Kentucky Earns No. 8 Seed, Meets Kansas State in NCAAT Second Round
March 20, 2014
Cat Scratches: Young Cats trying to soak in first March experience
ST. LOUIS -- Willie Cauley-Stein can't help but wonder where all the time went.
The 2013-14 season, from his perspective, has flown by, going from Big Blue Madness to the March version in the blink of an eye.
"It doesn't feel like it should be time yet," Cauley-Stein said "It feels like all that time went by so fast. Honestly, it doesn't feel like we should be here talking now, but it's cool at the same time because it's what you dream of when you're growing up. This is what it's all about."
That dream, for Cauley-Stein and most of his teammates, is a dream that is only now being fulfilled for the first time.
A year ago, UK's season ended in the NIT, robbing Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress of the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Their freshman teammates, meanwhile, were roaming high-school hallways then.
Press Conference - March 20, 2014
THE MODERATOR: The Wildcats of Kentucky are here and the questions will start.
Q.This is for Willie. You obviously are in Kentucky now, but you have ties to Kansas. Can you tell us a little bit about your growing up.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Like you said, it is like 2 1/2, 3 hours away. I have been to a lot of camps at Wichita State. A couple of my cousins went there, so, you know, they know like Drew Barker and stuff and they have been talking back and forth. And he's been kind of telling me that Drew said if he’s seen me in the paint he was going to try to come dunk on me like jokingly and stuff.
But, you know, I’ve just grown up with it and it's fun to be able to have the chance to come here and play against both K-State and Wichita.
Q.A follow-up to that. Obviously what have you learned and how is being in Kentucky working with your coach really helped to change you and make you into who you are now? The time you've had in Kentucky, I know there has been a lot of things that have happened with the way your coach challenged you. Can you talk about how being in Kentucky has changed you for the better.
Willie Cauley-Stein: A lot of it is mentality-wise. They stress a lot on being mentally strong. And a lot of stuff we do, not only to get you physically tired but to make your mind tired and make you push through things.
Q.Aaron, similarly I know you will go up against one of your best friends, Wesley, in this game. Your dad says you are like brothers. What is that going to be like? Were you sort of disappointed to see you have to play against a guy you are so close to?
Aaron Harrison: I mean, I don't know. I played against him in high school a couple of times and it's going to be fun really. We're just both competitors and we're just looking forward to playing against each other.
Q.This is for Julius. Congratulations on your great freshman season. You will be going against freshman Marcus Foster at Kansas State. I was curious if you can talk about what you see in his game. What impresses you most about him?
Julius Randle: Marcus is a great player. You know, he is kind of the key to their team, a leader for their team. He can make a ton of shots, defend well. Overall, you know, they kind of look to him, especially on the offensive end. So I am excited. It will be a great challenge.
Q.Guys, there's many expectations on you at the start of the season, the preseason No. 1 and all that. And things probably didn't go exactly as you planned this season. Is there a sense that this is a chance to validate some of those things that people were saying about you earlier in the season that you have a fresh start here?
THE MODERATOR: James and then Aaron, please.
James Young: Yeah, if we can just come out and play every game tough and show people we can compete with everybody. And really just -- it's a new start for us. And the past is the past. We had an up-and-down season, but it is a fresh start for us and we will just compete every day.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, just like James said basically. Just another chance for us to, just like he said, validate what people said we can do at the beginning of the year.
We became a much better team in the last month or so, especially in the last two or three weeks. We are coming out, it is a new season, we get another opportunity to play and just going to go out there and have fun and see what we can do.
Q.Aaron, kind of going off that question earlier about Wesley, he said that when you guys found out you would be playing each other your old AAU team had a text going on. What is the dialogue like between you and your brother and Wes?
Aaron Harrison: It was really just a lot of goofy stuff, a lot of funny stuff. Wesley is really funny. On my AAU, team he's probably the funniest guy on there actually.
It wasn't really anything serious, we were just goofing around, playing around.
Q.What has it been over the last couple of weeks that you feel like it has clicked? Is there something you can point to?
THE MODERATOR: James and Willie this one, please.
James Young: Really it's our confidence. We had a lot of confidence going into the instrument. Our practices were really hard, so it gave us the right mindset to play confident and play with each other. So that's what gave us a lot of confidence.
And then us coming together as a team, just really playing hard.
Willie Cauley-Stein: You know, I think that through the practices we had that was really hard. We also came together as a team, like James said. But we started sharing the ball and defending more. And that has been a big emphasis on the whole year. Like, you know, everybody sharing the ball and making it fun for everybody else.
But, also, locking down on D and, you know, not allowing people to score.
Q.Aaron your dad said there was a game last year in high school you beat Wesley's team with a buzzer beater. As your team was celebrating you left then and went to pick him up. What is it like tomorrow night when one of you ends the other one's season?
Aaron Harrison: We are both competitors and going to try to play as hard as we can. At the end of the day he is like family to me. I mean, we're definitely going out to win the game. There's nothing about that. I mean, we will still be friends after the game.
Q.For Julius. Can you give me your impressions of Kansas State and maybe if they remind you of any team you played in the SEC this year?
Julius Randle: I don't know if they remind me of any team that we’ve played. We just know that they are very physical team, 1 through 5. They are a team that really relies on their defense. And, you know, they have a kid, Marcus Foster, who can really play and they all kind of feed off him.
As far as any team in the SEC, they don't really remind me of anybody. They're just another team that we are all looking forward to playing.
Q.Aaron, how far can this team go? You guys are obviously preseason No. 1 and maybe the season didn't quite live up to those expectations but you finished strong. It seems like the team is headed obviously in the right direction.
Aaron Harrison: I think we can go as far as we want to go. We were preseason No. 1 and we can end up at the end of the season No. 1 as well. We can go as far as we want to and as long as we fight and stay together I think we have a good shot.
Q.For Willie, a play off the last question. Your coach was talking about doing something crazy. What would be crazy for this team to do and what is a reasonable expectation?
Willie Cauley-Stein: I think just shocking the world. There's a lot of people that don't think that we can make a run at it. And, you know, a lot of people don't want to see us make a run at it, and I think that's what he means by doing something crazy. Despite how the season went, now the real season begins tomorrow for us. And, you know, I think his whole thing is just trying to shock the world and do what people say we can't do.
Q.James, can you talk about the differences between these two teams and how they're kind of put together differently, you and your size and K-State liking to spread it out, get physical.
James Young: They are a very physical team, like coach said. They rely on their defense, and we have a lot of that athleticism and we could use that. If we just spread the court out, I think we'll be fine. And we create shots for each other by getting into the lane. And I think that will really help us.
Q.Willie, could you expound on what "shock the world" means exactly?
Willie Cauley-Stein: I mean, I don't know, shock the world. Yeah, start winning or --
Q.Are you talking like Final Four championship? What would "shock the world" like equate to?
Willie Cauley-Stein: Well, a lot of people think, you know, that we're not going to make it past the first round. So winning the first game would shock the world. So just winning game by game, taking it step-by-step and you are going to shock somebody.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student-athletes of Kentucky? All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck. Now the head coach of the Wildcats, John Calipari, is with us. We're going to ask him to make a statement about his team and being here in St. Louis. Then we'll go to questions. John?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, obviously we're happy to be in the tournament and playing, and playing better. And probably playing right now as well as we played all year, which I am happy about. It has taken some time. You know, we thought we had it, and then we lost it, and now we got it back, so feeling pretty good.
Q.John, why do you think it took awhile? You guys were preseason No. 1.
COACH CALIPARI: We had five freshmen. We start five freshmen. And it takes awhile.
The thing that I try to do every year is empower the team and let them understand it's their team, it's not my team. And it just takes a long time for these guys to be able to be in that position. Every team I've ever coached I am hard on. I push them, I drive them. This team I was hard probably longer than other teams, but from body language to habits to other things, you couldn't cheer them on those things. And they were not acceptable.
Now, you're seeing a team that's playing more together, that shows less emotion. And, you know, people always say I coach young teams. I've never coached five freshmen, so it's taken longer. But it doesn't matter that it took longer, it's just that they're starting to get it.
Q.As a follow-up on the youth issue, are there things that you don't implement Xs and Os with a team of freshmen that you would normally? And are there things you add late in the year that may give this team a different look than a month ago?
COACH CALIPARI: Obviously we tweaked a couple of things. We tweaked one thing before the tournament and now we tweaked another thing. And I am anxious to see the change in our play one more time.
But the one thing I will tell you that it took me more time to really figure out exactly where these guys fit together. Not their fault, my fault. And when I tweaked the first thing, it became so evident, I was mad at me, why didn't I recognize this earlier? Even the second thing. But I'm not sure they were ready to take all the things earlier in the year. And I think it took time for them to say, you know, to surrender, tell us, because we want to win. Because they are great kids.
And the other thing I will tell you with this group, and I told them how proud I am. It's been an onslaught of criticism, personal, coaching, team, all that. They believe in each other, they believe in the staff, they believe in what we are trying to do. And it tells a lot about them and their character.
Q.Coach, what are some of the unique challenges that come with playing a smaller team like Kansas State?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, they really -- you say "smaller," but they're physical. They play a physical game. Their guard play, you know, they're not going to beat themselves. They run good stuff. And defensively, they're coming at you. I mean, there's no -- they're not giving up an inch.
So yes, they may not be 7-foot tall, but there aren't many teams in college basketball 7-foot tall. And I think they're an outstanding team and it's a very, very first opening round game, a very tough game for anybody to play.
Q.That onslaught of criticism that you referred to a little while ago, probably because of the preseason No. 1. With everybody you lost from last year, was that fair to the team, to be preseason No. 1?
COACH CALIPARI: It's what -- you're at Kentucky, that's part of it. Some of it was warranted. I mean, we played Florida at home and really played them well and had a chance to win. Go to Mississippi and play well, and then we kind of get in, you know, the doldrums. We were flat, we didn't do it together.
So some of this stuff was warranted. But some of it was, you know, you build it up so high it gives you a chance to start whacking at it. But that's part of it.
And again, they have handled it great, and I am proud of them. I am enjoying coaching this team. I am able to do less now. I've been able to be more of a cheerleader. But I am going to say it again, there are certain things you cannot cheer. There are certain things you cannot accept. I don't care if they are 21 or 18. But when they're 18, they have to know right away there are certain things. And anybody who played for me will tell you that he is really hard early and then he kind of backs up.
But I think it helps them later. They understand and what is acceptable and what's not.
Q.Coach, you obviously had so much talent at Kentucky. K-State freshman, Marcus Foster, when you look at him, what catches your eye? And what kind of potential does it carry for down the road?
COACH CALIPARI: Oh, he's terrific. I mean, when you watch him, he has no fear. He's got the ultimate green light. Like he makes plays when you feel like making them, and he does. He is not backing up from anybody.
You know, I talked to our freshmen from Texas about him and they said we knew who he was. And now he's kind of been cut loose and you are like wow.
So they have got a terrific player and somebody we know. I mean, he's one of those guys. We played against some of them. They are hard to guard when they have the ultimate green light and we are running stuff for them, and running motion and putting them in hand-offs and getting them on pin-downs and getting him in the lane, on transition if he is open, he just lets it go.
Fun to watch. I am not sure he is going to be fun to play against, but he is fun to watch.
Q.A couple of your players up there said they wanted to "shock the world." Is it really possible for a University of Kentucky team to "shock the world"?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, yeah, when everybody says you have no chance. So you can.
But I'm trying to get them to focus. And again, when they make that kind of statement, they are not totally listening to me now. You must stay in the moment and play good basketball games. It's what we do. It's what we've done, it's how we're playing.
So, I don't watch any TV right now. I don't care what's going on. I don't care who won or who lost. It has no bearing on our game with Kansas State.
Obviously my 18-year-olds are not listening to me if that is the statement they make. But that's okay. Now I will go back and kill them and it will give me another opportunity to say something to them.
We are worried about one game. Let's shock the world tomorrow, one game. And then we'll go from there. And it's maybe good enough, it may not be good enough. We're playing an outstanding opponent.
Q.With Aaron and Andrew, how have their games respectively kind of evolved from the beginning of the year?
COACH CALIPARI: They are playing their best basketball, they really are. Our team is starting to play its best basketball. Our defense is starting to be better than it's been. But we're still not all playing well.
And that's why I said I've got a couple more things I had to do, and the one big tweak that I'm hoping has an effect on what we do now, is we finish.
But, you know, again, it's not just individual play, it's team play. The best teams are going to win. The teams that play defense together, that share the ball, that just fight like heck and don't give up on the game. I love Tennessee is down 16-4 and they never gave up on the game. They kept playing. And all of a sudden it is close enough where they have a chance to win, and they take it to overtime and win. And that's what the tournament is. That's how you have to play these games.
Q.John, can you talk about Marcus Lee, one of your freshmen, who played a lot more early, not so much lately. How has he maintained and what does he need to do to be a more productive player for you?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we started him early in the year and he was really effective. He got sick and he lost like 15 pounds. And if you know him, I don't know where it came from. Like where did he lose 15 pounds? But he did.
He has made strides from there and we put him in games, and every game we put him in he has been effective. He has to keep improving his skill and he is going to have to get stronger and he knows it.
But he is an outstanding talent. He is one of the nicest kids on the team. I love having him and he is going to be a terrific player for us.
Q.John, the way the Florida game ended James just slipped, but afterwards Andrew was adamant that it was his fault, I gave it to him too late, gave it to him in a bad spot, am I making too much or is that a maturity, team-first break through?
COACH CALIPARI: One of the things I hope I am teaching is don't be afraid to take responsibility, even sometimes when it's not yours. And I hope they watch and see that they know that it has to be me and our staff. We make a mistake, say I screwed it up. If you want to protect somebody, don't feel bad about doing it. It is not a bad reflection on you, just take it.
And so I am proud that they did that. It was neither of their faults. It was my fault. And again, we didn't need to call timeout there. We could have done what we did without a timeout. And we had them on their heels. Never should have called a timeout. I say it at the time. I don't ever call timeouts there and I don't know, I did.
So I am happy that they are trying to defend each other. Let's hope that we defend Kansas State the same way.
Q.Coach, some of the players in the locker room just told me the reason they played so much better during the SEC Tournament is because they were listening to you. Is that what you saw?
COACH CALIPARI: I want them to listen less to me and listen to each other more. That's how they get empowered. The only thing I did was I tweaked a couple of things and those guys listened to me. What I said to do they did. And all of a sudden it changed.
But how about this, why didn't I say it two months earlier? Now, maybe they wouldn't have accepted it two months earlier, but I've done this a long time. And I've had guys that I've had to define their game for them. And I waited on this.
And again, part of it is I am trying to figure them out. We had all freshmen, but you know what? They are responding, I am happy for them. I happy when I see Aaron play like he does or Andrew. I want to see Julius, I want him to show the world what he is as a player. Willie, I am so proud of him. Alex, not even the same player he was a year ago. These kids all got better.
James Young has gotten better, he is defending better. So when you look at it, Dakari, he is not the same player he was at the beginning of the year. That's what we are supposed to do and what we are trying to do. And I want them to listen to each other more than me, I really do.
Q.John, after the way they played in Atlanta, was there a noticeable difference in practice this week, especially in their attitude?
COACH CALIPARI: The change in practice was Monday of last week. Football practice for 2 1/2 hours. That was the change. That's not them, that's why didn't I do that from the beginning of the year? Why didn't we play football? And I always practiced that way and we didn't.
This week we had to give them Monday off. They just went through games in 48 hours, they needed Monday off. Tuesday we went a long time in the evening. And yesterday we practiced and then we came here and we practiced here.
We didn't do much this morning, we're going to shoot 30 minutes on the court and get ready to throw it up and play basketball.
Q.Coach, some of the players from other teams talked about their parents, relatives not able to afford to come watch them at the tournament. How much discussion does that issue get? Does it need to be discussed even more?
COACH CALIPARI: It's something to discuss after this tournament. Right now I'm trying to get my team ready to play a great game. It's all pertinent information that needs to be discussed.
Q.John, this will be the first NCAA Tournament game for you since the National Championship game. Because of the way last year ended up, does that make you more appreciative of being in the NCAA Tournament? Or have you always been that appreciative in the years that your teams make the NCAA Tournament?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me say this. I coached at Massachusetts and Memphis. I wasn't in a BCS school my whole career. So I appreciate every opportunity to play in this tournament.
Am I ever happy with the seed? Not one year. Except when we were the overall No. 1 seed. Am I appreciative for my team to have an opportunity to be in this thing? Absolutely. And I want them to soak it up. And I want them to enjoy everything. I don't hold them up. I want them to enjoy it all.
Now, again, I want them focused on playing basketball, but these are young men that are going to go through this. Now enjoy it. Enjoy the whole thing about it and that's what we've always tried to do.
But no, we appreciate that we're here. Even though at times we're not real happy with our seeds.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the head coach?
Q.Describe football practice.
COACH CALIPARI: Helmets, pads, cleats. We slid around. Body -- put your hand, I just need to see your palms. Now foul the guy. Play through it. I don't want to hear it. Everything was physical, from the beginning of practice until we ended.
And it made us more confident that we could play through that kind of play. It also put us in a position where if that's how the game is going, then we can play that way. And then we tweaked a little bit of stuff and it changed how we played. And it was nothing major. But it was enough to get these guys thinking a little different and now this next thing that we're trying, we'll see. We'll see what it does for us tomorrow.
Q.John, what do you like about having Willie and Dakari on the floor at the same time?
COACH CALIPARI: I liked it. It changed the whole game. Two 7-footers. Willie plays like a 4-3 and Dakari is a moose. I liked it, I really did. It is something we'll go to now because they played so well defensively together against an unbelievable team in Florida.
Do I get to go or do you have to excuse me? It is not that I want to run from you people, I really enjoy this.
Q.The second tweak, is it going to be something, those of us who don't know basketball will not be able to recognize? Or will even we know what the second tweak is?
COACH CALIPARI: You will not recognize it, John, I know that. It's something that you'll see that you should be able to say, I see what he was doing. I saw it. And I see it, and I see it in this guy and that guy. And then you're going to say, Why didn't he do it earlier? Why did he wait? Thank goodness that we did it, and now we're playing better.
And again, it doesn't make us supermen, we're a bunch of young kids going into a game with veteran players and a young kid that can score 35 on you if he chooses to. It is going to be an unbelievable hard game for us, but we're excited about being here and still playing.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
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