davis around the country but I would be hard-pressed to find that there has been any player that's been more impactful to a team than Davis has been for Kentucky. He is a terrific player and I think he's doing more and more. I think John has put him in a situation where you always go through an evolving process in your offense based off how teams start to defend you and how theyuard you. He's stepping out more now, he's putting the ball on the floor more. John isolates him at certain areas on the floor, top of the key where he can beat most centers off the dribble. Certainly his shot-blocking ability and the way he alters the game is remarkable. I would think that without question, if he is not the best player in the country and doesn't get the award, I imagine he would be No. 2.

"Wiltjer, I think for him, he really, more than anything else, is a very skilled player who can come into the game, and there is so much offense on the floor that because of Davis and Jones and Gilchrist that you have to give them, even Teague when he's got the ball in his hands, that a lot of offense is not so much him creating, it's the other guys creating and finding him. The game is made very, very easy for him because of the personnel on the floor. He's given them a guy that can stretch it at the power forward spot. He's a really good 3-point shooter and he's skilled and he's given them another offensive player that doesn't need to necessarily create for himself, where a lot of plays are being created for him."

On the improvement of Kentucky ...
"I think that's hard to answer. I would say this: The thing that's impressive to me is, and I think John made this comment, is usually in the course of the year you have some games where you just don't play well. And I think the thing that has been the most impressive about them is they really have played well from start to finish. They haven't had games where they've been vulnerable, in my opinion. They have answers on all spots of the floor, both offensively and defensively. I think Davis has emerged even more of an offensive threat than he was earlier in the year. They've got 3-point shooting, they've got post-ups. When you talk about a team getting better, the thing that's impressive to me with them is you take a guy like Darius Miller or even Gilchrist. Gilchrist didn't score a lot of points last night against us. To me, Darius Miller only played 17 minutes as a senior. They just seemed consumed about winning and that is it. Whatever they've got to do to win, regardless who scores and/or who plays the minutes - and I'm sure Darius Miller wants to be out there 40 minutes as any players does. But they have a better perspective of understanding the big picture. So I think because of their chemistry or their disposition or their personalities, they are going after something that's bigger than their own individual minutes, statistics, points, rebounds. That, to me, is something that's impressive when you're looking at a lot of young kids and then you're also looking at a senior that could say this is my time. He (Miller) just kind of goes in there and plays his role, whatever it needs to be. Last game we played them in Lexington, he played a lot more minutes and had much, much more impact than he did the last game. Terrence Jones did not have a great game against us in Lexington but he played very well yesterday. So it's like different guys step up at different times and they have a bunch of guys on their team that are capable of getting 20, but when they don't get 20, you don't see any level of them pouting or them upset or any of that stuff. That, to me, is the most impressive thing."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings

On comparing the SEC coach of the year credentials of John Calipari and Cuonzo Martin ...
"I don't think that if they had had Jarnell Stokes on their team that they would have been picked to finish 11th. So I think that was a factor that was unforeseen by all that they were able to add a very, very significantly good player prior to the conference season. Fortunately, the coaches aren't asked to pick where teams are going to finish or anything like that but I don't think that they would have been picked to finish 11th. While I think that the Tennessee staff did a great job with coaching their team this year, especially in conference play, I think that the job that John has done (is deserving), and I voted for John for coach of the year. I think if you go through this league undefeated and you have one loss on your entire season, you're probably deserving of not only maybe coach of the year in our league, but maybe national coach of the year."

Georgia head coach Mark Fox


On comparing the SEC coach of the year credentials of John Calipari and Cuonzo Martin ...
"Cuonzo has done a great job, but they didn't fire Bruce (Pearl) because he had bad players. But Cuonzo's done a great job. When you go undefeated in this league and win by the margin that Kentucky has won the league by, I just don't think you can vote against John. I just think that that's a pretty remarkable feat that his team accomplished this year."

On Marquis Teague ...
"I think that they have a team that's so talented that probably nobody gets as much credit as they deserve for the level of ability that they have. I think he's a really good point guard. I think probably because he's so good at getting other guys involved and just kind of does what he needs to do to help them win that you forget how effective he really is. The one thing I think that with Kentucky's team, as dominant as they, is they don't have great depth so it's important that every guy play well and be consistent. I think Teague has done that. He's shot that ball a little better and I think continued to improve that part of his game and he's obviously an important piece to what they're doing."

On Teague's defense ...
"I think when you have Anthony Davis at the basket, that as a perimeter defender, you can be more aggressive because you know you've got somebody to protect you back there around the rim and so I think that's enabled all their players to get out and pressure the basketball, and Teague's certainly been able to do that alsa, because you know you have great help at the rim. I think it's a real advantage to have that shot-blocker behind him and he probably uses that to his advantage as much as he can."

On Kyle Wiltjer's importance to UK ...
"I think he's very valuable to their team. The one advantage Kentucky has over just about everybody across the country is that there's really not a guy on their team that just doesn't score. You have to honor everybody and Kyle is somebody that, when he's in the game, you have to pay attention to him. That's what's so difficult about their team is that everybody that they play can score the ball, can finish plays and John's put them in position to really complement each other well so I think that, as they get into the NCAA Tournament, Wiltjer will be very important to them just because you never know when you're going to need that production from their bench. They certainly have a guy now that's proven he can do that."

LSU head coach Trent Johnson

On assessing how Kentucky was able to go unbeaten in SEC play ...
"I think I said this before that I don't think John gets enough credit for how hard those guys play and how he manages those egos. Nobody wants to talk about that. It's like it's the elephant in the room. Yeah he can coach, but when you get that kind of talent and those kinds of egos, that's what's going on in athletics. To get them to play hard, to get them to understand their roles and to get them to, whether you're six, whether you're seven, whether you're eight men deep, that's special. And then you look at our league, I go back to a loss in terms of how balanced our league is. I go back to watching South Carolina almost beat Ohio State early in the year. And then you can look at any one of these teams in this conference and look at some of the wins they've hard. Ours, we beat Marquette at home without Andre Stringer. What Georgia's done, what Tennessee's done, you can go on down the line. I just think it speaks volumes to the kind of job he's done and the kind of team they have."

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant

On what it would take to beat Kentucky ...
"It's tough to say. Obviously they're 16-0, so none of us have figured that at this point. Kentucky, I think from a defensive standpoint, is probably one of the best teams in the country. And then you combine that with the offense that they have, the variety of guys that they have at several different positions that are capable of leading them. They've got a very, very good team, a very balanced team really on both sides of the ball so I think for every team in our league, it will be a challenge, but one that obviously you take one game at a time and try to prepare your team as best you can to give them the best chance to succeed. But to give you one or two things (is hard). Kentucky is very impressive, which is obvious in the fact that they went 16-0 over the course of the SEC season."

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy


On the notion that Kentucky needs to be strong for the SEC to be strong ...
"Well I think every league has a program that just based on tradition and lineage needs to be good for the national audience to take heed. I think obviously Kentucky is that team in our league. For them to do what they've done and be heading into postseason play as the No. 1 team in the country I think speaks volumes to the job that Cal has done. I also think that many times because of the success of football in this league - what, has it been five or six straight national championships? - sometimes people want to say basketball hasn't met that standard - which is obviously unrealistic, no one has in our sport - therefore basketball is down, which I think is a misperception. I think this year, as in many years in the past, the overall balance of the league will speak volumes moving forward."

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