Kentucky Basketball Previews the SEC Tournament

Kentucky Men's Basketball
SEC Tournament Pregame Quotes
Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis
Joe Craft Center - Lexington, Ky.
March 8, 2016


UK Student Athletes

#23, Jamal Murray, Guard


On his awards …
“It’s an honor. I enjoy those awards and I’m proud of where I’ve come from and how far it’s taken me to this point. Just focused on what’s next and the games we have ahead and this practice.”

On whether he expected this …
“I’m just focused on the moment, the day, what I’m trying to accomplish and not get too ahead of myself.”

On needing to build momentum in the SEC Tournament …
“It matters a lot. We just gotta be focused and make sure we have the right energy going into the games and make sure everybody’s locked in and focused. We can’t take days off. We just gotta stay open minded and stay clear about our focus.”

On what could hurt that focus …
“Guys getting tired, complacent, just kind of letting their guard down for a second. I think that would play a part.”

On how hard it is playing three games in three days …
“I think the guys are ready. We’re used to practicing every day and competing and just getting better. This should be a cakewalk for us to go in there and compete.”

On whether it’s motivating to share a title …
“We’re not worried about that. Stuff happens and we just gotta move on and know that we can get better and we are getting better.”

On how he is holding up physically and mentally …
“I’m fine. I’m used to it. Probably one of the strongest parts of my game is the mental aspect and just go out there and stay calm, stay relaxed and get my body right.”

On choreographing his bow-and-arrow celebration with E.J. Floreal …
“It wasn’t really planned out, honestly. It was just kind of like next time I hit a shot, shoot at them all. So then I shot the ball right in front of the bench and it just happened. It just played out that way.”

On whether the bench players were responsible for the routine …
“Yeah. I had nothing to do with that. That was them. That was them.”

On how mad Calipari would have been if the player he was guarding when he did the bow-and-arrow celebration had made the 3 …
“I would have came down and hit another 3 (laughter).”

On whether Calipari would still yell …
“That’s fine (laughter).

(Mychal Mulder walks by) “Actually you can ask Mike about what happened on the bench. When you revived E.J. (Mulder says, ‘Because you shot him in the chest.’) See? It wasn’t me. It was all him.”

On how they feel about themselves …
“We feel confident about ourselves. Everybody’s mentally ready and fresh and most of us are healthy. So we’re just going to go out there and compete today and have a good practice and just get ready for the games.”

On whether they are playing their best basketball of the season …
“I think we played one of our best games so far against LSU. Everybody came out with great energy. Marcus (Lee) had a double-double, Alex (Poythress) played great and our bigs really stepped up too. So that helped a lot. We just gotta help them be ready every day.”

On why he does the bow-and-arrow celebration …
“Everybody’s different. I prefer the arrow.”

On why he prefers the arrow …
“I don’t know. It’s just something that came to mind. I really don’t know. It was just a thing that worked out for me.”

On a fan taking a picture of him buying a Nerf bow and arrow …
“I already have one. I already have one. Those two were for my dad and my brother.”

On whether he has the Nerf bow and arrow because of his celebration …
“I think I had them before. I think they’re just kind of cool. I had them long before that picture. I still play with them in the Lodge and stuff, but that was just for my brother and my dad to take home.”

On his reaction to Ulis winning player of the year …
“Oh it’s great. Not only that, but he won defensive player of the year too. He does it all. He passes the ball, scores, leads his team and like you see he gets after it on defense. All-around player, all-around performance this season. I’m very proud of him.”

On the team’s growing confidence …
“For sure. Everybody gets more confident every day when we encourage them or Coach helps them out to get through something. It’s more constructing and modifying our team right now than kind of teaching.”

On Skal Labissiere …
“We knew he was capable of this the whole time. He just lacked the confidence before and now he’s a lot more confident in himself and he’s hitting shots at a high percentage. He’s getting rebounds. That’s something we haven’t seen him do yet. So we just want to focus on getting him better every day and staying consistent.”

On expecting the big men to continue to step up …
“For sure. You can’t leave Skal open and AP (Poythress) can stretch it out and shoot it too. We got Derek (Willis) that can shoot it and Marcus that’s going to rebound every offensive ball. We got a lot of weapons. We’re not worried about their play. We just want them just to fight and just to play hard.”

On whether it will be big man by committee …
“Yeah. We’ll be fine just fighting and just helping each other out. The guards do a good job and the bigs do their job too, as long as we all fight as a team.”

On needing to build momentum in the SEC Tournament …
“We’re just trying to win every game. We’re trying to go in there with a refuse-to-lose mentality and everybody is locked in and ready to play. We’re just anxious to get on the court.”

On if he has any expectations for what he will see in Nashville …
“No, hopefully a lot of Kentucky fans.”

On what makes Ulis such a good defensive player …
“Everywhere you turn he’s always right there. He’s so short, he’s quick and he uses his size well. He’s underrated, his strength. A lot of people underrate his strength. He gets after it. He’s quick and anticipates the ball well. He reads patterns well. He does all the things defensively that Coach could ask for.”

On if Ulis ever guarded him in practice …
“Yeah.”

On how difficult that is to deal with …
“Full-court pressure is the worst just because you have to go the full length of the court and then call a play and get the ball back. It’s just a hassle to – you just feel like he’s so small, you just want to shove him out of the way, but it just doesn’t work like that.”

On if Ulis’ secret is being annoying defensively …
“He’s a pest. He’s a pest on defense. He frustrates a lot of teams and opposing players. He helps a lot with the trap, too. So, he anticipates balls and does a great job."

On what it meant to him to get the honors he did …
“It meant a lot. I was happy. I’m happy about my progress that I’ve seen in myself, and do what it takes to become the player I am today. I’m just happy about the awards.”

On how he’s grown from when he first arrived at UK to now …
“I play a lot simpler, just calm things down, not try to be too flashy or make the hardest play available. Just try to get the job done and help my teammates win.”

On how close the team feels about getting the scoring balance necessary …
“We got it. We just need guys to stay consistent and be confident in themselves to make the shot or whatever they’re trying to do. These guys are all ready. We’re just looking forward to showing it.”

On if he had heard Coach Cal’s criticism of playing simpler prior to coming to UK …
“I got away with it a lot in Canada. I got away with it a lot, so I didn’t get taught a lot of that. Just show what I can do kind of. Like I said, just try to get the job done and be more efficient.”

On if it was difficult to understand at first …
“No, it wasn’t difficult to understand, just plays that I did make, and could make, and wanted to make them, they weren’t always the highest percentage. So, I just have to play winning basketball and pick the highest percentage.”

On the difficulties of learning how to play without the ball in his hands …
“It was kind of difficult at first, just not having the ball in my hand, bringing it up all the time and calling plays. Same with Isaiah (Briscoe). He was struggling too not being able to shoot the ball as well as me, something like that. We all kind of figured it out together, and Coach did a great job of helping this team click – not just me, but for Isaiah too. It’s been a good transition.”

On if the 2015 Pan Am Games feel like yesterday …
“It’s been a long season. A lot of ups and downs, heartbreaks and victories. I miss the Pan Am Games. Hopefully I can play with them in the summer. Hopefully I can represent my country. Hopefully I’m back out there.”

On if he’s excited for the postseason …
“Yes, I am.”

On the advice he’s gotten from the older guys …
“They just told me how many fans there will be, how loud it’s going to be, anticipating the game. I’m just focused on staying motivated to get out there and prove what this team can do.”

On appearing to be tired at the end of the first half at Vanderbilt …

“I run off a lot of screens. I have to run back and play defense and I’m also expected to rebound a lot. It’s just a lot of running for me back and forth, up and down the court. Put a lot of concentration into making shots, and reading my defender off screens. It gets tiring, but I was fine. I was hot and I was hitting shots.”

On if UK is ready to go into situations where it’s win or go home …
“Oh yeah, I think we’re ready to fight, and basically fight for our life. Everybody is ready and motivated and anxious to get out there and beat the other team. We just want to prove what we got.”

On if other guys contributing in the post makes it easier for him and the guards …
“We don’t really run a lot of plays for them. I just try to take less shots and try to make the ones I get and get the bigs involved a lot more. Get them confident in rebounding, making a little jump hook, especially with them. Getting them ready, because we need them the most. We need them to help us the most and they’re a big factor with this team. When they’re helping, they’re helping. Skal’s hitting jump shots now too.”

On if he thought Ulis may win SEC Player of the Year first time he saw him …
“Yeah, I mean, I could, just because of his IQ and his smarts. It doesn’t even seem like he has a lack of size. He plays a lot bigger than he is, moves well on defense and on offense, finds people and finds ways to create his own shot without getting it blocked. He does a great job of playing within himself and helping our team.”

#3, Tyler Ulis, Guard


On what it means to be the SEC Player of the Year …
“It’s an honor to be recognized for something like that. I’m happy for myself. My parents I feel like are feeling it a little more than me, my dad and mom is real emotional. But it’s an honor to be recognized for this award and we’re just focusing on the season.”

On his Defensive Player of the Year honors …
“That’s an award that I like the most because I take pride in my defense. I really don’t like being scored on and I didn’t really know if people noticed the defense I played. But that was a surprise to me that I won that award and I’m happy to have it.”

On if it gets harder to play with a chip on his shoulder when he gets awards like this …
“No, not really because at the end of the day, you still have to win games. With winning, that’s where the awards come. You have to focus on the games coming up and these are just two things that I have now, and there’s really nothing else to it.”

On what the team’s mindset is going into Nashville …
“Just come play hard and give it our best. Everybody do their job and play to win.”

On what makes him an effective defensive player …
“I just try to be disruptive on the ball with the point guard full court and just try to keep them from getting into their offense and just try to keep everything hard.”

On if he watches tape when preparing with his defense …
“No, I don’t really watch tape. I just try to play off my instincts defensively. But if I have a guard who is known for dribbling and stuff like that, I may watch a couple highlights before the game. But other than that, just come out and play.”

On where he feels like there’s room for improvement …
“There’s room for a lot of improvement. I haven’t shot the ball as well as I’ve wanted to. Going into March, I feel like I need to do a lot better job of doing that for my team. Just continuing to play hard to win.”

On if he’s excited that the tournament season is beginning …
“Yeah, last year we fell a little short. So I can’t wait to get back out there and start running in March.”

On if it’s been talked about with the players that were here last year …
“We were actually just talking about in the locker room before I came out here, talking about how we should have had won last year. But we’re going to fight for it this year.”

On how much easier his job is now that others are stepping up …
“A lot easier. I don’t have to look to score as much. With Skal (Labissiere) playing like he’s playing, we can feed him the ball, have a post presence. Alex (Poythress) playing in the post, Marcus (Lee) doing his job, rebounding and blocking shots. It just all helps our team and allows us to do our job and just win basketball games.”

On if it’s a “better late than never” situation …
“Yeah, this is the perfect time for them to come on because it’s March. Any minute is going to be win or go home, so with them stepping up, it’s big for our team. Everybody is doing their job now and I feel like we can make a run.”

On what changed in Skal Labissiere …
“I don’t know. I don’t think anything changed in him. He’s been working hard, he works out every night. He just started fighting. He got in there rebounding the ball, definitively blocking shots. I feel like when he made a couple jump shots, his offensive game confidence went up and that helped him on the defensive end.”

On what did he point out to Labissiere that he’s picking up now …
“Nothing really, he just started making shots. We know he’s a skilled player and he’s coming out doing what he’s capable of doing. I just try to get him in pick-and-rolls, put him in positions, pass him the ball, and he knocks shots down.”

On if Labissiere got a confidence boost after the start at Florida …
“Definitely because in the practices, he was really playing well, playing hard, rebounding the ball, making shots, post presence. Coach Cal decided to start him and when he got in there, it boosted his confidence. He got in and made a lot of shots. Hook shots, jump shots, all types of shots, which boosted his confidence for the next game.”

On if he sees frustrations on the players he defends and does it boost him …
“It just brings energy to the team. When guys get frustrated, I feel like – I’ve watched film of our games, and I look at myself like, ‘That must be annoying.’ I just try to harass the man defensively and get up in them and just try to make things happen defensively.”

On if he believes the awards have proved that he’s a legitimate player and an NBA player …
“I guess it proves that I obviously wasn’t too small to play college basketball, but the next level I don’t know yet. I’m just focused on this year just trying to still win games.”

On if he ever dreamed of being the best player in the conference when he was recruited …
“No, not at all. I just wanted to come here, prove I could play and win.”

On taking pride in outhustling opponents even in their own offensive schemes …
“Oh yeah, definitely. With my size, I have to use my IQ to my advantage and when teams run certain plays over and over again, you get used to it and you know what they’re running. With the walkthroughs and practice, walking through what they do and stuff like that, you just have to pay attention to detail.”

On if the Texas A&M loss will motivate the team to be the SEC champions …
“No, not really. I don’t really think about it much, sharing the championship. But we’re just going to focus on the games we have, focus on who we have to play. We have a game coming up between Alabama and Ole Miss. Whoever wins that, we’re just going to focus on ourselves in practice this week and come out and win the game.”

On when he thought he could win the SEC awards at the end of the season …
“With our crazy fans, they remind me every day that you could win the SEC Player of the Year on social media and stuff. So it’s just, like I said, focus on winning. When you win games, the accolades come and the awards come, and you just keep playing to win it all.”

On if he expects a home crowd in Nashville …
“Definitely. I was telling Zay (Isaiah Briscoe) -- we were looking at pictures and he was like, ‘Was that at Rupp?’ And I was like, ‘No, that’s the SEC Tournament.’ (laughter) These fans, they travel for us and they go anywhere we go, and it’s going to be like a home game for us, which is great.”

On if that’s crazy …
“Yeah, that’s crazy and it makes no sense. But they want to see us play, and we love it.”