Kentucky Battles Michigan for Berth in Final Four
March 30, 2014
CoachCal.com: Why stop now? Legacy rewritten, Cats out to make history
INDIANAPOLIS - Ironic as it may seem, in the moment of the games and in the aftermath of two classics, the Kentucky Wildcats have little appreciation for the types of victories they've been a part of in the last week.
"We all talked about it on the bus after, that everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic, and we're like, we're so tired, we don't know," John Calipari said. "We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game - we just know we won."
Proud owners of the NCAA Tournament's two most impressive victories - wins over top-seeded and previously undefeated Wichita State, followed by a comeback over defending national champion Louisville - Kentucky (27-10) has erased the disappointment of the regular season and rewritten how this team will be remembered no matter what happens going forward.
But now that the Cats have made it this far, why stop here? If they've gone through all this trouble, why not finish it off right?... Read the full story
CoachCal.com: Adversity shaped Andrew Harrison's remarkable turnaround
If Andrew Harrison had to do this season all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.
Instead of fulfilling preseason expectations and flirting with 40-0, he would choose the losses and realization that he and his team failed to reach such dreams. Rather than live up to the experts' billing that he was the top point guard in the class and the next great John Calipari guard, Andrew Harrison would opt for the criticism was slung his way when UK's season headed south.
He wouldn't change a thing because it's defined who he is and how he's playing in the NCAA Tournament. And how he's playing right now is, in the words of Charles Barkley, like the best point guard in the country.
"Every freshman that's highly recruited and stuff, they think they're going to come in here, play out a year and it's all going to be fun, but it wasn't like that and I'm kind of happy it wasn't," Andrew Harrison said Saturday. "There's some bumps in the road and we got through it."
There Dakari Johnson was, the No. 9 overall player in his class, relegated to a reserve role as his fellow freshmen started and starred.
Naturally, it got to him.
"It was tough at first, just not getting the minutes early in the season," Johnson said.
Johnson had his moments in November and December -- including a 10-point, seven-rebound performance against Eastern Michigan -- but just as often would be a nonfactor, albeit a very large one.
Accustomed to being a featured post-up presence on high-school teams that hardly lost, the normally jovial Johnson found himself sulking. Now that he's started six straight postseason games as Kentucky (27-10) has raced into an Elite Eight matchup with second-seeded Michigan (28-8), Johnson has come to realize that was only on him.
"You can kind of call it selfishness," Johnson said. "I wasn't happy not getting the ball and stuff like that and not really paying attention on what I needed to be doing, which was defending and rebounding and just letting the offense come to me."..... Read the full story
Media Opportunity - March 29, 2014
Q. James and Julius, how much has Andrew grown just as a leader over these last couple of months for this team?
James Young: He's grown a lot. He's listened to Coach really well and doing a good job leading us and getting us into our offense and really executing our offense for us.
Julius Randle: Like James said, he's just doing a great job leading us. When things get tough, he's picking us up, he's just listening to what Coach is saying. It's working out for him.
Q. John, wondered if you had an update on Willie's situation?
COACH CALIPARI: I will tell you, he's still in a boot. He's doubtful. He's acting like he thinks he can do something, and I would be stunned if he played in this game.
But he's saying that he may want to give it a try. But he hasn't been out of that boot. So he went down and hit it pretty good.
Q. Quick follow-up to that. There's some talk it could have been an Achilles, he heard a pop.
COACH CALIPARI: No, it's his ankle. Not an Achilles.
Q. To any of the guys up there, do you see any, again we've used the word "irony," at different points in this run, you have a chance to be only the second group of five freshmen starters to go to a Final Four and you would go through Michigan, home of the Fab Five to get there. What do you think of that?
Dakari Johnson: Well, we don't pay much attention to that. We just play each game and take one game at a time and just focus on winning ball games.
Andrew Harrison: Yeah, really can't pay attention to stuff like that. You just have to go out there, play every game like it's your last.
Q. John, for those of us that didn't get to see your team all throughout the year, is there one or two things you could point to that you guys have done in the postseason and late you didn't do during some of your losses in the regular season?
COACH CALIPARI: We grew up. We have 18-, 19-year-olds that were counted out and ridiculed and crushed and can't play, not any good, bad guys.
I mean, you've got a bunch of good guys up here that have stuck together through all the barrage, never let it affect them together. They kept believing and they believed in the staff, and they know -- because I told them the whole time: I'm never going to give up on any individual or a team. I won't. We'll go to whatever we have to try to do to do this.
But a lot of the issues we had come back to me. The stuff we tweaked before the tournament, I should have done two months before. And they know it. The stuff that I did before the NCAA Tournament, I should have done that earlier.
Some of the things we did now are more based on games. Like, we've got to prepare if Willie doesn't prepare, which means we've got to tweak our offense a little bit. We've got to tweak our defense a little bit. He may not be in the game.
Hopefully he's able to limp his way in there and give us a few minutes, but maybe he can't.
Q. John, you played undefeated defending National Champ, defending runner-up, so much talk about this bracket. When you look at the quality, is it still kind of mindboggling the teams you're having to go through?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, we all talked about it on the bus after, that everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic. And we're like -- we're so tired, we don't know.
We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game, we just know we won. Let's get something to eat and go to bed.
The only thing I can tell you is we keep just moving on. The best thing about this for me as a coach, I've continued to coach like it's midseason.
Now, somebody will say, Well, he's been nicer, that's why -- how nice was I, Julius, last night? Yeah. You want to ask Alex how nice I was? How was I with you in the first half, your messing around?
I mean, I'm holding them accountable, but they're playing the way they need to play, so I don't have to do it that often.
But I told them, if you slip, I'm going to be right there. And that's the best thing is they continued to get better. And they're getting better and you could see they're believing in each other.
The biggest thing I keep coming back to: They're losing each other, they're losing themselves in the team, but they're figuring out less -- sacrifice a little bit. Less is more for them as a player. And that's what's been the biggest thing in my mind that's gone on for them.
Q. Coach, last night you mentioned that perhaps Tennessee should have won that game. Did you see anything in those last minutes that you hope to take advantage of with Michigan?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, when I said that, I don't mean a play. I'm saying they had their chances to win that game and had the ball and should have won the game. Didn't go their way. The ball missed.
But I thought that they got really aggressive. They never quit playing. Cuonzo coaches that way. They're a reflection of him and his personality.
They kept fighting. They struggled with their two big man lineup because someone was going to have to guard a dribbler. We're a little different. And that took one of their big men out of the game.
But, again, you found out in that game, if you give them 3s, they're making them. So your hope is to make them tough 3s. They may make them anyway.
So somebody said, What can you do? I said, Dim the lights, open up some doors, hope there's a wind blowing. I don't know. But they're going to shoot them anyway.
Q. Andrew, reflecting on what Coach Calipari just said about sacrifice, how has your role changed and your decision-making changed over the last few weeks?
Andrew Harrison: I'm just trying to get my teammates involved a little bit more. I'm just trying to push the ball, just make the game a little faster, and just find people in transition.
Q. Aaron and Julius, wonder if you could talk, what's the hardest part of playing on a team with so many freshmen and just a couple of sophomores and what's the best part of playing on a team that's so young?
Aaron Harrison: I mean, I really don't -- like this is the only college team I've ever been on. So I don't really know.
And the best thing about it is we all go through the same things. We all get criticized, and we all get blamed and things like that, but the best -- and we came together. And I think that's the best thing there.
Julius Randle: Like Aaron said, this is the only college team I've played on. This is the only thing I know.
Like I say, I mean, the hardest part about playing with all the talent that we have is, you know, just figuring each other out. You know, just figuring out how to sacrifice ourselves.
But the best thing is, you know, what we've been through, we came together. And it just never fazed us.
Q. Curious about Michigan, what kind of presence does Jordan Morgan pose, physically and tactically against Kentucky? And how have you seen him improve and grow for Michigan? What little maybe you've seen of him.
THE MODERATOR: Who is that for?
Q. For anybody up here.
COACH CALIPARI: They wouldn't know. So let me answer that. (Laughter.)
He is much better than you think. He understands how a big man in that offense has to play. He does a great job of screening. He does a great job of slipping.
He will fly up and down the floor. He understands in pick-and-rolls how to get the man on his body yet fly down the middle.
So he plays, understands his role in this offense much better than everybody thinks he is or gives him enough credit for. He is really, really good.
COACH CALIPARI: He understands the grind better, how you have to work. He understands the effect he has on his team more than ever; that he's got to be more focused on his teammates than himself.
He's understanding that defense matters, and you've gotta fight ball screens and you've gotta play defense. But he's matured. He got on campus in August. That's when he got on campus.
So this is for him -- and really all these guys -- where they've come, where they were, and where they've come, it's incredible. Incredible story.
Q. John, you and Beilein both with I think 22 years as Division I head coaches. This is the first time you're actually going head to head. Have you watched him from afar or what do you think of his body of work just in general?
COACH CALIPARI: One, I really respect him as a coach. He's played a different style -- he took the Princeton and took it and did what he wanted to do with it. But a lot of the same principles.
I love that he creates a culture wherever he goes, which is what he wants the culture to be.
And I love the fact that he's just a good guy. He's a good man. And you want to be in that company. You want to be -- if I see him out or see him at mass or whatever, he always has a good comment for you or, How are you, what's going on. He's a good man. Terrific, terrific basketball coach.
Q. Coach and maybe even James, how do you plan on dealing with Nik Stauskas?
COACH CALIPARI: He's good. You could say we're going to try to not let him shoot any balls. He's going to get off 3s. They're going to dribble at and run him backdoor and he's going to get a lot of hand-offs. You can't say, He's a hard right driver, he'll go either way.
But you do know if you lose him in transition, if you lose him in penetration and he's open, don't even try to rebound it. Just run back. So you've gotta know that guarding him, he's that good.
James Young: Really just keep an eye on him at all times. And you can't really just keep him from not shooting. So just try to limit his shots and keep it high end.
Q. When you get 18-year-old kids on campus and they take some of the criticism that they have this year, maybe particularly Andrew and Aaron, is that hard for you --
COACH CALIPARI: It's been on every one of them.
Q. Is it hard for you to see sort of the reaction when you're not winning as well and how do you deal with that when you're coaching?
COACH CALIPARI: One of the things is we talk about it all the time. We do. We talk about social media. We train them in social media. It's not going away.
And get them to understand there are a lot of haters and bullies out there. You can't deal with it, don't read it. Social media is a chance for you to send out a message that you want to be positive, to pick people up, to let people know. And we try to teach them that.
Now, do they see some of that other stuff? They do. And you gotta grow up kind of fast and not have it faze you.
Now, does it make me mad? Yes, it does. Oh, yeah. Because some of it is personal. Some of it is agenda-driven, where guys want to hurt the program and they're taking it out on these kids. And it's not right.
But they withstood it all. It made them better. It made them stronger.
Q. Question for James and for Julius, can you describe or tell a story about what it's like playing for your coach?
James Young: Coach Cal? Oh. He teaches me -- he taught me a lot of things I didn't know about basketball coming in here. And even when I'm having a bad day he keeps me up. He's always positive to me.
COACH CALIPARI: I'm not always positive to you. Tell them the truth. (Laughter.) I wasn't positive yesterday.
James Young: Yesterday.
But he just taught me a lot of stuff. Really, he just really taught me a lot of stuff.
Julius Randle: I got it.
COACH CALIPARI: Julius, tell the truth.
Julius Randle: It's hard. No, I'm joking.
But he's just -- he's tough on us. But it's the best thing for us. He's going to push us every day. You may not like it some days, but at the end of the day it's what's best for us.
It's not just about basketball. I mean, what he's teaching us goes far beyond basketball. It's a lot of life lessons. So gotta take it in stride every day.
Q. Question for John. Coach, you got three Texans on your roster. Is it any more --
COACH CALIPARI: Where is this person?
Q. Right here. Look to your left.
COACH CALIPARI: Yes.
Q. You have three Texans on your roster. Is it any more or less challenging to recruit kids out of Texas or faraway distances to come to Lexington?
COACH CALIPARI: We have kids from all over the country. If they're from Texas or California or Wyoming or South Dakota and they're going to be good players for us and they want this challenge. This isn't for every player.
Raise your hand if it's been hard, raise your hand if this is really hard. Tim, you can put your hand down. Raise both hands if it's like ridiculously hard. This isn't for everybody. It just isn't.
So they've gotta know you're under the gun, it's all over you. It's a coat every day 24 hours that you wear. And that to do this at this level, you gotta understand, the grind is a big part of it.
You've gotta understand that it's not always going to be the next step up.
And so we'll go get players from wherever we have to go get them. Texas just happened to have these three. Detroit. Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Florida. Dakari. Lexington.
THE MODERATOR: Time for two more for the assembled group.
Q. Coach, you talked about Michigan's offense and there's been a lot of talk about kind of a changed cast of character during the last two years. What about that system just makes it work regardless of who Coach Beilein has, just what makes that work no matter who you plug in, I guess?
COACH CALIPARI: He has veterans that goes along with these young kids that he has. And it makes it easier because they can be coached by him and each other. And what they're trying to do is more of a -- it's not running plays.
It's more of how do we play to create good shots for each other. It may be a down-screen, but he may slip. It may be I'm popping this time and I'm going to go into a hand-off. There's backdoors in it.
And it's more of a free-flowing, quote, "Princeton" kind of offense. Yet they play fast. They score a lot of points. It's not like they're scoring 55 points, he's not doing that.
But I'll tell you what, he's got these kids bought into their role in that offense. And I think that's what -- that's the challenge of coaching young players. And he's done unbelievable work in getting those kids to really believe and accept their role.
Q. Andrew and Julius, after all the bumps in the road, have you guys had fun these last couple of weeks? I've seen more smiles collectively from this group than all year. Can you talk a little bit about what these last couple of weeks have been like for you.
Andrew Harrison: We started to have a lot more fun. Coach tells us whoever has more fun usually wins. That's what we just try to do. We just try to play together.
Julius Randle: For sure. We've had a lot of tough parts, but at the end of the day we've came together and definitely these last couple of weeks have been more fun. I mean, that's just kind of the goal for us to have more fun than the other team playing and feel like we're doing that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now dismiss the student-athletes for the breakout rooms. If you go out to your left, follow the signs. James Young will be in Interview Room 8. Julius Randle in Interview Room 9. Dakari Johnson in Interview Room 10. Aaron Harrison in Interview Room 11. And Andrew Harrison in Interview Room 12.
And then we'll continue here for coach John Vincent Calipari.
Q. Cal, you've seen a lot of teams with really high profile freshmen not get to this point. I wonder, should this year say something about how hard it is to do what you guys have done year in/year out?
COACH CALIPARI: I don't know. I'm just happy we're playing better right now. Because I'm telling you, we almost ran out of runway when we landed the plane. As a matter of fact, the nose of the plane was in grass. But we got down. That's all we were trying to do is land the plane.
And if the runway was 25 games instead of 30 games, we probably went off the edge. Just happy for this team.
Q. To follow up on the conversation about the guys taking a lot of criticism and what you do with them off the court, social media, how much of your job, especially with freshmen-laden teams is psychologist, how much of it is actual basketball coach?
COACH CALIPARI: First of all, I was really happy to hear Julius talk about life lessons. Because a lot of things that we do, and I do, getting them to read different books, talking about different ways that they can handle themselves, talking about you're in a position right now, fame and fortune, money has wing and fame is fleeting.
So you have an opportunity to make somebody feel good, spend 15 seconds, sign an autograph, take a picture, what, how hard is that? You make their month. You make their year. They'll talk about it for the next five years. And it took you five seconds.
We talk about life lessons of if you make life about everybody else instead of yourself, it becomes a lot easier. That's the game of basketball.
So those are the kind of things that you have to do with young kids, because the only thing they're thinking about when they come to me is themselves. And that's what they should be like. They're freshmen who dominated the ball, did whatever they want. Most of them never really got challenged, never got coached that way. I'm not saying they didn't get coached, but they never got challenged. They were always by far the best player.
So that's a challenge we have, all coaches, coaching young players. But try to make it more than just basketball. I really do.
Q. Clearly your team's a lot different from last year's team maybe at NIT, besides the lineup what's different about this team, the mentality, makeup?
COACH CALIPARI: If Nerlens didn't get hurt we would have been an NCAA Tournament team and probably advanced. Even without him when we beat Florida and Missouri, two ranked teams, I thought we were still going to get in and we didn't.
But we proved that the Committee was probably right and we were wrong when we lost the first game of the NIT.
But the big difference was we didn't have as many guys. This team was never going to be last year's team. This team has size, talent, skill; we just had to come together as a team.
Q. You talked about their 3-point shooting, but on the other side Michigan's kind of had difficulty defending off the bounce and driving lanes and things like that throughout the season. What do you see defensively that maybe you might be able to exploit tomorrow?
COACH CALIPARI: Again, they're better than you think defensively. They cover elbows and blocks. They're going to play that 1-3-1. They're going to throw some stuff at us.
You have to understand, I've got 16 hours to get these guys ready. The good news is well, he had about 19 hours. So you don't have the time to go and say here's the 12 things they're going to do and defensively here's what they're going to do, you just don't have time.
It's going to be our best, hopefully, against their best and see who comes out on top. Neither one of us are going to change much. They play how we do, we play how we do.
Q. Coach, I know you've been asked this a million times. I know you've been practicing longer, banging a little bit more. Is there anything else you could say about what you've tweaked or changed without having to kill us all?
COACH CALIPARI: I'm going to wait until it's over and I'll go through everything that we did and when I did it. When you hear what I did, you'll say: Makes perfect sense. And then you're going to ask: Why didn't you do it earlier? And I'm going to tell you: I don't know. Should have.
Q. One little follow-up. Should it be obvious to --
COACH CALIPARI: Pretty much. Pretty much.
Q. We need to go watch more film?
COACH CALIPARI: And most of you guys are not basketball Bennies, you're reading each other to see if someone else caught it because you didn't. So I'm torturing some of you guys.
Q. Coach, Kentucky and Louisville is such a great rivalry in all of college sports. Is there any potential, and I know it's the game tomorrow night is for a Final Four, but is there any potential for a letdown after such an emotional win against your rivalry or anything like that?
COACH CALIPARI: There is, but I'm telling you, honestly, we do not make this game bigger than it is. My kids are not, in most cases I've got probably four from the state of Kentucky. Maybe five. The rest of these kids, and they're young, they don't know about that rivalry. Now, our fans do. Their fans do.
But is there a chance for a letdown? There's a chance for a letdown because the last two games we played were just like slugfests. But I don't think it will be based on you just played Louisville, now you're going to let your guard down. I don't think so.
But there could still be a letdown because that was a hard-fought game and so was the one before.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach?
COACH CALIPARI: Thanks guys. See you, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, John.
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