Kentucky, UConn Vie for National Championship
April 6, 2014
CoachCal.com: One more to go for one of the all-time runs
The car the Kentucky Wildcats drove in to make Monday night's national championship game, it has no rearview mirror.
"The guys that have played for me know I just keep looking forward," John Calipari said on the eve of the national championship game.
For all the unforgettable memories this Kentucky group has made, for all the iconic moments that will be played on NCAA Tournament highlight clips for years to come, and for all the stories of this team that will be passed down from generation to generation, these Cats are unaware of it.
They have no perspective on the grand picture of exactly what it is they're doing, the history they are making, simply because they don't have the time to process it nor the age to understand it. ... Read the full story
Shabazz Napier, more than any other player in this year's NCAA Tournament, has been credited with carrying his team.
The junior guard scored 23.3 points per game in leading Connecticut to the Final Four, rendering his teammates an afterthought in the eyes of many.
But as the Huskies dispatched top overall seed Florida to advance to the national championship game, Napier proved what he's known all along.
"I don't need to be the guy in front of all the billboards saying, 'He was the man,' " Napier said. "I'm nothing without my teammates. I wouldn't be in this position right now without my teammates. It's just a collective group."
A collective group that needed its leading scorer to take just six shots to take down the heavy favorite for the title. ... Read the full story
Press Conference - April 6, 2014
Q. John, I was wondering if you could take us back to your time at UMass, the rivalry with UConn on different fronts and just what you take away from that, what lingering memories you have of that era in your career?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, first of all, what I loved about what Jim Calhoun did at Connecticut, it became the catalyst to absolutely change that whole university. It was the catalyst. He was the catalyst. They had their billion dollar redo of the campus.
So from that time, while he was there, it became a different campus. They used basketball to change the whole culture on the campus and everything else.
I think at UMass during our time, they did the same. And I look back on UMass's campus now, it isn't the same place. Unbelievable what they have been able to do. And it was a rivalry. We wanted it to be, they did not. Which I don't blame them.
They were in the Big East. We were in the Atlantic 10. We really didn't play each other, but you had two teams going at each other.
But all I can tell you is I've always had respect for the program, the players in it. I've gotten along with all those kids that were in that program. When Kevin was in Philadelphia, Coach Ollie, we had a chance to be together and all I can tell is he is one of the wonderful people that I've ever come across in my life. Genuine, loyal, and a great coach.
Because you know what he was doing while he was playing, he was coaching. That's how he played. He was an unbelievable student of the game then, he was teaching me when I was in Philly. As an assistant for Coach Brown, he was teaching me. So, fond memories.
Q. John, piggybacking on that, first off, congratulations.
COACH CALIPARI: You changed your hair. I didn't remember you. I apologize.
Q. When the scoreboard at Curry Hicks Cage has smoke coming out of it, you probably never thought about National Championship games, but I know this is about Kentucky, UConn --
COACH CALIPARI: You say the squirrels and the birds or just the thing burning?
Q. Just the thing burning.
COACH CALIPARI: Okay.
Q. Did you think, though, at some point it was almost destiny that you, wherever you were, would end up against UConn on this stage?
COACH CALIPARI: No. I was fortunate enough to take over a UMass program and a Memphis program, but neither one was in a BCS league.
I have been blessed to be able to have this opportunity, more so because what I can do to help families. These young people with this platform is like nothing I've ever seen.
But my time at both of those places, I loved it. Playing against Connecticut, I mean, I'm just happy we're still playing. So whether it was Connecticut or anybody else would not have a bearing for me.
Q. In '92, you were in a different region from the Fab Five, but when you think of their impact, can you talk on that. And when you saw that, then the maturation of freshmen and how he did it, to what you can do now, is there any correlation? Did you think 20 years later you would say, I'm doing it this way with freshmen as compared to what they did?
COACH CALIPARI: No, to be honest with you. The only thing is that I think we had the long shorts before Michigan at Massachusetts. Will Herndon was my 6'3" power forward and his shorts were 5'2". So I think we were the first ones. They tried to take credit for that.
But again, what they did and how they came together, anything you ever watch on that, can't you just feel the brotherhood? These guys are the same way. They're fighting for each other. They close ranks as things got ugly. They were there for each other.
I said this to you guys, I went up in the game room the other day, they have a game room in the hotel, and these guys, everyone of them are up there laughing like little kids, which they are. But they were together and it was great to see. So the correlation, they were young, we were young. We are young. But I don't know.
Q. Congratulations. I asked the same question of UConn, so this is for you, coach, and also for any of the players that want to answer. Coach, what did you do last night? Did you get any sleep? How much sleep? What time did you go to bed? And players, same thing, and any interesting texts or Tweets that you received from anybody about the game?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I laid in my bed about 1:30, and I had eaten. I had family there, my kids and my wife, I had a lot of people. I went upstairs and I said, You know what, I'm going to do the tape tomorrow.
As I laid there, I said, These guys are fighting so hard for me, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do the tape now. So I was up until about 3:30 and got up about 7 o'clock this morning.
I asked them, Did you guys get any sleep?
You know, we're working on fumes now. It's not like we're not tired, but your adrenaline gets you through all this.
Aaron Harrison: Yeah, I got maybe five, six hours of sleep. Being in the Final Four, I don't think, yeah, like coach said, I think you just run off adrenaline really and I think we'll be fine.
Julius Randle: The same. If I really told you how I went to bed, coach would probably kill me, so, I mean, I'm just so excited to play and get back out there and just running on adrenaline. But we'll all be ready to play.
COACH CALIPARI: We had one guy that slept and got a good 10 hours in. Talk to him.
James Young: I kind of sleep through everything. I just love sleeping (laughter).
Q. Coach, Mark Emmert earlier was talking about the unionization of college sports and said it would be a, quote, "grossly inappropriate solution." I'm curious if you agree and how you feel this Northwestern case could change things?
COACH CALIPARI: First of all, I have paid no attention to any of that stuff. It's really not pertinent to this game. So if I had looked into it and had an opinion, I would give it to you, but I don't have one right now.
Q. For Aaron, given how much basketball means in the state of Kentucky, do you think you've ascended to folk hero status? Do you expect people to name their kids after you and write songs and all of that? Do you think you've become a historic figure?
Aaron Harrison: No, not at all. Not really (laughter).
COACH CALIPARI: Can I say this? My daughter tweeted out she just became my second favorite 'Aaron,' E-r-i-n, she thought. She's still my favorite Erin.
Q. Not as a coach, but as a guy whose been around college basketball for a lot of time, how do you define what Aaron's done over the last eight days, hitting three shots like that? Is it as incredible as we think?
COACH CALIPARI: Yes, but the biggest thing is he's not afraid to miss. He's okay with it. He's comfortable in his own skin. He knows how hard he's worked.
I'll be honest with you, I think we got another guy up there the same way. He's made those shots, James Young. James is delirious. He doesn't pay attention in timeouts. He's not thinking of anything and he'll go shoot the ball the same as this one. We got a couple guys like that.
If you're going to make those kind of shots, you absolutely cannot be afraid to miss them. I'm not afraid to be honest with any of these guys, except Dakari, to shoot that shot (laughter).
Q. Aaron, after the South Carolina game, you said, This is going to be a great story. That was the time that a lot of people didn't think it was going to be a great story. Can you talk about what made you say that at that point? And then maybe a couple of the other guys, maybe Dakari, Julius, when he said that, did you all think the same thing at the time?
Aaron Harrison: I just knew that we had the talent and it was just a couple of things missing. We trusted coach and he just put it all together for us. We just went out there and just started fighting and playing harder and playing for each other. I think that was the biggest thing, we just went out there and started playing for each other. I knew that once we got the little things together, that we could be a great team.
Dakari Johnson: Yeah, I agree with Aaron at the same time. I knew it was going to be a great story. I thought we just had too many competitors on this team just to let our season slide. So I think we really came together as a team.
Julius Randle: Yeah, same as these guys said. We just had too much talent and we saw in spurts how good we could be, so it just felt like it was a matter of time before it clicked.
Q. John, you all made a run with a young roster, there's some other teams that have had good tournaments with experienced teams, different styles have worked. Is it fair to say there's a lot of different ways you can make a run and win a title?
COACH CALIPARI: And there's a lot of different ways to play this game and there's a lot of different ways to teach it and coach it and play it. My whole thing is I'm coaching the hand that's dealt. I'm making sure it's about these young men up here. I'm not trying to make this about me or the program and staying or leaving because of those things. This is what we have.
We got a bunch of young kids trying to do this. I'm proud of them and know that I don't have all the answers. Like I said last night, I'm not this genius up here. He could have missed that shot or they could have made their shot and then Bo's sitting up here. It was a one-, two-shot play.
But I'll say this: For our team to have four turnovers in that game, Coach Thompson said to me after the game, Hall of Famer, How in the world did your young kids play that offense, defend that offense? How did you have young kids do that?
They dialed in. They dialed in. We broke down a few times. The reality of it is they do have a competitive spirit. When they get down, they grow hair on their necks and they come after you and they don't ever stop playing.
Q. A lot of players always talk about their coaches being father figures. Is Coach Calipari a father figure? Is he a guy that you can go to and actually cry to and see how he'll respond to you or is it someone else on the staff?
Julius Randle: Yeah, like I said, growing up, it was just me and my mom. Luckily, I've always had people in my life, males to teach me ways, Jeff, and he's always brought me up and shown me how to conduct myself. Since I've got to Kentucky, Jeff hasn't been there, but I have guys like coach who --
COACH CALIPARI: Kenny Payne.
-- who just teach me how to carry myself as a man, how to conduct myself. A lot of people just think it's about basketball, but it's just kind of funny how basketball, and the things you go through in basketball translate to how to carry yourself in life and how to carry stuff over in how you deal with situations in life. Coach has done a great job of teaching me that.
Q. Coach, this program has so much tradition, eight national championships, five different coaches have won those. But you have a chance to become just the second coach to win two at Kentucky and join a guy like Adolph Rupp. I know the whole thing's not about you, but can you put your hands around what that would mean?
COACH CALIPARI: And these guys know how I could absolutely care less. This is about the joy that these guys up here will get. I've had a heck of a career and I've been blessed. I'm now at a school that I can help kids more than I've ever helped any kids that I've ever coached - and families.
I'm appreciative of this opportunity. I'm doing the best job I can. I work as hard an as I can, keep believing in the kids that I'm coaching and the teams that I'm coaching. However that plays out for me, time will tell. 20 years, 50 years, they will look back at the job I've done.
But what I'm doing right now, let me do right by them. Let me make sure that everything I'm doing is geared to them. I've got to hold them accountable, which you saw me do in the game last night.
I'm going to hold them accountable. But I'm also going to cheer them and try to get them positive thoughts and try to get them to feel good about who they are. Yet, if they're not doing what they're supposed to, I'm going to be there. I'm just trying to be who I need to be.
Julius said that in some ways a father figure, but Aaron and Drew have a father. They don't need me to be their father figure. They need me in another way, and that's who I am for them. I can't be more proud of all of these guys.
Dakari's really, really close to his mother. His grandfather was a huge man that had an impact on his life. Well, I'm not going to be his grandfather. That's his job. I'm his coach. I'm there for them to be who I need to be for each individual here.
Q. I have two questions. One, first for Aaron, just dealing with the questions and the attention that you get, whether people may name their kids after you and so forth, how do you deal with that attention and move on to the next game without getting distracted?
Aaron Harrison: I think just maturity, really. I think I'm kind of too old for that. I'm on a team full of great basketball players and all of us get a lot of attention. I think that it's just a maturity thing, really.
Q. Two-part question for coach, can you describe maybe how much more meaningful this is for the sophomores who went through the NIT last year, Alex and Willie, and when's the last time you kissed a player like you did Alex?
COACH CALIPARI: I kiss them all the time. I don't kiss them on the lips (laughter). But I -- who said 'Ewww'? Somebody said 'Ewww.'
You know, they're part of my family. My wife greeted them after the game, they're at my house, they get their brownies when it's their birthday. This is more than teaching just basketball.
Julius related that to you guys.
Look, the one thing I don't do a good job of is look back. The guys that have played for me know I just keep looking forward. I really don't have a rearview mirror in my car. I'm just looking that way. So for these guys I keep saying, our destiny is out ahead of us, this team, because we're still getting better today, like let's get better in today's practice. They know how I am about that. Let's just keep getting better.
However this plays out, when I'm done coaching, I may look back and say, Well, which one was a little...
But I'll be honest with you, every year is special in its own right. You're dealing with someone's children. You're not dealing with adults, you're dealing with children of someone who have entrusted you with their children to help them get where they need to go, help them reach their dreams and help them grow as men and understand what they're trying to do.
Then all these parents, they want me to say, Look, it's not about money and fame, it's about how you give back, what you do, how do you make an impact on other people, and we try to do that. These guys have been a great example of that.
Q. Coach, congratulations. We have got an eight seed and a seven seed, should we be surprised by that in the state of the college game right now and how do you still feel about the term 'Cinderella'?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I don't think we were an eight seed and I don't think Connecticut was a seven seed, and I don't think Pitt was a nine seed and I don't think Louisville was a four seed. But that's where they seeded us. Now, the problem with that is the other teams in those pockets get hurt.
So we're just playing basketball. I told them the one thing about this tournament, after your first game, even if you're highly seeded, every other game's hard. So I said, we're going to have one extra hard game. I lied a little bit to them. I didn't tell them it was going to be Wichita, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin, but we had Kansas State, terrific basketball team. So we had one more than some of those other teams had.
Q. Short-answer question for each one of the five of you. Beginning with Julius, speaking from the heart, in a sentence, why is Kentucky going to be the champion tomorrow?
COACH CALIPARI: Careful.
Julius Randle: Well, if we are the champions tomorrow, it will be because we did it together, played hard, and trusted each other.
Aaron Harrison: If we are the champions tomorrow, it's because we just came together and we're playing for each other and we are just having a lot of fun.
Andrew Harrison: If we do become the champions tomorrow, it's because that we had fun and played like it was a regular game and just played together and played for each other.
James Young: Like they said, if we win, it was just we played as a team and really just lost each other in the team and just really just had fun with each other.
Dakari Johnson: If we win together, or, I mean, if we win tomorrow, it's just because we came together as a team and we just played well together.
Q. For Julius, Aaron and Drew, your championship roots started here in the state. In regards to that, how does it feel to be here right now? And also, coach, what does their success say about basketball here in the state of Texas?
Julius Randle: It's just amazing to be here. All we have been through, like I said, and the way we came together, you just can't really put it into words. So to be here and playing on the final day means a lot.
Aaron Harrison: Just being in Texas is great. The best thing about it for me is just that my family gets to see me play. The people who can't travel all the time and can't really afford to travel, they get a chance to see me play, and I just want to just show them.
Andrew Harrison: It's great seeing family and friends and it's exciting atmosphere being in the Final Four and it just makes it that much better that you get to play in front of all the people you love and know.
COACH CALIPARI: Basketball in this state over the last 20 years has changed dramatically. The coaching is now on par with anybody in the country, any state. You have athletes now wanting to be basketball players, where 20 years ago, they all wanted to be football players.
Now I'm not saying that football is still not king in this state, but what I'm saying is now basketball is on even par. You got guys like this, and look at the three of them, they could have played football, all three of them. As a matter of fact, the football coach asked Julius if he would stay another year to play football. So he could do both, and he decided basketball. I think there's a lot of young people in this state that are doing that.
Q. Wonder if you could talk about how you feel that James and Dakari have been playing and how much better maybe it is than, say, a month ago for each of them?
COACH CALIPARI: Both of them, James Young, James Young had an unbelievable practice, I mean it was lively and bouncing and I knew he would have the kind of game he had yesterday. That basket he made on a curl cut into the lane, probably won the game for us, because we were dying a little bit. We needed a basket somehow.
He has made shots, he's making free throws, he's rebounding, he's defending, he has gotten so much better as player, as has Dakari.
Dakari did a great job of guarding Kaminsky yesterday and everybody said he couldn't do it, can't move, he's not fast enough. He's fast. A lot of times he chooses not to be fast because it's harder. But he's fast. He's quick enough. His feet move.
But it's really hard to do that when you're seven foot -- how much do you weigh?
Dakari Johnson: 260.
COACH CALIPARI: What (laughter)?
So I'm proud of him. But I'm also proud of Marcus Lee. You got to be kidding me. Marcus Lee, how about Dominique Hawkins and Jarrod Polson, go in that game and we're dying, we're down nine, and they get the game to where it's a four-point game and we know we can win now. That was Dominique and Jarrod.
So we got a lot of guys performing. Jon Hood came up to me in the game and said, You know I'm ready. He walked right up to me, and I busted out laughing, You know I'm ready. I really want to have an opportunity to put him in the game because what will he do the minute he gets in? He will shoot it. That's what he's doing.
And that's how it's supposed to be. I dreamt that I was going to play Derek Willis, and these guys will tell you, I will play him, because my dreams are usually right and I thought he could cover Kaminsky, so I didn't put him in.
But I'm happy for all of them, these guys up here. Everyone of them have been coached as though they're starters. There's not one player including walk-ons who haven't been coached like their starters, which means they should be ready when their chance comes.
Q. Is there any concern about Alex? He was kind of limping after that dog pile?
COACH CALIPARI: Is he okay? I haven't seen him. He's fine?
Q. Does that worry you, that dog pile situation? And then also, Dominique, you mentioned him. He's in three games, has come in for 10, 15 minutes?
COACH CALIPARI: Done great, yeah.
Q. Just the way he's played for you guys defensively?
COACH CALIPARI: No, I was going to go in the dog pile. My hip was bothering me so bad I couldn't jump on there. But I was ready to go in there, too.
We have had different plays. I can remember 2010, when John Wall grabbed DeMarcus and shoved him under the table after we make a game tying shot. I mean, as a coach it shows how together your team is. It shows that they bought into each other. They surrendered to each other. They're losing themselves in each other.
Dakari's face when he came off the bench, I saw it on TV last night, was like euphoria, you know, and that's what you want to see, that. This is about them accomplishing something together and getting unbelievable joy, and then understanding I could have never done this alone. As I go forward, I understand that it's not what I'm doing, it's what we're doing. It's a great life lesson. These guys have learned it.
Q. Julius, Aaron and Drew, you guys talked about having family and friends here who might not otherwise get a chance to see you play. Can you talk about what you learned in yesterday's game that you think will serve you well in the championship when it comes to being able to control your emotions and be able to handle all that goes on knowing that you've got the people closest to you here watching you?
Julius Randle: I probably didn't do a good job of it at the beginning of the game. As the game goes on, you just calm down and settle down and just worry about the game. That's all you can really worry about. You can't worry about what's going on in the stands. The biggest thing is you know your family's there and they're going to be supporting you. So as long as you know that, you don't have to worry about anything else.
Aaron Harrison: Yes, yeah, you try not to focus on the crowds too much and stuff, but it's a great feeling getting to see your friends and family in the stands that don't get to see you play. But it's really not about that, it's really about the game. You just got to stay focused.
Andrew Harrison: You have to realize it's just like any other game. Well, it's not, but you have to think of it as any other game. And I think we are all a little bit nervous to start off with, but once we got into the flow of the game, you start playing for each other and start having some fun.
Q. Guys, when the Northwestern thing came up, I started thinking that college athletics don't really exist in any other country. It's more like baseball is here. What if all college athletes just played in minor leagues, what would you think about that, rather than playing associated with a college?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me. One thing? These kids had a B-average academically. That's what I'm talking about. Here's why I say that: Because they can begin the process of academics, and that's a big part of what they do. And even the year some of these guys might spend or two years or three years or four years, that maturity that they grow in and academically is I think a good thing, so, thank you.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CALIPARI: They didn't want to.
Did you want to answer that?
Aaron Harrison: I never thought about it.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports....
Additional Player Quotes - April 6, 2014
James Young, Freshman, Guard
On taking over a game …
On how making it to the SEC Championship helped the team …
Aaron Harrison, Freshman, Guard
On this season …
“We had some things missing. Really, I think they were just chemistry things. We all just needed to get on the same page. Coach (Calipari) just emphasized being able to play for each other, and I think that’s what we started doing. We didn’t know how to do that at first. We were all the stars of high school and shot the ball 25 times, so we just had to understand how to be able to play for each other. That made us a great team. We just didn’t understand how to lose ourselves in the team at first, and I think once we did that, we became successful.”
On being in the National Championship game …
On his last second shots …
Andrew Harrison, Freshman, Guard
On the mindset of the team …
On John Calipari …
Julius Randle, Freshman, Forward
On if the adjustment made a month ago really put the team where it is today…
On the celebrations in Lexington and the joy the team brings to the fans…
On his relationship with Coach Calipari and how he is able to form it in such a short time
On if he had the option to go pro after high school, would be have chosen that instead of college
Dakari Johnson, Freshman, Center
On what he knows about the Fab Five…
On the simplicity of the team
On what the team’s thoughts have been even with this being the last time this group will play together…
On if they feel vindicated on being in the championship after being plagued with ‘one and done’ all year…
Alex Poythress, Sophomore, Forward
Can Aaron Harrison do anything that would surprise him at this point? …
On what it was like being in the dog pile …
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sophomore, Forward
On his status for Monday’s championship game …
Marcus Lee, Freshman, Forward
On how surprised he thinks people are that Kentucky is in the championship game…
On rallying in the second half of each of the last four games…
What people don’t know or understand about Coach John Calipari…
Jarrod Polson, Senior, Guard
On what changed entering the NCAA Tournament, if there was a team meeting about how to achieve their goals…
Dominique Hawkins, Freshman, Guard
On the team’s run to the NCAA Tournament finals …