Kentucky Basketball Press Conference

Calipari Video | Lee, Murray Video | Mitchell Video

Head Coach John Calipari

On what this team could be and what he’ll learn about the team in the next five days …

“We’ll have a lot of things answered. (Albany) has most of their team back and was an NCAA Tournament team (last year). NJIT has their whole team back and their players that beat Michigan on the road. Duke is Duke. We’re not just pressing and running for conditioning; we’re trying to play to win. It’ll show. I’m more concerned defensively than I am anything else. I want to press, but I just know me. If we’re giving up layups and open shots, then we will not press. We’re not just trying to take your silverware. We’re trying to pick you up, play, and make it hard and difficult. We’re not trying to give up layups and easy shots. We’ve worked on it. Our transition defense, when our point guard drives, is out of balance. We don’t get back and that’s when you give up layups. We’ll have to see. I think we’re more random offensively than we have been in the past. We’re still organized.”

On so many games in a short window and Alex Poythress …

“He’s been great the last few days. He’s becoming the elite athlete. If he doesn’t try to dunk a ball, then I stop practice. ‘Why didn’t you try to dunk that ball?’ He has missed some dunks and that’s fine. He’s blocking some shots and running. I’m not sure whether I’ll start him this game, but it doesn’t matter. He, Marcus Lee, and Skal (Labiessiere) are going to play as many minutes as they can possibly play. Isaac (Humphries) will steal some minutes from there. Maybe Derek (Willis) would steal some at that position too.”

On respect he has for the Albany team …

“One, they are well coached. You’re talking about players who believe they’re an NCAA Tournament-level team, and it’s a hard first game for us. They’re walking in the building saying, “We can beat these guys.’ And the beginning of the game will be important. Not that you have to be up 13-0; they just have to know, ‘Oh, they won’t be as easy as we thought,’ because right now we have a whole new team. They are looking at us saying, ‘They’re no different than us’ because they’ve got veterans that were in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and we know how hard it is. NJIT went to Michigan and won. They’re going to play Princeton offense and I have all freshmen. Don’t have the camera up above their offense doing lessons on us. I’m telling you, it’s two hard games and then you flow into Duke, which is another monster game for us.”

On Tyler Ulis being in a walking boot ...

“Isaiah (Briscoe) bumped knees with Dom(inique Hawkins) so he’s got a bruised knee. (He’s) day to day, so I don’t know if he will go Friday or Saturday. He might. Tyler is fine from what I know unless there is something I don’t know. I wear that boot sometimes. Do you ever wear that boot? It’s really good. It makes you taller. Knowing Tyler he probably could play with that boot on if you put something on the bottom of it.”

On improvements from the first practice until now …

“We are beginning to get tougher, Alex is starting to establish himself, and we are starting to figure out how to play off of one another. I’m knowing where I have to take Charles (Matthews) and Derek. It’s pretty clear to me what I have to do as a coach to get them to be the best version of themselves. This team works every day. They’re playing and they’re bringing it. My hope is that they listen and they want to be coached. We have to tell them the right stuff. We are not going to know if how we are trying to play is the right way until we start playing games, real games. Let’s get down 10 and let’s see who we are. It’s as important as that because every game we play someone is excited about playing us. There’s a chance, just like Columbia, that you are down 11-0 to start the game. Let’s see who we are now.”

On if he has seen any tape on Albany …

“Yeah, I watched them a little last year, but they’re different because their four man is different. The other night I watched a tape of them in a scrimmage.”

On if he has ramped up his coaching these past few practices …

“I knew these last two days were the last two days that I could really say, ‘Let’s go.’ Today will be non-contact even though we will go up and down the court. More about execution and spacing and all of those things. Obviously Saturday and then Sunday, what are you going to do when you play at 8 p.m. on Saturday? Then you have Monday, and then you’re playing on Tuesday. I tried to stretch them out, I tried to get them to where they were winded and ready to let go of the rope and then start a new drill to see where they were. We are coming together.”

On playing back-to-back games to start the season ...

"I just wanted more time between that Duke game, and that may be a mistake. We could lose that second game and you say, ‘How do you like that now?’ I’ll say, ‘We probably shouldn't have done it that way.’ We just wanted a little more space between that game."

On this being a good first game for Albany against a team like Kentucky ...

"I would say it’s great for both of us. They want to be an NCAA Tournament team. They want to be able to go on the road and play well and see what they are. They have veteran guards that are really good and know how to play. Sixty percent of their stiff is guard play, and those guys are back. For us, it’s a great game because we have young guys that think, ‘Well, I'm at Kentucky.’ Yeah? And they're at Albany. Now, let’s figure this out. Should you be at Albany and they need to be a Kentucky? That’s the stuff to feel, and I know it’s going to be that kind of game."

On if Dominique Hawkins is back ...

"He is. He's played the last couple of days. He's hurt two guys right now (laughs). Yeah (more laughs)."

On Albany’s head coach saying Jamal Murray could be the best player in the country ...

"I would like to think that by the end of the year that people are looking at him and say, ‘Wow.’ Like they were Karl(-Anthony Towns), like they were Anthony (Davis). At the beginning of the year they weren't saying that. They were saying they're nice players. Right now I don't want to put that on the kid. The issue he's having right now is that he never thinks he takes a bad shot. Like, if he's falling down, he throws one over his head, it may go in now. So I said this: ‘Do you think you ever take a bad shot?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, but it might go in.’ ‘How about this, you tell me when you take a bad shot. I won't tell you.’ Told him three days ago. ‘Tell me, even if it goes in, if it’s a bad shot and you know it, you just say, ‘It was a bad shot.’ ’ ”

On how often Jamal Murray has told him it’s a bad shot …

“He’s not told me yet.”

On if the problem with him is he makes some of those bad shots …

“When I say he fell and threw a lefty and it went in, I said, ‘Son, that’s not a good shot.’ He looks at me and says, ‘But the ball went in.’ And I said, ‘Son, you would make that one out of 10 times. The rest of us wouldn’t make it one out of 10. You’d make it one.’ ‘Coach, you haven’t seen me play enough.’ OK. 

He's the greatest kid. If I'm not smiling and he walks in the gym, he’ll go (pointing to his smile). He’s great. I’m having fun with the team. I just worry about our fight, our desire to fight; the will to win; the tough plays; the grit – the true grit that you have to play with; the passion to fight for balls and why you’re doing it. It’s just going to be a process with this group. And that’s why Alex being healthy and playing the way he’s capable of playing, he can lead our guys to do that.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes

00, Marcus Lee, F

On the biggest change from the first practice until now …

“A lot of things. We are definitely getting at each other more and keeping each other more accountable.”

On if Coach Cal is yelling more at practice …

“He’s doing his usual amount of yelling. He’s always yelling; there isn’t a moment that he isn’t. But right now we are trying to minimize that, especially me, Alex (Poythress) and Tyler (Ulis). We are trying to figure things out so that he can stop yelling as much.”

On the toughness of practice this week …

“This week has definitely been one of the hardest weeks that we have had. I think that is really going to help us this week with these double games. It definitely will prepare us.”

On if he’s done any scouting on the University of Albany …

“No, we don’t scout much until the day of. We are just trying to get ready and do the best that we can.”

On what made practice tougher this week …

“We competed, we ran a lot and we did a bunch more running than usual. The level of expectation was raised so much more this week.”

On if he expects to run a lot more this year than last year …

“Not me personally. I run all the time. It’s just what I do. But it’s definitely something that we discovered we are really good at and that we can pick up and make the game a whole lot faster.”

23, Jamal Murray, G

On being named All-SEC Second Team …

“I don’t really pay attention to all the rankings. Never really have, even high school. So that’s not a concern for me.”

On the feeling entering his first college game …

“Excited. We’re all excited to be here and excited to start our journey as a team. Got a ways to go, but we’re focused on tomorrow.”

On John Calipari’s primary goal for the weekend …

“To get our principles down, how we’re going to play. Just get a feel for the team for the games next.”

On Albany …

“I’m not familiar with the school, but then again I didn’t really watch TV coming up. So I’m not sure.”

On what they need to work on most …

“We just gotta be more disciplined and more trusting of Coach. When we’re tired, call for a sub and stuff like that. Get our press down, our defensive principles and our offensive execution.”

On how the three-guard lineup could help UK …

“It could help a lot. It’ll throw other teams off, playing three guards in there that can also rebound and we’re all interchangeable at the same positions. It’ll be exciting to see.”

On whether he’ll be nervous playing in Rupp …

“It’s exciting. This is what I do for a living, right? So I’m just going to go out there and have fun and not pay attention to all the hoopla and stuff like that.”

On the biggest change in the team since the first practice …

“We’re much more organized. We kind of have an idea of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play.”

On learning where guys will be on the court …

“Yeah, we know the spots and we know where to be and how to play off each other. A guy like Tyler (Ulis), we know where he likes to pass and stuff. We know how to get open. Much more smooth now.”

On whether they are better in a transition game …

“With the three-guard lineup, that’ll be beneficial for us out in transition. We can all run the point. We’re all break-starters and we can all finish at the same time. So that’ll probably change the game a lot.”

On whether they might wear opponents out …

“Especially with our pressure defense. We can just rotate off other guards and really get at it defensively. We’ll wear some teams out by doing that.”

On if “fast” has been a word Coach Cal has said frequently …

“Yeah, we’ve been playing fast. We’ve been playing up-tempo, changing our style a little bit. We’re very versatile in transition.”

On if they have a feeling as to how big UK’s upcoming three games in five days are …

“Yeah, we have a good feeling for it. In practice we see Coach get a little bit anxious now, little frustrated when we don’t do something he wants us to do. So we’re definitely locked in to what we need to do.”

On if he thinks they will have a good gauge as to who they are as a team after this three-game stretch …

“I think we’ll find out individually who we are, how tough this team is. We’ll be facing some good teams so hopefully we’ll just go out there and do our thing.”

On the team’s chemistry and if they got something out of their exhibition games …

“Yeah, we definitely got a feel for each other. Chemistry is there on and off the court. We’re very comfortable with each other and we know how to play with each other, so that just goes well with playing with each other.”

On Albany’s coach saying that he could be the best player in college basketball …

“It’s an honor to have that kind of recognition. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing and prove that.”

On how unique it is to be on a team where maybe three guys could be named the best player in the country …

“That just shows how deep our team is and how versatile we can be with the guys that we have on our team. There are many (things) we have to work on individually, but I think we’re going to come together.”

On the shortened shot clock …

“I don’t really watch college basketball a lot, so I mean, it could – lot of teams will probably press more so you have to be ready for that. Yeah, we have five seconds less, that’s it.”

On his role on the team and what they want him to do …

“Do a little bit of everything. They want me to rebound, find spots to shoot and score, get my teammates open, run the team when I’m playing the point. Just do a little bit of everything.”

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening Statement...

“By the time we take the floor tomorrow night, it will be 34 practices and a bunch of hours spent trying to get ready for it.  And it’s always an exciting time when you open up the season.  So this team’s put a lot into it.  We are very much a work in progress, but I’m excited about the future of this team.  And tomorrow night’s a big step for us against Rice University.  I have a lot of respect for Tina Langley and what she’s accomplished and I know she’ll have her team fired up in her first game at Rice.  So I know they have a lot of good players back and it’ll be a battle. I know our players are excited for it and we’re gonna get after it and play as hard as we can and try to take a big step forward tomorrow night.”

On the team being a work in progress and what he hopes to see…

“Well, we’re as inexperienced as we’ve been in a long, long time here.  Starting my ninth season, I don’t recall (being as inexperienced). In my first two teams that we had here, my first year here we had quite a few veterans back my second year.  It’s probably been since the 2011 season where we really played a lot of inexperienced kids.  So it’s been several seasons since we’ve been this short on experience.  But I just want to see them really hustle and play with a lot of grit and determination and really scrap tomorrow night, because that’s where the magic’s gonna be for this team.  And the things that we’ve tried to emphasize, we want to do well.  I was so proud of them on Sunday for the way that we avoided fouling and we didn’t have hand checks.  Something simple like that, we’re going to try tomorrow night to be very tenacious defensively without fouling and we’re going to try to be very tough on the boards.  So simple things like staying in your stance, leveling off the ball, holding your box out, securing the rebound.  Real, real simple things.  But if they do that with great effort , we have some explosiveness on this team and some offensive firepower that I think we all saw a glimpse of last Sunday.  So we’ll keep it real simple tomorrow night and try to play harder than Rice.  That would be a great outcome for us if we could do that.”

On how much he has had to change the philosophy in the past few weeks…

“Well, when you have experience and you have depth, you can throw a few more things at a team and you can practice maybe a little bit longer.  When you have smaller numbers, and we’ve really been banged up this last week, not only with lack of experience but injury and players missing practice for different reasons, we haven’t been able to throw as much as our players as you like to do.  Sometimes when you’re early in the season, you like try to install a lot of stuff and get that stuff in, and then you can sharpen it up as the season goes on.  We’ve had to stay pretty basic with this group, which is not bad.  It does not mean that they can’t play good basketball, it just means that we have simplified things a little bit.  And then we just don’t practice as long as maybe sometimes I would like to.  Because as a coach, you’re trying to get everything in and trying to get things installed.  And so sometimes you have to realize as a coach, your comfort level is not the most important thing.  It’s really responding to what you have in front of you from your team.  So we’ve had to shorten our practices a little bit and we’ve had to simplify schemes, but it’s all in response to what’s best for this team and this group of players.  And one thing that I’m not concerned about right now is ‘are they gonna come in practice and hustle?’  So that’s a very comforting thought for me as a coach.  And certainly, we’ve tried to hang our hat on being a team that plays with great effort.  So they’re doing that right now.”

On the differences four periods instead of two halves makes on the game…

“Well, I made the mistake of calling them quarters.  So I just want everyone to know they’re periods.  So you would think they’re quarters.  You would think they’re four quarters.  But I had to learn this.  The four periods that we played last Sunday, I think, are going to lead to a lot of excitement for our game.  It’s gonna change a lot of strategies in the last minute of the game.  Now you can call a timeout and advance the ball.  So a six-point lead with 10 seconds left used to be some type of miraculous situation.  Now you just need a kid to miss a couple of free throws a couple times and if you have the timeouts, you can get it in there and make a three in two or three seconds.  Foul again, they miss more free throws, go back, tie the game.  So from that standpoint, you can see some major changes, so I think that’s going to be exciting.  And then you just have doubled your end of clock situation.  So we’ve worked on that.  At the end of one of the periods, the way we played defense needed to be a little bit different because the clock was gonna run down and that wouldn’t have happened without that.  So there are gonna be some changes that we all have to become good at strategically, and I think it’ll just make everybody better and make our game more exciting, I believe.”

On Makayla Epps’ injury situation…

“Well, we still don’t know.  She has to complete the concussion protocol, so we are still in that, and I’ll be able to get you a better update probably after the game tomorrow night.  So right now, she is in the concussion protocol, which means she is not cleared to practice.  So we are hopeful.  But today’s a big day for her to see where she is, but one thing you have to make certain is that you take care of the player.  And we’re just not rushing anything to make sure that she’s ready to roll when it’s time.  There’s no pressure for her to play on Sunday whatsoever, and it’s just part of the game and part of the things that happen.  She really got her bell rung there and it’s been a tough thing to get past.  But she’s been doing well and we anticipate a full recovery; we just don’t know when.  We’ll have more information for you after the game.”

On Janee Thompson’s play after coming back from injury…

“It’s still a work in progress there, so we’re still paying attention to her workload.  Right now, what it is, as you saw she performed very well.  She’s continued to shoot the ball great in practice this week and it’s just a matter of how much recovery does she need and making sure we don’t put too much workload on her right now.  But she felt good, a little sore and banged up after the game but that’s to be expected right now with the type of injury that she had.  She looks good right now. But we just have a great plan with Courtney Jones.  Our trainer is just the best there is and Janee’s taken an active role in taking care of her body, so I feel really good that we’re on top of that situation and it looks good for her right now.”

On the mindset he and Janee have taken on her recovery and practice…

“I’m really trying to pay close attention to it, because she’s a competitor.  But she’s been great.  If I see a sign and I’m like, ‘hey, do you need a break right now?’ she’ll be like, “yeah, I do.’  So it’s not totally her because she’s such a competitor and she understands how important she is to the team.  But what I’ve tried to explain to her is that patience right now and having the big picture in focus is so important because we just need to do it right and get her fully back on her feet where she is as if the injury has not occurred.  That’s what you’re trying to get back to, and so everybody’s got to a great job paying attention and making sure we’re handling it well.  And like I just said, I think we are.  I think we’re in a good spot there.  But she has not ever tried to handle it poorly.  She’s handled it great.  And if I ever mention to her, ‘it looks to me like you need a break,’ she hasn’t fought me on that or been resistant.  So she’s really, really handled it well and done a good job.”

On how the post presence has changed…

“Well, one thing we’ve really tried to commit to early in the season is being more intentional about giving the players time to drill post entries.  I would say, after 34 practices, I bet you 28 of them began with post entry drill every time.  So it’s a signal to the players that we want to get it into the post.  We want the post players really working hard so they could get open, and we want the guards with their eyes up.  And as I’ve examined it over the last few years, we just haven’t been as good in the area as I’ve wanted to be.  So what I’ve seen with this team, if you emphasize something , they’re such hard workers and conscientious kids that they’ll give it to you.  So I wanted to try and be intentional with that.  And that’s something that we’ve tried to begin practice with every day is that post entry drill.  And it’s really paid off.  We’re throwing it more into the post now probably more than we ever did at any point last season.  In practice, I mean.  So some of that is working on it and helping the players be more confident in their ability to do that.  Certainly if you have targets like Evelyn (Akhator), Alexis (Jennings) and Batouly (Camara), the people that showed on the court on Sunday.  And when Alyssa(Rice) gets back, all of those players are good players and are working hard.  So our confidence level is higher in that area than it’s been in a while.  And I think it’s a combination of having good players and being really intentional about it.”

On if the increase in post plays will help in the long run…

“It puts a lot of pressure on the defense to make a decision when you can throw it in to a kid like Alexis Jennings.  Are you going to double team her?  Or if you don’t double team her she’s got a great chance of scoring. Evelyn Akhator, just finishing a play instead of having to manufacture something.  Do a great job of the fundamentals, throw the ball in and score.  So it’s a huge advantage for offensive efficiency when you can get the ball close to the basket and finish.  And last year, frankly, we just had a hard time.  Alyssa was rushed a lot, Alexis wasn’t in the best of shape and couldn’t do it the whole time.  We just had some challenges with some lineups, throwing the ball in and getting buckets.  And it made it hard on us.  We were a two seed in the NCAA tournament shooting the ball below 40 percent.  It’s a real testament to how tough that team was, not being a very good offensive team.  So we should benefit from that, and I think post play for us is gonna be important this year.”