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Transcript: Calipari joins first SEC Coaches Teleconference of 2013

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Southeastern Conference play begins this week, which means the weekly SEC Coaches Teleconference made its return on Monday.

John Calipari and the 13 other coaches from around the league called in to answer questions from the media for a few minutes each. With his team set to face Vanderbilt (Thursday at 9 p.m. ET) and Texas A&M (Saturday at 4 p.m.), Coach Cal talked about UK's progress heading into conference play, among other topics. Below is a complete transcript of his comments, as well as a few relevant ones from other SEC coaches.

Calipari

On games this week against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M ...
"On the road at Vandy, always a tough game. They're a team that's going to run their stuff and shoot 3s and Texas A&M, it'll be our first opportunity to play against them and really have an idea how they're going to play. But Billy (Kennedy) does a great job and it's going to be two hard games for our team. We're starting four freshmen now. We've gone through some grueling workouts to see what we're about and where we are. The only thing I can tell you is we still have a long way to go."

On facing Vandy in a rematch of last year's SEC Tournament final ...

"The guys I'm coaching may not even know that that game happened to be honest with you. I've watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two. We could have lost all three or we could have lost all three, but they were wars. And so I expect nothing less than that going up. I imagine it'll be sold out, it'll be a great crowd and, for us right now, we're worried about the process, we're worried about our effort, we're worried about us playing together and execution and mental discipline and let the other stuff take care of itself. We're so far from, 'Oh I gotta win this game, I gotta win that game.' We're just trying to be the best team in the gym that we're playing in. That's all we're worried about right now."

On the perception of where Alex Poythress's game would be and where it actually is ...

"I don't know what the perception was, but right now what he's doing in the individual workouts and what we're trying to get him to the point of is more exertion, more effort, pushing through comfort levels. That's what it is. I think if he gets to that point and we have time... If it were normal and he wasn't in a program that's on warp speed, he's fine. He's a freshman and he'll get it sooner or later and if not this year, the next year or the following year, he'll get it and then he'll become unbelievable. But this stuff's on warp speed and you're held to a different standard as a player. Here he is as a freshman, practically getting a double-double and it's not good enough. Well, to be honest, it's not because it's not his best. But he's come a long way, he's a great kid and he just has got to develop a habit of really exerting and then subbing yourself. Exert yourself and then sub yourself and he's only learning it. He's doing fine."

On the improvement of Ryan Harrow and how much more Calipari trusts him ...
"The team trusts him more now. He's spending a lot of time around his teammates. In practice, he's one of our hardest workers now. He's got a great attitude. When we're doing individual work with the players, the guys have to stay in the morning - he and Archie (Goodwin) do theirs before practice, I grab those two and we go out for 20 minute prior to practice, 25 minutes - well he stays in the gym in the mornings and cheers on the guys. Just talks to them and encourages them. He's become that guy that we've needed him to be. But you've got to be around the team. You've got to be around them, you've got to be with them, they gotta know you're for them and then they'll follow. Then you can lead. Leading is not just walking on the court and barking orders. Leadership is about service, and the only way you can serve others is be around them. And that's what he's been able to do. I'm really proud of how far he's come. My thing to him is this is where we - as in I - thought you'd be at the beginning of the year. Now we gotta build on this. Where do we go from here? He had a great practice yesterday."

On where Harrow can go from this point forward ...
"Why not try to be the best point guard in the country? Why not? Why would you not chase that? Why do anything short of that? The way he's playing right now: assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting percentage, all the stuff that we need him to do and on top of that defending pretty well, playing the ball screen better, staying in front of people, putting pressure on the point guard, helping his teammates when he's away from the ball. All things that that guy has to do to be able to lead, he's doing."

On the SEC's nonconference performance ...
"I'll be honest with you, when you say struggles around our league because I'm not watching everybody's scores, I'm only watching ours. And we played Duke at a neutral site, they're a pretty good team. We played Notre Dame at home and I think they lost in 1942 there. And we played a team at Louisville which was top five in the country and they don't lose very often there. We had our chances in those games and then we lose to Baylor at home which was a tough loss and we deserved to lose. But again, that's us. I don't know around the league. All I know is Florida's really good. I've played the Tennessee and coached against the Tennessee team. I've seen Missouri play. I know how good they can be. You're looking at Ole Miss, no one's even talking about them right now. LSU is playing better. You can say, 'Well, you don't have this and you don't have that.' Well, we're getting in league play and it's all going to shake out who's who. And I've left teams off there, whether it be Vandy or whoever else. You've other teams that are going to do fine. But when you look at it right now, even a Texas A&M, I mean yeah, maybe we've dropped some games and I can't even tell you who's dropped games to what because I'm not paying attention that way. My focus is on my team. We've lost some games but those teams that we've lost to haven't lost many games. And we weren't ready, when you're playing four freshmen, to beat those kind of guys."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings


On Kentucky and Alex Poythress ...
 "I think that their length and their athleticism is something that jumps out at you. They're always very good defensively. It doesn't matter who shows up in the uniforms, John always has them very well-prepared and efficient defensively and on the boards. I would kind of consider them a typical Kentucky team: long, athletic, fast, they make hard it for you around the goal.

"As far as Alex's play, I've only seen a few of their games (on film). I would not really feel comfortable commenting on the play of one of John's players. He can comment on that. They've got great players obviously and I saw some projections where three or four of them were thought to go in the top 10 in the draft and Alex was one of them. So he must be playing pretty well. But anyway, we know we've got our hands full on Thursday, that's for sure."

On coaching a young team ...

"It's been challenging. It's been fun. I don't know that I've handled it as well as I had hoped I would, but I really like our team. I like the guys on our team. I like their coachability and their attitudes. Even when things aren't going the way we want, their attitudes have been spot on and they're eager to get better and eager to remedy the things that are wrong. And so I absolutely have no complaints with them from that standpoint. Experience only comes by playing and we're just going to have play some games. More games give these guys more time and hopefully they'll come together as a group like I think we can."

On how the team is getting better ...
"I just think that, particularly offensively, there are times we go through stretches where we're pretty solid and then there are times that we really struggle. Defensively, we've been fair consistent, which has been a very nice surprise. We'll have a blip here and there, but in terms of defensive play, our defensive play has been pretty solid. But offensively, we've been a little bit inconsistent. As most people know, scoring hasn't really been that much of a problem around here the last few years, so that's been a little hard to take at times. But these guys are trying and, like I said, we're getting better and hopefully we'll continue to do so. Obviously with league play starting, we're going to have to get better."

On what nonconference play says about the SEC this season ...
"Well, I'm not sure. I think that there are a few teams like us that are kind of in a transitional mode. I think that's part of it. I think, as a whole, our league had quite a bit of turnover. There are some exceptions of course, but if you take us or you take Kentucky or you take any number of other teams in the league, there has been quite a bit of turnover. I think that can happen from time to time. But I think when all is said and done, at the end of the year you'll still see that our league is very competitive. I think when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, you'll see that our league is still in its customary position of being one of the best in the country. But I do think there are some teams going through some transitions just like we are. That's probably made for a little bit of a lesser performance in non-conference play."

On whether that's more cyclical than the league being down as a whole ...

"I certainly think it's cyclical. We're coming off of a season where we had the national champion, we had a team that was in the final eight that was a play from having two teams in the Final Four. So absolutely, whether you want to call it cyclical or transitional or whatever you want to call it. But it won't last long. Trust me, it won't. Our league's too good for that. Historically, you just look, if we have a down year, we never stay down. It's just not the nature of our league."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

On the SEC's performance in nonconference play ...
"We act like the SEC is the only league in the country that lost games in their nonconference slate. Other leagues across the country, they've lost some games in the nonconference slate. It's part of the whole scheduling process. Listen, college basketball, there's become parity because of the one-and-done rule. A lot of the BCS schools, those kids leave early for the NBA. Lot of those lower- and mid-major schools, they have kids that stay three, four, five years, so there is a situation some time where in November you've got a team that's full of freshmen playing against a team that's full of seniors. That's a problem. Look at the University of Kansas for example. Not only is Bill Self as good as coach as anyone there, but they've got a team that's got four seniors - three guys are redshirt seniors - and a redshirt freshman who is a McDonald's (All-American) guy. There's a reason they're so good - because they're that experienced. That's some of the issues. And then I was listening to Coach Donovan and he hit the nail on the head. If we're going to start judging teams on who we are in November and December, I'm all for it. Then let's have the tournament January 1st. But if the tournament's going to be in March and April, then let the season play out, let coaches do their jobs, let those young kids become better, let the kids that have new coaches implement their system, and let the kids in their program grow, and we'll figure all that out in March. For us to be talking about this January 7th or whatever it is, I think that's a waste of time."

Florida head coach Billy Donovan

On the SEC's performance in nonconference play ...

"I've probably seen all the scores in our league, but I haven't had a chance to watch very many teams in our league play at all to really look at them as I will going into the Georgia game here on Wednesday because we play them. From the outside looking in you see maybe some of the challenges and difficulties in some of the games that we've had this year. The one thing that I think that's always difficult, in the months of November and December it's almost like teams sometimes form their image, their identity and how good or bad their league is, and I've never really agreed with that because I think teams get better. I think the one thing that's happened in our league, you look at a lot of teams that have lost a lot of people. Kentucky's lost a lot. Vanderbilt's lost a lot. Mississippi State's got a new coach. South Carolina's got a new coach. There's just been a lot of turnover in personnel of key guys. When you all of a sudden start to thrust new guys into new roles against pretty good teams or just OK teams, you're always going to be vulnerable to a couple of losses. So what ends up happening is you get labeled in November and December as the league's not very good, the league's down, the league does not have a strong reputation and vice versa. I think it's unfair where all of a sudden a league gets to March and maybe two teams really go deep in March and now the league is much better than it was. I think there's got to be some level of balance. For some teams, when you look back and a team's on the bubble, so to speak, you say, "Well, back in November they lost to this team; they can't be good." Well, it's four months from that game. And I got the whole résumé. I'm into the whole résumé thing, but we've got really good coaches in our league and guys that have been around doing it for a long time. There is going to be improvement. So if you want to say up to this point in time the SEC has maybe had some difficult, challenging, tough losses inside its league, I think that's a fair assessment, but to say the league is down and bad, I don't know if that would be fair until we see the whole thing play out until the end of the year. I do think with the coaches in this league, teams are going to get better. I thought last year with Tennessee (proves that). Tennessee last year with Cuonzo (Martin) going in there, to not get off to a great start, a new a coach, new system, new style of play - Bruce Pearl did a great job there; a little bit different philosophy - Cuonzo Martin now all of a sudden goes through, they have some difficulties in November and December, (and) they won 12 league games last year and were playing as well anybody in our league or maybe anybody in the country in February and March. You cannot argue the fact that Tennessee in February and March was totally different than Tennessee in November and December, and I think that's what you're going to see inside of our league."

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