Quotes from the Tip-Off Luncheon

Oct. 7, 2009

UK Head Men's Basketball John Calipari

Are you ready to start practice?

"I enjoy the other stuff, but I love coaching. I enjoy gathering people and getting people together for a cause, but I love coaching basketball. I've been to probably 17 cities throughout this state, including hitting Nashville and Cincinnati and Indiana, Evansville, and all the things I've done, it doesn't do anything for me, other than I enjoy it. The coaching, the two hours a week I spend with my team, is like I'm in heaven. But we're a long way from being the team we need to be by the way."

What's your message you want to get across to the fans (at the Tip-Off Luncheon) today?

"I'll just talk to them. We haven't played a game yet, we haven't lost a game yet, and everybody is excited about that. I'll just joke a little bit with them. Everybody asks, `Are you overwhelmed by the five hundred tents and 2,000 people and everywhere you're going in the state?' It's awesome, is all I can tell you. It's what you dream about in coaching. It's what you want. Is there any program more connected to their state than this one? I don't know of one. Anywhere you go, they're excited in this state. They live and breathe it, like no other state than I've ever seen in my life and it's awesome. It's humbling. There's a responsibility with it now. You understand as a program, the standard that you're going to be held by because of that."

With the two hours you've spent with your team, is there anything you know about them that you didn't know previously?

"We're really fast, which I kind of knew. We're really big, which I kind of knew. Yesterday, they were making mistakes and getting mad at themselves, I said `You've got to stop; I'm not worried about all that stuff. Just play as hard as you can, listen and be coachable.' It's like teaching Martians, they know nothing about this offense. They've never been taught it, they've never studied it, and they know nothing (about it). It's like a Martian came down and said, `Teach me how to play basketball.' So they're making mistakes; they're taking bad shots; they're running into each other; they're running people over. This time of the year, it's what happens."

Is it there that much difference between that and what they're used to?

"Yes. There are no screens, everyone moves, all five guys are moving at one time. So if (somebody drives) the ball, everybody moves, and then you've got to move and know where you're supposed to move to."

What did you think about camping out (at Madness)?

"People asked, `Why did you do that?' For two days, I saw people in wheelchairs, I saw elderly people, and I saw young children with their families. I saw people from Ohio, from Indiana, from Nashville, Tenn., from Atlanta. One (night) it rained and the school put them inside Memorial (Coliseum), which was a great thing for the school to do. My wife was out of town, so I was with my son by myself, and I asked if he wanted to camp out and he said yes. Now what happened, he and I went in that tent at about midnight. All the students were around it, and all the people were around us, but they left us alone, no one was trying to get into the tent. By about three, he said, `Dad, can you move over?' When I woke up, I (couldn't feel my ears) they were so cold. I said, `Son, put your shoes on, we're going home.' So I unzip the tent, thinking everybody would be sleeping, nobody was sleeping. They were throwing cornhole, they were playing cards, they were playing basketball, they were singing, people were dancing, they were throwing football. I thought, `You people are crazy.' And I went home, because I told my son he was going to catch pneumonia.

What's the relationship with LeBron James and how did that happen and is it an advantage?

"He's been a friend for a while. We've gotten to know each other over the years. We've done a few different things together. He was in China, I was in China, we've been together that way. He's thinking of doing camps down here and different things, which is why he was on campus originally. The advantage is, I wish he could play for me. I don't think he has any eligibility. I know a lot of people, the kind of people that are really into sports and basketball, but other than he and I having a relationship, I don't know what the advantage will be. I just know him as Lebron. I've known him for a long time. When the women's team was peeking out their door at him, I waved at them, they ran me over pushed me out of the way and took a picture with LeBron. I realized this guy is a bigger deal than I thought. I don't see him that way. He's loyal to his friends, guys he grew up with, and his high school coach. He's a unique individual that wants to win a world championship in the absolute worst way. His whole mission in life is to be the best he can be so he can help his team win a world championship."

How does Kentucky compare, so far, to other places you have coached?

"Many of you follow me on Twitter and Facebook and you see the things I do every day. You probably think `What in the world?' If you talk to the people of Memphis or Massachusetts I ran at the same pace, but nobody knew because there was no Twitter or Facebook to broadcast it. Now all of a sudden you know everything I do. I will tell you that there is not another program more connected to a state than this one. That's the biggest thing for me. Other than that this is what other coaches should dream for this situation. You have to win some games. After you win some games that still isn't enough. You have to accept that part of it too. If you come here you accept that."

Do you have any worries about the upcoming season?

"If I worried, it would be the negative side of it and it brings anxiety to my mind. All I'm doing is trying to help these young players become better. How do I get them to think different? How do I get them to play different? How do I get them to play at a different level? How am I going to bring this team together? Those are all my thoughts. I choose not to worry. I'm proud of our team right now. The way they are handling themselves, the way they treated the people in the tents for Madness tickets, how they have been in the community is great. The returning players and the rookies are all doing well in school, they don't miss appointments, and they are not late."

What have you learned about the rivalry with Louisville?

"One thing I have found in this state is that Louisville game is a big game. I've asked people, `What if we lose by 15 to Louisville, but then win the national title, is that okay?' and people say, `No! That's not okay.' I understand that, but I also understand that the city of Louisville drives the state. The University of Louisville is important to the city of Louisville, which then in turn drives the state by being the biggest city in the state. I'm not here to hurt Louisville in any way. We are trying to gather people to Kentucky. We want people behind our bench. We want the business leaders of the state, maybe from Louisville, to come and be a part of what we're doing. This University is vital to this city which is vital to this state; I will do nothing to hurt them, but try to beat their brains in when we play them. Other than that I hope they do well and I hope they win."

Are the players you have on your team adaptable to your system?

"Some of them are, but some of them are struggling. The good news is in this system you cannot be delusional. You can either do something or you can't. It's not like we are going to create something for you, you have to do it yourself. If you can't do something you need to get in the gym and get better or you understand you are going to struggle playing this style. That's the great thing about it."

What about rankings?

`We haven't played a game yet. The mountain we are supposed to climb is going to be very high. We have six new players and six returning players, who think, and rightfully so, it's their turn to play. We have to get those guys together on one page, with one heartbeat, having trust and respect for each other and it has to turn to affection. At some point in the season it has to become love, where they care more about their teammates than they do themselves. Can I do that in a month and a half? I have to teach them a dribble-drive offense and a press that is totally different than they have ever seen. If we are really going to climb that mountain we have to be the best defensive team in the country. There is no starting point. We are teaching everybody. You see the challenge? We are going to create our own happiness. No one here will evaluate me or us to make us happy or sad. If we don't create our own happiness and we try to have our self esteem and self worth created by what you write about us we won't survive. We have shoes on because we have talent, but we are at the base of the hill. Some of the teams that are half way up the mountain already because they have everybody back, the same coach, and the same style."

What about (assistant coach) Orlando Antigua?

"If you know him, the biggest thing is I've never seen him without a smile on his face. He appreciates life. He appreciates the opportunity. He likes people. He loves basketball. He is a great ambassador for the game, our state, and our university. I hired him at Memphis when he was at his alma mater at Pittsburgh. He wanted to join our staff. I brought him in because I needed a guy that everybody would like. You're not going to believe this, but not everybody likes me. I lost Chuck Martin and everybody liked him. He was great on campus and he was great with people. I'm not around all the time and I want to be represented by somebody who everybody will like and think was a good guy, a good human being, always upbeat and happy. I cannot be around miserable people. Those people bring more problems around and we don't need it. Orlando is an upbeat guy with a smile on his face. I want to have fun because life is too short. I'm going to have fun at this job. I am going to have fun. That doesn't mean it's always going to be rosy; that doesn't mean I'm not going to have to deal with issues and problems, and it doesn't mean I'm not going to stub my toe. I will deal with the tough stuff but I'm going to have fun. Are we going to win every game I'm going to coach? Probably not. In all likely hood that isn't going to happen. I want to have fun at this. It's taken a while for me to get a job which is one of the best in our sport. Why would I come here to be miserable? I'm 50. I want to have fun and I want to have fun people hanging around me."