Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Transcript: Coach Cal, opposing coaches preview SEC Tournament

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
The season seems like it just started last week, but Monday marked the final Southeastern Conference Coaches Teleconference of the year.

Of course, the topic du jour was this week's SEC Tournament, which begins on Wednesday. Kentucky doesn't play until Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET - against either No. 7 Arkansas or No. 10 Vanderbilt - but John Calipari joined in to talk about his team (and numerous other topics) heading into the postseason.

Here's what he and a few other coaches from around the league had to say.

Coach Cal

On the upcoming tournament ...
"First of all, I've got to say a couple things. We've had some coaches this year in our league do unbelievable jobs. I'm going to leave guys out, but just off the top of my head, Mark Fox at Georgia, I can't begin to tell you the respect (I have for him). Johnny Jones, what he has done with that team (LSU). You look at Cuonzo (Martin) and where they were and what he did (at Tennessee). And I'm even going to throw a bouquet to Kevin Stallings (at Vanderbilt), who doesn't like to throw bouquets, but I'm going to throw one to him. The job he's done with that young team to get them to play the way they're playing. This year there has been more coaching than any of the other years I've been in this league. For us, I feel good that out of the top six teams playing against each other, we have the best record - us and Florida. So I'm proud of what this team has accomplished with all the injuries and all the other stuff that's gone on. But we're still fighting, and that's what tournament time is about."

On Nerlens Noel, a timetable on his surgery and the possibility of him returning next year ...

"His family has that information. I don't have it all. It's going to be done here soon and all the other stuff will take time to play out."

On how he feels about the importance of conference tournaments now that the stakes are different for his team ...

"Not really. I wish none of us played in the tournament. Let's go on to the next tournament. But we're in this tournament. Now some years we're playing for a seed. There is an importance to the game. It's not the tournament itself. I have not changed. Other years it's, 'OK, you've got to get this one to make sure you're in, or you may have to get two, or you may have to win the tournament.' So there's an importance to it that way - seeding or whatever else. But as far as playing in a tournament at this time, three games in three days, I'm not a big fan."

On game planning for two teams ...
"I'm really concerned with our team. We've just got to be consistent. We come off a Missouri win, which was a heck of a win, and then we just go and lay two eggs. Now we're coming off a Florida win. Normally I would give them today off; well, I'm not. We're going to go really hard today and really focus on us being consistent in our effort, trying to sustain energy throughout a practice - all of those kinds of things that this team has lacked throughout. Now, we've overcome a ton. Willie (Cauley-Stein's) out and we're winning without him. Now Nerlens is out and we beat Missouri and Florida without him. Our point guard's out early and we played without a point guard. We're playing shorthanded. All that stuff, this team overcame a lot, and I'm proud of 'em, but we're still inconsistent, and that's what I'm trying to get (out of) these next few days. Let's just know that we're going to be consistent in our effort."

On how his team matches up with Arkansas and Vanderbilt ...
"We had two games that could have gone either way with Vanderbilt and Arkansas smashed us. So either game, either team is going to be a hard game for us. It isn't going to be like, 'OK, we win this game.' Arkansas absolutely demolished us. And Vanderbilt had their chances to beat us twice."

On Cauley-Stein being where he projected him to be at this stage ...
"He's done fabulous. This kid just has a great temperament. He's growing. He's building his own confidence. And I say it, if you want confidence from the Coach - 'Coach, you yell too much at me.' You can't play. You stink. You build your own self-confidence. You do it through great preparation and hard work and demonstrated performance. It doesn't matter what a fan yells at you, what the media writes about you; it has no effect on you. You have confidence. Well, he's building his own, and it's coming slowly because he was playing football six months ago. He was a heck of a wide receiver, by the way. But he is becoming a better and better player and becoming an integral part of what we're doing."

On him making additional steps the rest of the season ...
"Yeah, he's getting better every game. I could see him coming up with a 25(-point), 15(-rebound) and seven-block night. He has that. His feet and hands are so good, it's just he gets so tired out there because he plays so hard he's got to come off the floor. Against Florida, everybody's saying, 'Why would you put him with 11 minutes to go (and four fouls)?' Huh? How about that I wanted to win the game? How about that? 'Were you afraid he'd foul out?' Yeah, I was afraid, but I was more afraid of losing the game, so we played him. We told him don't foul. A basket does not kill us. Don't foul. You look at what he means to this team, he's had a huge impact. Nerlens being gone has hurt us, but we're still blocking shots, we're still rebounding the ball and doing the stuff we were doing when Nerlens was here."

On this being anyone's tournament to win ...
"Oh yeah. My respect for the coaches in the league - and I can even talk about guys that have been struggling and the jobs they did with their teams. What Tony (Barbee's) done (at Auburn). What Rick (Ray) has done (at Mississippi State). What Frank (Martin) has done (at South Carolina). You've got guys continuing to coach their teams and guys making strides. And Billy (Donovan), when you have the target on your back, I've been there. That's the hardest time to coach. And the job he's done. So you look around, one guy has done a crap job with his team and I think it's me. What we've done at times and what we've accepted is not what I've accepted in the past. But I've been really impressed (with everyone else). I think, because of that, that coaching, that ability to get through to their teams and keep them believing, that I believe this tournament is going to be crazy. I think it's going to be crazy."

On the Big Blue Nation's presence being an advantage ...
"It's important to this young team. Obviously we engaged our fans last game and it really helped us, but at the end of the day you've got to play basketball. The second thing is you've got to battle and fight. If they come at you, they can quit, like go on the rope, or you can fight. You can't have teams walking off the floor and their staff is saying to each other, 'This team is soft.' We've got to battle. When we battle, we're a good team. When we step back and don't want the contact or avoid the body check, we're not that good. That other team is as good as anybody in the country and I believe we can advance as far as they want to go. But you've got to fight, you've got to battle and you've got to really sustain that kind of attitude and that kind of effort."

On the job Mark Fox has done at Georgia ...
"Let me tell you what he's done. One, he's letting his star be a star, and he's getting other guys to accept how they have to play in a system for them to have success. And then they're not breaking off. They're playing physical. They're playing unbelievable defense. The last five or six games, their defense presence has been ridiculous. They never think they are out of a game. Early in the season we thought they can't win any games, and you look at them now. I called him on the phone and told him the same thing. I said, 'Man, you are doing an unbelievable job.' Cuonzo, the same thing at Tennessee. You think about where they were, and then he went to a smaller team. Well, you've got to get guys to buy into that. You can't just do it. They're still defending. They're still being physical. Their guard play is outstanding. You just go up and down the line and you just look at what some of these guys are doing and I'm blown away. That's probably why I look at myself and say, 'Daggone, what the heck am I doing?' "

On Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope having a revelation this year ...
"I think that's part of it, but I also think Mark's giving him the freedom that they need and the kid needs. He's saying, 'Look, you make plays, man, and the rest of us are going to do what we're supposed to do.' Now that doesn't mean he's not letting the other guys play, but what you do when you have a talent like that, you give him a little room, and he has. Like I said, when we went in there, we knew that if that kid got it going he's hard to stop. And Mark gives him room to get going."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings

On the tournament being wide open ...
"I think that the tournament is a little bit more wide open this year than it's been in other years. I'm certainly not going to sit here and say that we can or cannot or Arkansas can or cannot. I'm no prognosticator other than to think that our tournament will be very interesting and I think a lot of teams are good enough to win it. We'll just see what happens."

On late-season momentum helping teams into the tournament ...
"I don't know that's really an indicator, to be honest with you. A lot of it is matchups. I think it's who you get paired with and who you end up playing. I think there are certain teams in this league, for instance, that we match up with than we do with others. I think the same can be said for others in the league. And it's not always the same team. You go back and look at last year, we probably matched up with that great Kentucky team as well as if not better than anyone in the league, but there were some other teams in the league that we didn't match up with as well as maybe as we did even as Kentucky, as good as they were. So I think so much of it depends on matchups and who wins and who you draw and how you match up with them. And then somebody will get on a little bit of a roll and start playing well. And the reason I say that I don't think it's much of an indicator is because we've had some of our best conference tournaments having gone into the tournament not playing as well as we would have liked to play, including last year. We didn't feel like we were playing great last year going into the tournament and we ended up winning. I just don't know that that's an indicator of what's happened recently. It's about who you draw and the teams that kind of get on a roll as the weekend unfolds."

On why Bridgestone Arena is the best arena for the SEC Tournament ...
"I'm biased to the city. I'm biased to the people that run the tournament. I think the arena is terrific, and again, it's not one that we've had a lot of success in, but I think with a smaller venue, the tickets are a little tougher to come by, so it seems more like there's more people there and the arena's fuller. I just think it's a great place to have the tournament. We certainly enjoyed New Orleans last year a lot, probably more than any other tournament we've ever been to. Atlanta does a great job with it, but I'm biased to Nashville for obvious reasons."

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson

On Vanderbilt's improvement and increased confidence ...
"I think you get confident in one another. I think when you look at the young guys - (Sheldon) Jeter and (Kevin) Bright - I think they're starting to put their impact on this team here. (Josh) Henderson played a lot better the second time around and I think it's big. And obviously they shoot the ball. When they shoot the ball, they're a dangerous basketball team."

On Vandy having an advantage playing close to home ...
"Well they are playing there, so I'm sure it'll have some effect for them. But at the time, it's a one-and-done situation. It's survive and advance. But they get a chance to sleep in their own beds and play in a facility that's right down the street from Vandy."

On building confidence after struggling away from home this season ...
"It's a neutral setting and I think you throw all the records out because everybody's 0-0 right now. Two teams that have played each other, so they're familiar with one another. I look for a heated contest against some teams that's trying to survive and advance. That's the bottom line. It's a neutral setting, so to speak, so we'll roll the ball out and see what takes place."

On whether the tournament is wide open ...
"I think of course Florida, they ended up winning the league, so people will deem them the prohibitive favorite. But I think if you look at the records and teams beating up on each other, I think it can be an open tournament, there's no question. It's who's playing better at a particular time, who can get on a run and hopefully we're one of those teams that can get on a run."

LSU head coach Johnny Jones

On UK fans traveling to Nashville for the tournament ...
"I think that anytime you go there (Rupp Arena), it's one of the greatest atmospheres that you can play in front of college basketball. And you look around, anytime they travel - and I think Cal has made statements several times - the way that the crowds are when they're on the road, teams' attendance is generally up when they're playing because of their fan base and the way that they travel is impressive. So yes, I've always noticed it from time here before and now that they've always been that."

On whether than can provide an advantage to UK ...

"Well absolutely. Anytime you're playing at home, I think when you look at it and the percentage of times that guys have an opportunity to win or you look at the percentage of games won at home compared to on the road, I think you have to give your fans a great deal of credit for being a part of that as well and the way they're able to energize you when you're making a run and when you're playing well and you have that support. I think it means something. So absolutely, I think it means a great deal to have that type of support. When you're on the road, I think guys know that they're being followed that way."

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin

On the differences in Kentucky without Noel ...
"Obviously without Noel, from a defensive standpoint you lose a lot. Not just a guy that can really block shots, but you're talking about a guy that can defend on the perimeter at 6-11, 7-feet tall. He can defend smaller guys, he gets steals. So he wasn't just a shot blocker. He did a lot of things for their defense. He would guard smaller guys and Willie Cauley would probably guard the bigger guy. So you lose that presence. What happens is your perimeter guys get used to having a guy behind them who can block shots like that. So sometimes you have a tendency to open up the gate and funnel guys to him. So that's a major loss (when) you lose that caliber of talent. You can't all of a sudden next game (say), 'Let's get back to where we were.' It takes time to make adjustments. But when played him at our place, it was the first game without him in front of a tremendous atmosphere and our guys played well that night. Cal does a good job with his team. Those guys will be ready to play. You saw what they've done thus far. They lost to a tough Georgia team at Georgia. They've done a good job protecting their home court. But they're a good team. They still have pieces. They have talented guys. Now some might be young, but they still have talent."

Florida head coach Billy Donovan

On the effect on another close loss at Kentucky on his team's psyche ...
"I think our team, at least from what I can tell, is pretty good. I was obviously disappointed with the way we certainly started the first half and the second half in Lexington. We were up by seven and didn't get to the free-throw line and score points. It's been a couple different ways (that Florida has lost close games). At Missouri, I thought we probably relied too much on behind the 3-point line and probably didn't get enough action toward the basket. And then in Lexington against Kentucky, we only took two perimeter jump shots. Everything else is around the basket, which is what you want to try to do to try to get fouled or to at least go inside and have maybe a higher-percentage shot. But for us in those games, I just don't think that we've shot the ball particularly well. I can't sit here and say we've gotten poor shots or taken poor shots or taken poor shots. I will say this: The one common theme in those games to me, because I actually thought we didn't execute great against Missouri and I think we executed well against Kentucky in terms of what we were looking to do and where wanted to get the ball and the kind of shots we were looking to get. I thought we got them. But the one common theme in those games is I think our turnovers have been way too high. Against Kentucky, we turned it over five times. We had a stretch against Missouri with about 11 minutes to go where we were up and three of the four possessions we turned it over and inevitably it led to a run. What kept us around in the Kentucky game was we turned it over five times, I think they turned it over four. We were never really able to capitalize, either were they, but they were able to manufacture points, Kentucky was, from the free-throw line and we weren't able to manufacture any shots. We had some stuff in around the basket, but I think we've got to continue to work to get better. I think we've confident guys, I think we've got guys that are capable, but for whatever reason in those situations - and it hasn't been like a game-winning shots as much as it's been like a stretch where we've kind of had a drought."

On this being talked about as an open SEC Tournament and whether Florida will be looking to prove that wrong ...
"I don't think that that's our view at all. I think, nine-week league schedule, we've had some high moments and some disappointing games, which I think you're gonna probably have in an 18-game league schedule. But I think the one thing I said about our league: I think back in November and December before the conference started, we've had a lot of teams in my opinion that I think were not playing great in November and December and have gotten much better. We obviously played Vanderbilt towards the end of the year; I think Kevin's (Stallings) done a great job with his team being youthful. They've gotten better and better and better and strung together some games. I think the same thing can be said about Georgia with Mark Fox. The same thing can be said about LSU. Maybe when the league started back in January, teams weren't playing to their capabilities, but all these teams have gotten better. Even playing Kentucky, although (Nerlens) Noel's been out for five or six games, they're still learning how to play. So I think the tournament is wide-open. I don't think it has anything to do with who's won a regular-season championship. It's a new season. It's a new opportunity. There's no longer really any more home games; it's neutral site so I do think it is (wide open). There's a lot of teams out there that are very, very capable. And when you're dealing with a one-and-done situation and a one-game tournament like this, I think anything can happen. And I would agree: I think the tournament's wide open."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/44482

Leave a comment




Recent Comments