Part II: Coach Cal previews the 2016-17 Kentucky Wildcats

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari met with the media in September to discuss a myriad of topics surrounding the upcoming season, his eighth as the head coach of the Wildcats, as well as a number of other topics concerning college basketball, other sports and the world in general.

Below is the second and final part of that conversation. Included in the transcript below, among other things, Calipari talks about some of the current events surrounding the sports world today, coaching his son, Brad, De’Aaron Fox replacing Tyler Ulis and recruiting.

On athletes using their platform politically or for social causes …

“I had a meeting with the team – I think I did this a year ago – and then I had it again with this group. If there’s something happening in the world or around you that you want to make a statement about and you want to be a part, thoroughly, first of all, educate yourself. Thoroughly know what they stand for. Do you stand for everything they stand for? If you don’t, don’t get involved. If you do, that’s the first step. Do you agree with what they’re asking? Because most cases they want you in the front of the line. Why do they want you in the front of the line? Because you bring attention to their cause. If their cause is your cause and you’ve been thorough about it, that’s the first step. The second step would be, if I get involved, will it make a difference and tell me the downside. So the downside might be you lose your job, you lose your this, you lose your family, you lose—is it worth that? If it is, go for it. But you better know the downside of it. But you thoroughly have to educate yourself on what the cause is. It’s not just, well, this cause may be overarching. And I told them: There are times you gotta make a stand.

“I told them—we talked to them about the police and how to handle yourself if you get pulled over, this, that and the other. I’ve been in the company of—it was Bruiser Flint when I was at UMass. We’d be in a store and I’d go one way and he’d go the other way and there would be two people following him watching him. No one watched me. I’ve been in a car where I’m on the passenger side sitting back, he’s driving. It’s 2 in the morning and we get pulled over. ‘Where are you going? What are you doing? Which road did you take? Which road did you take? Why were you there? What were you doing? Did you take this road or did you take the other road?’ Until I said, ‘Sir, did we do something? Is there something here?’ I’ve been on an airplane where we’re in first class and they come over to me, ‘Hey, sir, would you like something to drink?’ And they go over to Bruiser. What do they say to him? ‘Can I see your ticket?’ Can you see his ticket? You know me. ‘Why didn’t you ask me for my ticket? Why are you asking him for his ticket?’ So, I tell these guys, just because you have a Kentucky uniform on, you don’t feel all this stuff. It’s there. OK?

“So, the cause becomes, if you thoroughly research it and you feel the same. If you think you can make a difference. If you don’t, getting involved for what reason? If you know can make a (difference), what’s the downside of this? What could happen to this? So I just—I’m not telling them not to. I’m just telling them the approach if they were to get involved.”

On if it’s difficult for him to not jump in and take a stand, himself …

“I would jump—if I think there’s something I need to jump in with, I would. I would have no problem. I just—what I just did, I spoke my mind and told you how I felt and this is what I see. But, you know, again, I’m an adult who would look at what I just said. Is it worth it? Would I make a difference? Or am I just doing it to do it? Am I going to make a difference and if I want to make a difference what’s downside? Tell me where this goes.

“For them, they’re 18, 19. If they don’t think it through and they do something, it could wreck them the rest of their life. You don’t want that. If they feel so strongly, they know they can make a difference and they know what they’re doing, they know what the downside is. The worst thing that could happen is this and I’m willing to deal with that, then they gotta do what they think they socially—their social conscience. I wouldn’t go crazy on them. I’d ask them, though, ‘Talk to me. Tell me why.’ ”

On how much he educates the players on that process …

“I would tell you that it’s hard to try to do the education myself because there may be a bias there. And I want them to know, educate yourself. There’s all kind of ways now. This isn’t 30 years ago. You can press a button and get information. You could go, ‘Could you give me information on…’ and then come right back at you. Believe me. So they can get it, but I would probably—I’ve told them, if you’re going to do something come to me first. Tell me why. We’ll talk it through and then you go do your thing. That’s my approach. All I need to do—it’s kind of like a kid wanting to leave here or stay. Tell me why you’re leaving. Really? Did you think this thing through? Who’s talking to you? Or you’re staying. Wait a minute. Tell my why you’re staying and then you sit there and you go, you know what, you got good reasons. Let’s go for this.

“Look, in one year, many of these kids, if not two years, they’re leaving me and going to a man’s world. I can’t have them do stuff because it makes me look good or bad. ‘You can’t do it, I’ll look like…’ What? It’s nothing to do with me. This is about a young 17, 18, 19-year-old making decisions which in a year-and-a-half, two years, he’s going to have to make. And now, how do you help him make decisions. You know, the stuff we talk about girls. I’m pretty blunt. I mean, you can’t—if you hit a girl, you should get punched in the face. You don’t hit—what? And if you have an issue with a girl and it’s in front of a judge, men, a 6-7 black man and a 5-2 white girl, you’re going to jail. You are going to jail. You are not winning. I don’t care what you say. Unless something’s on camera, you’re going to jail. And just—there are neighborhoods where—I was in Memphis. There are some tough neighborhoods where men and women blend. They’re the same. She smacks you, you smack her. It’s just—but my job is, help them develop habits. One of those habits may be, when I’m approached with something, how do I logically go through this and think about it.

“Business. Money. I talk to them about money before they leave. If it’s too good to be true, it is. If it’s too good to be true, it is. If someone’s going to make you 80 percent on your money, just give them the money. Say, ‘Just take it.’ I mean, there’s stuff—80 percent is either you’re selling drugs, you’re stealing or you’re an actor. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. Short of that, you’re a grinder like the rest of us. Hit a bunch of bunts and singles and hit a bunch of those. It’s all what we try to do here. And then basketball, on top of it, we better win games.”

On freshman guard De’Aaron Fox taking over for Tyler Ulis …

“I haven’t figured out, is he going to have the ball as much as Tyler. I haven’t figured it out yet. Now, let me say this, as I watch him, he’s going to have the ball. But Tyler had it, would you say 97 percent of the time, and he probably needed it 98 percent. But this is totally different and last year it was a little bit of Jamal (Murray), who we end up finding out, the way we wanted him to play, which is both with and without the ball, ended up benefiting him. And so now, what do we do? De’Aaron with the ball now, he can get to the rim, he’s getting more physical, he can create contact. He hits and then shoots. He’s not flailing. You just watch him in there. His pace of game is too casual at times. Like, my thing is, there are times he can look as fast as John Wall. John Wall knew that was his number one weapon and he used it all the time. Probably too much. De’Aaron hasn’t figured out that should be his number one weapon. It’s a weapon he’ll use every once in a while, but it’s really hard to run that fast all the time. So I’ll run that fast—the rest of the time, I’m so good with the ball I don’t want to run fast. I’m going to slow down so he catches me so I can—so there’s stuff. But he’s going to have the ball. He’s going to be in pick-and-rolls. He’s going to be in play-making decisions. He can score the ball too.

“Malik maybe played like Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist), which is if he’s ahead, give it to him. If you don’t give it to him, you’re coming out. Because he can just, you know—his explosion to go by you, his ability to make runners. He’s getting better at taking hits. Again, I’m telling you think with a summer and a couple hours a week. I mean, we haven’t—the real stuff of playing and then the schedule, which is top-heavy for this group being this young.”

On if coaching his son, Brad, has been what he expected …

“No, he’s been pretty good, by the way, but physically—he’s in the gym at night. He’s shooting the ball well. He’s a walk-on that, if he doesn’t try to go and play like the rest of these guys, if he doesn’t turn it over and he can make shots, he can play a little bit. Like, he can be up 20 and put him in. But it was funny, this summer he had a friend and we were down on the (Jersey) Shore and he was just, you know, being a typical 18, 19-year-old jerk. So I finally said, ‘Son, come over here. Do you understand that you gotta make me like you? This stuff has just changed. You do understand, if I don’t like you, I don’t want you in practice, I don’t want you around me. You gotta think, how do I make this man like me?’ If I don’t want you around, you’re not around. I’m just, get out of here. Beat it.”

On Brad saying he would like to coach one day …

“He told me that for the first time. He’s not, like, the most talkative kid. He’s more like his mother that way. He’s a little bit more quiet, but he said, ‘I think I want to get into coaching.’ I said, ‘Well, then you’re doing the right thing and I’ll get around Joel (Justus) and we’ll get you around the video stuff and Kenny (Payne) will be working you out and the other coaches, you’ll see all that side of it. You got four years to really study what we do here.’ Like I said, I’ve helped a lot of guys into coaching if that’s what they want to do. Players that played for me, assistant coaches who worked for me. I mean, it’s what I do here, so good for him. My thing to him: If you really want to play, you probably gotta go Division II or lower Division I and he had a reason why he wanted to come here. Like I said, tell me why you’d want to do this. I said, ‘OK, that’s good.’ I said, ‘It’s a hard job.’ Now, his mother thinks he’s playing. She’s out of her mind. She’s like, ‘You’re playing him. I’m telling you, you’re playing him.’ OK, alright. Just stop. What do we have for dinner?”

On if the makeup of this team reminds him of any previous teams …

“No. No. I’m excited about coaching them, but it’s, you know—it’s funny: My wife had them and just said, like every year the kids have just gotten—they’re great kids and they’ve gotten better. And she said this group—and Isaac said to me, ‘Last year, Coach, the team we had, the way we got along, it was unbelievable.’ And he said, ‘I never have played on a team like that. And now this year’s team is the same. Maybe even closer.’ And what our guys don’t understand until they leave us: It is not usually like that. It’s usually, you got a couple guys or this and that. You just don’t—we’ve been fortunate.

“And like I said, being at Kentucky, it’s a different deal. We don’t get everybody we’re recruiting. There are kids that act like, you know, Kentucky was one of the schools and I decided—I haven’t talked to a kid in two months. Us? No. I’ve had kids call me. ‘Coach, why haven’t you talked to me?’ Duh. Why haven’t I talked to you? You know where you’re going to school. You just want us involved. So go where you’re going. But we can—I leave this week and it’s going to be a grueling six, seven days. But after that seven days, we’ll have a good idea where we are. And we’re not recruiting that many guys. Seven, eight, nine guys, maybe. Some guys that—one kid texted me, ‘Are you OK if I put you on my five, my final five?’ Because he knows that I hadn’t talked to him in two months and he knows that he didn’t want to put it out there and then us say come out and say—he didn’t want to be embarrassed. I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re fine.’ I mean, I’m not going to hurt these kids, but the reality of it is we’re not recruiting every kid out there. But the ones that need to come here come here. Some other kids that look at this and just don’t want all this or it’s too much or are convinced, do you really want to be a part of that? Do you really want to share? Why would you score 11 a game when you could score 20 here? I’ll make you the center of attention. You’re 18 or you’re there family and you think 20 points is what’s going to get you a better draft pick than 11, probably should talk to Karl (Towns) or Anthony (Davis) or one of those guys, but, you know, you can believe that.

“So—but it’s going to be a grueling—I’m going to be from one coast to the other. I’m going to be, bap, bap, bap, bap, bap, bap, bap (pretending to point on a map) and then come home and then when we come home have some kids on campus. It’s an interesting time of the year. It’s grueling, but you guys understand why I have to go try to hit every kid in the first three or four days. Why would you say I have to be—if I don’t hit in the first three or four, five days, what? (Reporter says, ‘You don’t want them.’) Right. And who’s telling them that? Who’s telling them that? I have to. You got no choice. If I say, ‘OK, I’ll see you in the second week.’ ‘Oh yeah, he really wants you. I was here at midnight waiting on your doorstep and he’s coming in week two. Come on.’ So we just say, OK, here’s what we’re doing.”

On how difficult it is to recruit a class like this knowing there can be major turnover on his roster …

“Well some kids are going to wait, and that’s OK. It’s OK in that, you know, we feel we’ll lose enough that it’s not going to affect. But you’ll have people tell them to wait thinking, let’s hope all his team stays. So three of them, ‘You don’t want to do early. You want to wait. You want to wait. You want to wait.’ And you’re like, why would someone tell them to wait? Because they don’t think they’re getting them if goes early but if they wait they got a chance if everyone else—I mean, it’s—and some of the kids go for it. Yeah, you know what, I do want to wait. I want to see—well that’s OK. And then other kids are going to make decisions early. I want to get this done and this kind of class we gotta sign five or six guys. There’s not—this isn’t, you know—I just told one guy, I said, the great thing in the old way of recruiting when I was at UMass: Every third year you had to have a big year. The other two, you were just kind of plugging holes and if you got somebody, fine. If you didn’t, you’re fine. But the third year, you had to get like three, four guys. Think about that. We’re trying to sign five a year. Not every high-school class is like really good. You try to get the best of what it is. But when you have 28 that got drafted, it kind of helps you when you go out. So what do they say then? ‘Oh, they were good before. There’s no such thing as preparing kids. They were there before.’ What about Eric Bledsoe? ‘Oh, I’m just telling you. They were there before. He was a lottery pick before he got there.’ Really? I never heard of him. ‘Oh, that just doesn’t matter.’ ”

On if entering a summer is more difficult after going out early in the NCAA Tournament like last year or a year like 2010 …

“Let me say this: The year in 2010, I knew that our Achilles heel was that we were very streaky shooting the ball. When Eric Bledsoe came out of the game early against West Virginia and we were 0 for 20 in the 3-point line, we knew that could happen. Believe me, we had discussed it. What do we do if this happens? Is there some way we try to stay in the game? Well, we did stay in the game. We ended up losing by whatever it was. It wasn’t like we got buried, but you’re 0 for 20 you’re going lose. Last year’s team, we knew if we faced a physical team around that basket or they had a guy that could score and our guys didn’t do it, we’re in trouble. We knew it. We knew it before, so when it happened it was kind of like—we kind of knew that could happen. We didn’t want it to happen. The first game we looked like, OK, we’re going to be OK. Well, yeah. And that 2010 team, against I think it was Wake Forest and somebody else, shot the lights out. Against Cornell in the first half – I think it was Cornell – shot the ball well and you’re thinking, OK. And the second half against Cornell, if you remember, we missed 10 straight. And you’re thinking, oh jeez, please don’t have that mindset. And they did.”

On if it’s a lot harder when you lose after thinking all the pieces are in place …

“That one is when you knew—when we knew the year where we started and we weren’t real good and then we got better because we had no one here in the summer with the (Harrison) twins and Julius (Randle) and those guys. But we knew we had enough. We had enough guys. That was hard. Obviously the 38-0 team was really difficult because we thought we could have beat the field from that point.

“But yeah, there’s some years you’re just like, look, this team maxed out, I’m good, let’s go. Do we got the guys signed? Let’s go. How do we help the guys that are there? I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. I move on.

“Last year’s team, I was happy for the guys. I wish Alex (Poythress) would have been drafted in the second round somewhere. But he worked out with enough teams and that’s the other thing that’s great about being here: Every one of the kids that wants—if they’re in this program and they want a chance to be in the NBA, you’re either getting drafted or we’ll get on a summer league team, but people are going to know who you are and see you. ‘Well, if I had the ball…’ No, no. You’re in there now. You’re there now. Now it’s your time to prove what you’re saying is true. And you gotta go do it. Whether you’re a first-rounder and you say, ‘I could have been the third pick if I shot more.’ OK. Then go shoot more now that you’re in the league. You’re a first-round pick, you’re on your team, go do it. And that’s the greatest thing about being here. You know you’re going to get your opportunity. And I really think both Dom and Derek will get an opportunity. I think they’re going to get an opportunity. Now, OK, go do it. And I think the experience here, the habits developed—you think about the guys those guys played against. Come on. I mean, you just spent four years against those kind of players. You’re going to go work out for an NBA team, say, ‘I played against all these guys.’ In practice every day, not 12 times a year. In practice every day.

“So, you know, like I said, the stuff that we’re doing, 28 (draft picks) in seven years. How stupid is that? Literally, it’s like, that’s the stupidest (stuff) I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, are you kidding me? And now, going forward, what if you’re here 10 years and it's 40? And then all of a sudden you look and you’re saying, ‘Holy jeez. You’re here 10 years and it’s 40 guys and 10 of them are All Stars.’ What? What? And then they say, ‘Well, he should have won national titles every year.’ Yeah. John Wooden and I. You’re right. And our guys stay for one year and leave. You’re right. It should have happened. Good point, good point. 

“But you’re still doing your stuff and you’re still—I feel satisfied. I don’t feel at all like—I feel good about what we accomplished. We could have won three more national titles, I know. But it hasn’t—has that—you should have won more national titles. Does that have any effect on the kids? Who are they gearing that to? Me. I’m good. Throw it. You’re right. Should have won four; we won one. Yeah, you’re right. Went to six Final Fours; should have went to 12. Yeah. I mean, you should have been the one seed, the three seed.”