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SEC teleconference quotes: On Camp Cal, start of conference play

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With Southeastern Conference play set to start this week, coaches participated in the league's first teleconference on Monday. With UK's long break between games, it's been a while since we last hear from John Calipari, so here's everything he had say, as well as a few quotes from Rick Ray. His Mississippi State team will come to Rupp Arena for a game at 8 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena.

Coach Cal


On entering league play ...
"When you start league play, you're seeing across the country, the high-flying teams, all of a sudden they're scoring 60. Everybody knows each other a little bit better, and if you're going to foul, they're going to call it, so you've got to play a little straighter up. You can't just go put your hands on people and check people. The game's being called different, yet we know each other. The challenges that you had in nonconference just get raised. The bar is raised. Conference play brings out a little more excitement and a little more of a fight between both teams."

On what practice has been like this last week without any games ...
"This team really needed this, what we've just gone through. We went from Christmas night to two-a-days just about every day. Played Louisville and come back and practiced the next day and go two-a-days for a bunch of days, but they needed it. It wasn't just the basketball; it's stretching them out mentally, getting to be together at breakfast, at dinners, practices, meetings, films and just bringing them closer. This was a big time. Now, we'll see how it carries over on to the court. You don't know, but they have really responded pretty good. They know, hey, we lost three games, but with three minutes to go in every game we're down one. We didn't know how to play. Did not know how to finish games. Did not know how to do it together. Didn't know how to be a team. Didn't know how to huddle. Didn't know to talk to one another. And we're getting closer to where we want to be, but we're not there yet."

On what he sees from Mississippi State's Craig Sword this season ...
"I'm going to be honest with you, I'm just starting to watch the tape of Mississippi State, and not out of disrespect. It's just I'm so focused on getting my team right that, I told our staff, I won't start watching tape until Monday, which I've begun watching this morning. And what I'm seeing is a team that is playing off of one another well, a team that is a execution team, defensively a team that doesn't stretch it out all over the court unless they're in their 1-3-1, that's going to give you a tough shot, that's going to guard you from the 3-point line and in. They're not trying to give up layups. They're doing a great job. That's why they're 10-3. It's what we need right now, to have a team come in here that's going to run their stuff and play a different kind of defense to see where we are."

On whether closing out the U of L game can be a boost ...
"Well, the thing that happened in that game, again, we played as a team better. Now, we still had breakdowns and we gave them a chance to come back and win a game that they should not have had a chance to win. It was based on what we did. But what you have is a team that's trying to figure out how we do this together. And at the end of that game, we executed down the stretch and guys made plays. Andrew (Harrison) made plays, Aaron (Harrison) made plays, Alex (Poythress) played awesome the second half and all of a sudden now we're grinding it, making extra passes and then making a play at the basket, which is how we've played historically here. It just takes time. This is the youngest team I've ever coached, and I've coached young teams. This team's habits, basketball-wise, were far worse than the other teams that I've had. They're great kids now; they just have bad basketball habits. And trying to understand, get them to define how we have to play together and how individuals have to be responsible for each other and to each other has been the challenge and that's why this little break we've had--we're really able to zero in on those four or five areas. That's all we did. There were four areas on defense, there were four areas on offense and we scrimmaged about every day for about an hour and a half and it was nonstop, up and down the court trying to get them to stretch them out, mental toughness and get them to execute both on offense, to create good shots for each other, and on defense, to make it tough on the other team for the entire shot clock. One of the things we talked to them about: When you have the ball, you're a passer. When you don't have the ball, think score. In other words, don't pass it the minute you know, 'I absolutely can't get a shot so I'll pass.' No. When you have the ball, you're thinking pass. When you don't have it, you're down, you're loaded up and you're ready to attack. You know what's open when you catch that ball to score or make a scoring play and that's the total difference of how they played. So this has been a challenge."

On whether the break was planned ...
"We like to have a little more time and when the league moved the schedule back it was perfect for us. We're going to see how this plays out. Maybe it helps us. Maybe it didn't. Maybe I wore them out. But we're going to see if this break helped us to see what we'll do a year from now. I will tell you that the players are ready to play. Oh my gosh. They see me coming and their head goes down. They want to start playing games. But for me, you have to--I'm even doing this: I'm putting the whistle down and making them continue to play for seven, eight trips up and down, which I normally don't do because I can't stand to see error. I need to let them know that's not right and I also need to let them know that is right. But now I've just put the whistle down, which they always get mad, I blow the whistle too much. Now they're saying, 'Coach, pick up the whistle,' because I stop them. Now they're just--it's up and down, up and down, up and down. It doesn't mean you're playing fast; it means you're not stopping. That's what makes it tough for them in the last 10 days, 12 days."

On whether he's confident his team can play the way it did in the second half against Louisville with Julius Randle on the floor ...
"Here's the one thing I want to tell you: We've had games where Andrew wasn't getting it done, had no pressure on the ball, wasn't in the emotional state. We go to somebody else and we play better. So he's done. Now when you see him, hopefully you're seeing a different player. We've also won with Aaron on the bench. James Young against Belmont was in Detroit before the game started, so we won without him. Now we've won without Julius. Now the question is, can Dakari (Johnson) or Marcus (Lee) give us enough that we can win without Willie (Cauley-Stein)? Now what's important about that is those guys know if you don't come to play and compete and battle or you're not quite ready, you're out and we'll win without you. That is very important for a team to know and I've made it a point to let them know that, whether it's Julius or Andrew or Aaron or James, we have enough. When you talk about the way Dominique (Hawkins) is playing, the way Alex is playing, if Dakari will give us more and Marcus Lee give us more and the way Jarrod goes in and helps our team. The one guy that I gotta get in games and I gotta get him started a little bit is Derek Willis because he's really been doing good in practice. He and Marcus Lee are the two that we gotta keep engaged because I really think before it's all said and done they're going to help us win games."

Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray

On the start of SEC play ...
"Excited to get ready for SEC play. I think we've had a successful nonconference slate. The fact that we were able to get to 10 wins as a team already when we didn't get to 10 wins until March of last season I think speaks well of the progress this team is making. But now we get a chance to test ourselves against the best."

On whether he's referring to Kentucky or the SEC in general when he says "the best" ...
"I'm referring to Kentucky and the SEC."

On his impressions of UK ...
"Well, they're obviously a really talented ball club. They've got a lot of individual talent and I think they're starting to figure some things out as a team. The thing that really concerns you about Kentucky is the way that they can draw fouls with their individual play. I think Randle is a complete handful and you have to help out on him but you also gotta be able to help without fouling. I think Andrew Harrison does a really good job of drawing contact with his physical drives and I think the thing that goes without saying--well, what I should say is most people don't notice this but I think Willie Cauley-Stein has really made strides as a basketball player. It looks like he's had a year of strength and development. He's really moving well as far as defensively. He's able to switch ball screens, he affects shots at the rim, he's done a lot of good things. I just think is on-the-ball activity and his ability to block shots off the ball has been really good."

On the improvement Mississippi State has made from last year ...
"I think first and foremost you talk about maturity. Our guys got a lot of experience last year they wouldn't have gotten on any other team or if we had a veteran team. They probably didn't deserve most of the minutes that they got, but that was the one advantage of having a young and inexperienced team. We had guys that were able to play a lot of minutes as freshmen or as first-year players. That includes even our junior-college players. So I just think from a year of maturation and experience they've gotten better. I think the one thing that we've really gotten better at is just offensively. We're still not a great offensive team, but we've figured out what is our lot in our life and what our role is. So we don't take as many bad shots as we did last year and I don't think we take as many contested shots as we did last year. We're still not able to shoot the basketball the way we want to be able to shoot the basketball, but I don't think we take bad shots. I think when you take a bad shot it's the same thing as a turnover, so it really hurts your defense."

On what Mississippi State's "lot in life" is ...
"Well, I think it's different for each individual. But I think the biggest thing is our guys are starting to accept what our roles are. I think it's always hard when any young man steps on the scene in college basketball. He wants to be that star that he was in high school and sometimes that just doesn't translate. But I think our guys have done a really good job of accepting who they are and what their roles are and not fighting that and it's really helped for the betterment of our team."

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