Kentucky Basketball Previews EKU

Poythress, Willis Video

Kentucky Men’s Basketball
UK-Eastern Kentucky Pregame Quotes
John Calipari
Joe Craft Center – Lexington, Ky.
Dec. 8, 2015


Head Coach John Calipari


On if the UCLA game was like the game at Indiana in Dec. 2011 … 
“Yeah, this was different though. This wasn’t the same feeling. It wasn’t the same. All the things that happened. With Marcus (Lee) being out, you’re one short. Then guys had to step up and play and they didn’t. And so we had three or four guys who didn’t do the things that we needed to do without Marcus. They outplayed us. They beat us to every 50-50 ball. When you’re shorthanded you’ve got to be really tough. Physically and mentally tough from shot selection on offense to not rebounding the ball. See, Marcus gives us free baskets because of his offensive rebounding. We got none of that when he was out. It just showed. I think they watched the tape, they got it. We had a great practice yesterday. It was really grueling to be honest with you, but it’s what they needed. We’re trying to hold them to a high standard in what we’re accepting. Skal (Labissiere) is going to take time. It’s a process. I’ve had guys here before. Some guys get it quicker. Karl-(Anthony Towns). Some guys don’t get it quicker. It takes two or three years. It has nothing to do with skill. It’s nothing to do with his ability to score hooks and all that stuff or block shots. Like, all these kids, we’ve got a great group of kids who want to do well, but this is really hard stuff we do. Now we’re playing a team in Eastern Kentucky who should be 9-0. Scoring in bunches. Shooting 45 percent from the 3. Athletes at all the positions. They scramble the defense, they press, they trap on different opportunities. They switch a lot, which means you have to try to take advantage of stuff. They’re a good team. They’re playing good right now.”

On if Marcus Lee has practiced since the UCLA game …
“He has not. Hopefully today we’ll see if he can do anything. Tyler (Ulis) was full yesterday. It was the first time (since he injured his elbow). Tyler hadn’t practiced before the UCLA game. He did a half a practice, but nothing. Yesterday he was really full and shot the ball well. Seems to be back to where he was.”

On Lee’s injury …
”He got hit in the head. I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t have any idea. You’ll have to ask the doctors.”

On yesterday’s practice …
“What I didn’t do is I didn’t accept certain things. If certain things weren’t done, we ran. If certain players weren’t doing what they were supposed to, we ran. Then it was like, ‘Now, if you want to keep running, keep doing it.’ Look, I want to empower this team, but when they are in, where they are right now, that’s my job. That’s not a teammate to do that. When everybody’s doing their thing, everybody’s trying, everybody is playing and battling, and you’re fighting, then they come together and they really accept what each other has to do. They can be empowered. We’re not close to that right now. That’s what – if this team is supposed to be by the end of the year what we all believe it could be, they’ve got to be empowered.”

On the team’s physicality in the post …
“What I will tell you is I’ve seen skinny guys battle. Just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you don’t battle. I’ve seen them battle. You just have to have that mentality. Some of it has to be your inner dialogue. What are you exactly saying to yourself when a shot goes up? What are you saying when it’s transition and you’re flying? What are you saying to yourself when another team is starting to beat you to balls? What’s your inner dialogue? And this is all new to these guys. You talk in terms of that to them, they look at you like, what? Well, you’re saying something to yourself right now. Whatever you’re saying, we need to change that. We need to get you in a different mentality. I’ll say it again: We have great kids. We have good players. It’s what I’ve said from day one; grit, battle, fight. They can all do that. It’s just hard. It’s really hard when the other guy comes in playing for their lives and you know they are going to play well. They’re going to play like it’s the biggest game for them of the century and then you don’t battle. That’s where we are right now. How we were even in the game without Marcus, I don’t know. But, we had our chances. In that game we never had a run. My friends came up and said, ‘Your teams always have runs.’ Well, you have to stop somebody five, six times in a row. Then, you can’t shoot reverse layups and floating runners when you’re right there. Just make that basket and now it’s six or seven. That’s what happens when you have young teams and go on the road.”

On Isaiah Briscoe’s play against UCLA …
“He did fine. He started the game shaky and then he got back. He has a great will to win. He really had a great practice yesterday, shooting the ball. He knows that he has to shoot the ball better. So, he’s in there and there’s one way to change some of this stuff. You have to change and I can’t change it. If it’s me, it’s only short term. If it’s you, it becomes who you are.”

On the rebounding mindset …
“You see a shot go up, ‘Who am I hitting?’ Marcus Lee will see it, ‘Which way is it going?’ That’s his inner dialogue. Which way is it going? Flying down the court. Where can I catch this? What’s open? What’s available to me? Versus, ‘I’m just running. Man, this is hard.’ Well, you seem to be behind the action. And that’s not just one guy. We have two or three. If you get into your team vs. yourself the game becomes easy. If you play for your teammates and that’s what your inner dialogue is about, this game becomes easy. When you’re into your own inner dialogue with yourself and it’s only about you, it becomes hard. And I’ll tell you, when things go wrong, that’s when it really shows where you are.”

On the value of having a number of players from outside of the United States and what that brings to the team … 
“To be honest with you, I’ve got a bunch of good kids that I enjoy coaching. You know the thing for us is you just want guys who are coachable and who want to get better. And we have that. Where they’re from or what color they are (doesn’t matter to me). Do you guys even know who has tattoos on my team? I don't. I wouldn’t know who has a tattoo and who doesn’t. I’m looking at their eyes. I’m not looking at their bodies like, ‘Wow, you’ve got a great body.’ I mean, that’s not what I’m doing. I mean, I have no idea – with that stuff and I don’t know when I look at a kid. ‘Well, he’s from Canada. He’s from Australia.’ You just want to have kids who want to be here. Now, the challenge here is this thing is really, really difficult and you think you know until you get here. Then you start thinking like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ For a coach, this isn’t last year for me. I understood what I had last year. I had a whip. This is a different – we have to embrace this. I have to embrace it as a head coach. That it’s going to be really difficult. And that it’s going to be a process. And there are going to be some games where we look like ‘hmmm’ along the way. And the whole thing – I’ve been here at Kentucky and we’ve had this. And by the end of the year we get things right and we get going, especially when you have good guard play. If you have good guard play, you have a chance. Now, it’s – think about what I’m saying – ‘Just fight. Alex, fight. Fight. Battle.’ I mean, that’s basically where we are and what we’re trying to do in practice. We’re scrimmaging more, even now, which I normally don’t do. We’re scrimmaging a lot. Yesterday we scrimmaged almost the whole practice. Just, ‘let’s go, up and down.’ They have to bring this out of each other. Like, you’ve got to go after (this). Like, if it takes you being mad, then be mad. I don’t really care. If it makes you happy, then it doesn’t matter to me. But something has got to bring that out of you – that battle, that ‘Here I go. I’m going to go get this ball. I don’t care who is near it.’ ”

On Skal Labissiere playing in the low post even though he’s not, as Cal described, Shaq …
“We’re putting him everywhere. But I do know this: You’ve got to be able to rebound around that basket whether you’re Shaq or you’re Anthony Davis. Skinny, it doesn’t matter; you’re 7-foot tall; you’ve got to figure out how to go get balls. So we’re playing him all over the place. It has nothing to do with his offensive skills. Nothing. He’s got great offensive skills. Shoot free throws, jump hooks, jumpers. Nothing to do with that. What’s happened to him now when he’s on offense, if you’ve noticed, they never have him without a body on him because they know he’s not comfortable when there’s a battle. So now there’s never space for him. Whether he’s in the high post, they’ve got a body on him. Whether he’s in the low post, they’ve got a body on him. If he’s on the wing, they got a body on him. If he drives, they body. If he catches and posts, they body. Until he embraces that, the game becomes a little tougher. And that’s how they’re going to play him. I mean, that’s how I’d play him if I’m playing against him.”

On how much an adjustment it is guys like Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray to get shots off who were used to having the ball in their hands …
“I don’t think that’s hurting any of the three of them. I think they’re all – what happened last game is I told Jamal, ‘You’ve got to get fouled this game. You gotta get fouled. You need to play like a big guard. That’s what you are.’ So when did he get fouled? On a fade-away 3 that they accidently fouled him. That was the one time he got fouled. Everything was to avoid to throw (it up). So they’re learning those things. They’re all in pick-and-rolls. They’re all having opportunities to catch the ball and go. They’re just not having the ball 75 percent of the time. But I’ll be honest with you, this is helping them. This is projecting a different player than if they had the ball the whole time. So this is a good thing for them. They can have it. You just don’t have the responsibility to have it the whole time. So I think this is playing out perfect for those three – Tyler and those two (Briscoe and Murray). Maybe they’ve got to rebound even more. I mean, our guards are like our leading rebounders right now other than Marcus.”

On how important a post player is for this team to create …
“I think you need any post presence, and it could come from Alex. Doesn’t have to come from Skal. Alex, you be that guy. It could come from our guys where we post them up. So it’s important that you have post presence so that the other team knows you can post it up, but it isn’t about that. This whole thing is battle and fight and come up with 50-50 balls, dive on the floor. You’ve seen my teams. Are we diving on the floor? What aren’t we doing? All that gritty stuff is what will win games and lose games. We’re not going to be 20 points up on people. These are going to be seven-, eight-point games and you’ve got to battle it through. You’ve got to have enough grit to go get balls and make a play at the end. We’ve shown we can do it; now we’re going to try to get every play to be that.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes


#22, Alex Poythress, F


On how practice and the team’s mood have been since Thursday’s loss at UCLA …
“We’re still in an upbeat mood. We just lost a game. Things happen. Out of our control. Move on to the next game. We’ve been practicing hard, really going at it.”

On picking up his fifth foul trying to block a dunk …
“I think it was just more of a reaction. I saw somebody going up and I just tried to block it. I forgot I had four fouls. You just have to be smarter in situations like that. Just gotta continue to get better.”

On being on the other end of a poster dunk …
“You don’t worry about it. Next game. You move on from it.”

On if you have to be willing to challenge a dunk to play at the next level …
“I guess. It’s just normal. I’m just going up for the block. Just trying to make a basketball play.”

On Coach Cal saying they need to fight more and if the UCLA game illustrated that …
“Yeah, it was a perfect example. It just shows how far we have to go. We’re just trying to get better each and every day. We have a long way to go. It’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re just trying to chip away at it.”

On Skal Labissiere becoming a more physical player …
“It just comes with time. We’re trying to help him in practice, tell him what to do, tell him he needs to fight more, do this and that better. It just comes with time. He’s still young. It comes when you mature.”

On how hard it is for him, or anyone without a big build, to play that way …
“It’s hard, but he can’t use that as an excuse. He’s still got to go out there and do the things that need to be done.”

On being each team’s Super Bowl …
“Yeah, I know. You have to be prepared for that when you play each and every game. Every game has to be a fight. Every game is going to be a battle. You just have to be prepared for that.”

On how badly they missed Marcus Lee in the UCLA game …
“We missed him a lot. We missed his presence. One of our frontcourt guys went down. We just had to pick up the slack for him.”

On if Lee has been practicing …
“You have to ask coach.”

On picking up three fouls quickly in the second half …
“I’m not sure. It’s just how the refs called the game.”

On if the UCLA game seemed like a step back for him, personally …
“I feel like as a team we probably took a step back, but we just have to look forward to the next game. You can’t fix the past or do anything about it. Just look forward to trying to build on your performance.”

On the road environment for a young team …
“It doesn’t surprise you. You probably expect to play better, but road games are tough. People understand that. You just have to be in a situation to understand it.”

On how much they need a low-post player to make the offense work …
“You need a physical post presence. We have great guard play. We just need some of our post players to step up.”

On what that then leads to …
“Get tougher rebounds, get more fast break points, get back in open court. Things we have to do.”

On how much Labissiere has turned it up in practice since the UCLA game …
“He’s turned it up a lot. It’s something we need. We need the intensity level to go up in practice.”

On if he knows at this point in his career when practice will pick up …
“Yeah, I know when practice is going to get turned up and when we’re going to have to do more things at practice. It’s just how the season goes. There’s always that one point practice gets a little bit harder. You just want to see how people respond to that.”

On what they’re doing to Labissiere to get him tougher and more comfortable with physicality …
“We’re just trying to do a lot of things when we’re tired and exhausted. We’re doing a lot more running. And then just playing, you just see who’s mentally tough and who lets go of the rope and probably doesn’t.”

On Derek Willis’ hair …
“No comment.” (laughter)

On the running in practice …
“It was running. Some people need to get in better shape. We’re just running – I mean, it’s what we do. We’re basketball players, we run all the time.”

On how different it is this year than previous years in terms of post play and if there’s an adjustment period to help get adjusted to their new personnel …
“Little bit of an adjustment period, but last year we had a great team, a great team with guard play and bigs. But this year we’re different than last year. We already know we’re going to get compared to last year even though we’re a completely different team. We just have to play to our style.”

On if the young guys seem more focused after a loss …
“Yeah, they do. They understand now that we can get beat at any time. We just have to be focused in practice and in games.”

On if a loss could be beneficial to them …
“Yeah, I know of course no one wants to say we want to lose to get focused, but we have to take the positives out of it and take it as a learning experience.”

#35, Derek Willis, F


On what practice has been like since they’ve been back …
“It was hard yesterday. We had to run a lot. We ran like four 17s within like an hour or a 45-minute practice we had. We’re just trying to increase how hard we’re playing, and if we’re not, then we’re going to get in better shape.”

On what’s going on with his hair color change …
“I don’t know. I just got an idea. One night I was kind of like, ‘Man, I kind of want to change my hair color.’ I bleached it and it was actually really like a blonde, and now it’s gray.”

On if he got much feedback of the pictures of him having blonde hair came out …
“I was kind of wondering how people even got the picture. I don’t know because I put it on Snapchat, I think. I guess somebody screenshotted it or whatever. But yeah, it was fine. I didn’t really care.”

On him not being surprised that something like his hair got so much publicity because it’s Kentucky basketball …
“No, I figured people would eat all that stuff up. It’s whatever. I just wanted to change my hair color. That’s about it.”

On what his girlfriend and his parents thought of it  …
“My dad was wondering why I did it and my girlfriend supported me. She was actually the one who did it.”

On if Calipari said anything about it considering Willie Cauley-Stein had blonde hair before …
“Yeah, as long as you play it doesn’t matter. So it’s all good.”

On if it was tough getting over the UCLA loss …
“Yeah. I think the one thing that was tough for us was I think because we didn’t fight and I would say we really didn’t play hard. That was a little hard to deal with, but now we’re just trying to increase that in practice.” 

On if the loss can help a team like this early on …
“Yeah, you always learn from a loss, and that’s the hard thing with wins. You look at it as like, ‘Oh we won.’ We don’t really know where we’re progressing. But with a loss, it’s like you did these certain things wrong and now it’s like you change those things.”

On what Coach Calipari is doing to get them tougher …
“It’s playing with your motor, honestly. That’s where the running came in and he wants you to be mentally and physically exhausted. From there, he wants to see who’s really about playing the game right now.”

On if he can tell if practices are less physical this year than they were last year …
“A little bit, yeah. But then again, we have our big men. You know, Skal (Labissiere) is probably like 215 (pounds) or 220. And he’s not an overly physical player, which is fine because he’s still very talented. But once he learns the physical play, I think it’s just going to help him. With Cal last year with Karl (Towns), he was always wanting to hit someone. He was always looking for Karl in attack, and that’s how he played, how he has always played. And Willie too. He played football and that’s just what he was used to. It’s just one of those things where I think Skal is just not comfortable with it and we’re just trying to make him comfortable with it.”

On who beats up on Skal the most in practice …
“We all take our turns, but I would say probably Isaac (Humphries). He’s a big body and that’s going to help him.”

On how he thought he played at UCLA …
“I thought I did alright. I came in the second half and I just wanted to bring some energy. Get something going. I don’t know, there’s probably some things I probably could have done. I remember one fast break, I think Tyler (Ulis) threw the ball. I can’t remember who it was on UCLA’s team, but I went on the other side and I ended up missing the layup. But I should have dunked it. There were other things. Defense, I had defensive lapses. That’s about it.”

On if he feels like he’s gaining a role on the team …
“I think I’ve moved more into the four position role honestly. At the beginning of the year, I was doing better with guarding like smaller people, and now it’s like I kind of struggle a little bit. I’m just trying to get back to that position so I can slide back into the three spot.”

On if he feels like he has to be more physical than what he prefers …
“Yeah. That’s just how the game has advanced for us. Being physical, it’s just – You have to play like that honestly.”

On if he had to do that last year …
“Not really. They were in there to do that work for you. So it was like you get in where you fit in.”

On if the team reacted at all to the loss …
“Yeah, we didn’t say nothing really on the bus. We had Cal speak and tell us all the stuff. We just really sat on the bus after the game and was like, ‘I don’t know.’ Listening to music, I don’t know. Doing something else. But we’re just learning from it and moving forward.”