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JOHN CALIPARI (Mar. 12)
You've said this season has been humbling for you. How so?
“It's a learning experience for me. It's going to make me a better coach for next year's team, some of the stuff went on that won't go on next year, holding the bar to a higher standard, not accepting we'll the have enough guys. The bench is going to be my best friend. All of those kind of things that will come back into play. You start to figure out why have my teams been so good for so long. Can we now get this stuff going? Can we turn this?
“This is about when we did it two years ago. Those guys made an effort to listen, to say we're gonna do what we're asked to do, we're gonna play at another level, we're gonna take it up a notch. We're gonna really fight like heck and play to win. This group can do that same thing, but we'll see.
Willie Cauley-Stein says he's afraid to say they've turned a corner because it's looked like they have before but have fallen back...
“And I think there's some guys in there Willie doesn't trust. When they don't feel like playing, they don't play. We have a little of that. Again, if you had a bench where you could just sit guys, that guy wouldn't play. You'd just sit 'em. But, you know what? This team has gone and done a lot of good stuff. At the end of the day, you look back, with all that's happened to this team, to be where we are, second place, have the most wins agains the top six teams -- us and Florida -- what? What just happened? Looking at guys playing…We're just hanging around, and that's what we want to do. So, the other side of it is with what we were and where we were it's pretty good stuff.”
What have you seen that's affected this team's coming of age?
“They still fight how they have to play. At some point you've got to just, as a player, say my stuff's not working and I'm dropping like a rock, so tell me what you exactly want me to do? That's hard. That's an experience. You just keep fighting. You keep dying, just keep doing it. And so, that has been an experience for these guys: haven't been coached, haven't been called out, haven't been told that you're wrong, where they've never had it before. You're not working hard enough, you can do this. 'This is the best I got.' No it isn't. You had more in there. It's the best I got, and if we lose the game, we lose the game. I'm not giving anything more.
“Getting through all that kind of stuff. And we're still young. You could have this team and next year's group on the same team. Now all the sudden your bench your best friend, practices are at a level that are ridiculous. My hope is as we wind this down, we go to this tournament, next tournament, that these guys just say 'enough's enough,' and they hold each other accountable and they get each other to do what they need to do cause this team's good enough. I still believe in this team. This team could do whatever they want, but you can't say 'Well, I want to do that but I don't want to do this to get to that.' You can't. It doesn't work that way.”
What have you learned about yourelf this season?
“I thought I was too old to go through what i just went through, and I guess I'm not. Some guys were struggling, I said 'I'm too old to go through that.' And you know what? The one thing I've got to say about this staff: no one quit on this team, no one quit on individual players. We kept trying to figure out ways to how do we get his turn, how do we get him to figure it out, cause at any point -- I've been doing this long enough -- it doesn't matter if you…Two years ago Connecticut won the national title. They were 9-9 in their league. They were like an 11 seed in their tournament. Then they figured it out, guys started fighting and everybody started playing well. You can do this. This is one of those years. But, you have to want to do it. And that has to be the most important thing to you: not how you're playing, how we're playing. That's part of what we're fighting to break through with this team.
“That's why I put out the (CoachCal.com) post. I didn't put out the post in response to anything else. I wanted my team to read what it means to be players first. That was what that was about. I'm sitting there thinking of stuff, and I said, 'You know, I'm gonna tell the team, and I'll everybody, so everybody understands what we're trying to get to.' This team it's just…it's learning, it's still wants to fight things and doesn't want to go the whole monty, but they're getting closer. Yesterday's practice was good, one of our better practices. I'm anxious to see how we do today.”
That UConn team had Kemba Walker. Does your team have a Kemba Walker?
“Maybe it's Willie. Maybe Willie becomes the most dominating big guy in college basketball, makes a difference in every game, and everybody else just does what they're supposed to do.”
Was Saturday's game a lightbulb one for Willie in terms of understanding how important he is to what you all want to do?
“I think the staff told him: ‘Every time you came out, you saw what happened.’ I had to play him with four fouls with 11 minutes to go. ‘Why’d you play your guy with four fouls?’ We won’t to win. Didn’t want to lose. So I put him back in so we could win the game. And then if he fouled out, I would figure out what to do to try to win the game. ‘Well you should’ve left him out ‘til four minutes to go and been down 18 and then put him back.’ Good move. Not bad. It entered my mind to do that. Not long, but it entered my mind. The question was almost like: What question is that? Were you not watching the game?”
Willie said being named SEC All-Freshman Team reminded some guys that they're still good players despite the criticism this season...
“But they’re being questioned across the country now. PTI says, ‘You have no point guard. Kid can’t play.’ Says the recruiting was mistakes. I’ve had people (say), ‘I won’t tell you who they were. I won’t tell you who they were, but they said those kids aren’t good enough.’ So all the sudden you look at Alex and Archie and say, ‘The say you’re not good enough.’ That’s what happens when your team struggles. When your team does really good, you don’t even have to the most shots and you can’t be the one and two pick. I’ve been trying to explain that all year, but (players think), ‘I’m going to carve out my own niche.’ What happens is, you start dropping like rocks. So we have something to prove, believe me. Individuals, as a team, we have a lot to prove. I keep telling them, ‘Let’s worry about us. Let’s just keep playing at our best and see what that means.’ ”
How close was Alex Poythress in the Florida game to what he can ultimately be?
“He’s OK. He’s still got a ways to go to be what he’s capable of being.”
Your thoughts on Kyle Wiltjer being named SEC Sixth Man of the Year?
“Happy for him. They didn’t take the voting in the last week, I can tell you (grinning). But I’m happy for him. Maybe that inspires him to step up his play again.”
Do you regret not utilizing your bench more this season?
“I like winning more. So I’m going to do everything and try to get the team across the finish line. What happens is it just, as a coach, you’re doing everything in that in your heart of hearts, in your bones, you know you wouldn’t do or accept or wouldn’t even consider to try to get your team across the finish line, knowing at the end of the season (it’s) time to regroup, going back to how we do things.”
You're not used to compromising are you?
“No, it was very hard. I had bloody lips going home, biting my lip many, many nights. My wife was like, ‘Did you get in a fist fight?’ No, I bit my lip for like 25 minutes straight. This team, they can turn this on if they choose to. We were in practice yesterday; guys going so hard, dadadadada. What does this prove to you? Oh, they can do it – if they choose to do this. They just choose not to do it. Then by not choosing to do it, they don’t understand that’s selfish. ‘I don’t shoot all the balls.’ That’s not what selfish is. Giving less than your best effort to cover for your teammate, that is selfish. You’re a selfish player.
“Again, dealing with 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, they don’t even know this stuff. And the teams I’ve had in the past, you can win with young kids. You have to have a few veterans that can tell them what to do, and you have to have a few guys so you can sit them on the bench. This team has that. I tell you who’s been playing well: Jon Hood. Jarrod Polson giving everything he can. I’m comfortable going with Jon Hood. I may even play him at four some. So he’s been playing well. But again, we still – the great thing: we’ve got a lot to prove. What do you want to be? How do you want to do it? You gonna do this together? We’ve got a lot to prove and we’re going up into an environment that’s going to be a great testing ground for us. Here we go. Let’s see what we’ve done.”
Does being the No. 2 seed in SEC Tournament make it easier than having to win four games in four days?
“That would’ve been tough. But obviously in any tournament you’re in, the higher your seed, the better your chances are of winning the tournament. That’s just how it is. Doesn’t mean we’re going to win it. Doesn’t mean we’re going to get to the finals. There are upsets every year, in every tournament. But the percentages are in your favor if you’re a higher seed. That’s just how it is. Just like the other tournament. I told you all the time: The seed matters. When they act like, ‘Well, you’re in; don’t worry about it,’ it matters. The higher the seed, the higher your percentage chance of winning. Just how it is. So right now some teams are fighting for the higher seeds, their coaches are right. When coaches get mad that they don’t get a higher seed, they’re down a level or two, they’re right to be mad. Because it affects what their team can do.”
This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by Matt May 13 months ago
WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN (Mar. 12)
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THE POSTSEASON?
"Um, I feel good. Yesterday's practice was really good. It was tough but guys seemed to in it and more focused."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO MAKING THIS LATEST TURNING POINT STICK AND NOT REVERTING BACK AGAIN?
"I mean, focusing on what we've got to do. It was good that Coach didn't back off yesterday in practice and continued to push us through. He said in year's past they would have had two days off instead of one day off so it's good to keep the right mind frame going into (the SEC Tournament)."
THE FLORIDA WIN WAS A HUGE BOOST (TO TOURNAMENT PROFILE) BUT HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU DON'T LEAVE ANY DOUBT?
"Absolutely. You know, we just need to go into the tournament with the mindset that we're not trying to, you know, get beat. We want to win it, obviously, and keep it rolling."
ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR TELL YOU THIS TEAM IS READY TO MAKE A POSTSEASON RUN?
"I couldn't answer that now. We've been here before like this so I'm not even going to try and answer that (now)."
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, BEEN HERE BEFORE?
"I mean we've been where it seemed like we turned a turning point and reverted right back so, you know, I just don't know."
YOU AND ARCHIE WERE PRETTY BLUNT AFTER THE GEORGIA GAME ABOUT SOME GUYS NOT PULLING THEIR WEIGHT. DO YOU THINK THAT HAD ANY AFFECT ON FLORIDA GAME AND COULD IT DO SO IN THE POSTSEASON?
"It definitely affected the (Florida) game. When guys step up and do what they've got to do it just makes everybody else's job easier and we jut play better."
HOW IS THE CONFIDENCE OF THE TEAM RIGHT NOW?
"That win against Florida helped a lot. I feel like the last two games before that game our confidence wasn't there at all, it was like, you know, we think we're good but there were a lot of questions about whether we were good enough to beat Florida or make a long run. Definitely after the win against Florida it boosts you up a little bit."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE ALEX, AS A GUY AND AS A PLAYER? IS HE A MYSTERY TO YOU GUYS TOO?
"Alex is just...I don't feel like Alex knows yet. I mean, like, Coach says you mature at different rates and I feel like he's just taking longer to mature. Alex is a great kid. He's not bad or anything, it's just whether he wants to mature faster and listen and do what Coach is telling him to do. It's all up to Alex."
BEFORE FLORIDA GAME HE TALKED OF BEING DISAPPOINTED IN HIMSELF:
"He's showing maturity in saying he's wrong and not saying, well, everybody else is wrong, Coach is wrong. He's stepping up and saying he's doing bad and he's the problem and stuff like that."
HOW CLOSE WAS THE ALEX IN FLORIDA GAME TO WHAT YOU KNOW HE CAN BE?
"With Alex it's in spurts. He'll play like a beast in spurts and then...I don't know what happens but he's not a beast no more. There are some games where he's playing 25 minutes of a beast and those are the games we're beating people by 20."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOUR OWN IMPORTANCE TO THIS TEAM IN THE FLORIDA GAME?
"Defending and the energy, that's where I feel like that's my spot on the floor. Energy and effort and making hustle points and talking to everybody, loosening everybody up."
WHY HAVEN'T YOU GUYS BEEN ABLE TO TURN THE CORNER?
“I don't know. Guys relax or guys aren't focused about it or something. I honestly don't know.”
WHAT WILL IT ULTIMATELY TAKE TO DO SO?
“Just listen to what Coach has to say, because he's been through it for so many years. That's something we don't get is the time that he's spent with this and preparing guys for it. We're fresh in the game. He's been there for a long time. We just got to listen, and I don't think that's what we've been doing.”
ANY PREFERENCE BETWEEN ARKANSAS AND VANDERBILT?
“It don't matter who we play. We just got to focus about ourselves.”
DID BEATING FLORIDA PROVE YOU CAN BEAT A GOOD TEAM WITHOUT NERLENS?
“That wasn't even in your head. It was the fact that we was drowning. Like Coach said, we was drowning and we had to find life. We was on the edge and our backs was in the corner. We had to figure out a way to win.”
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH YOUR FREE THROW SHOOTING?
“I don't know. I shoot 'em every day. I practice it every day. I'll be in here at night practicing, I make 90, 80 percent of them. Warmups, I make 90, 80 percent of them. And then get in the game and make 30 percent of them.”
YOU TOOK THAT CRITICAL CHARGE LATE IN THE FLORIDA GAME DESPITE FOUR FOULS. HOW DID YOU CALCULATE THAT RISK?
“It was just in the flow of the game. It was in our scouting report to take charges on them when they drove and it just happened to be Erik Murphy. He's a big guy. I decided to step over and take it. It was just perfect timing and it was just instincts.
“I felt like with four fouls, I'm most likely going to get called (for trying) to block it (rather) than to step in the way and be set and take the charge. I could pre-read it. I could tell it was coming. So it wasn't, 'Oh, the guy's there! Charge!' I could kind of tell it was coming. I felt like if I was going to block it, I would have had to be not in front of him. If I was in front of him, I was going to get a foul.”
DO PLAYERS HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT A BLOCK/CHARGE IS ANYMORE. SEEMS LIKE IT'S VERY INCONSISTENT.
“Yeah, I don't understand that at all. I don't get that at all.”
DOES MAKING ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM VALIDATE YOU ALL AS GOOD PLAYERS?
“Yeah. There for a while, people was questioning whether we should be playing with Kentucky, questioning our abilities to play the game of basketball. It's good to see that despite some of our losses, we have a winning record. We won 21, 22 games or something like that. It's like, it don't feel like we won 20-something games. It's good that people recognize that.”
HAS THAT BOTHERED YOU?
“I mean, yeah. We won 20-something games. There's other teams out there that don't have as many wins and they're getting super hype, and it's just because we're Kentucky. That's just how it is here.”
HOW MANY WINS DOES IT FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE?
“It feels like we're barely over .500. That's what what the media makes it to seem like. That's what ESPN makes it seem like.”
Friday March 12th?
Ha. Tell you how overworked us scribes are this time of year. We never know what day it is.
Cal's comment about Willie may sound crazy to some but not to me. I do believe he has that kind of potential. He could come on here at the end of the year and be the most dominating force in the paint in the country. There is not doubt about that. He has the size, athletic ability, and skills. If the lightbulb goes off and his confidence comes around he could really take off. Poythress is just as important. If we get those two guys owning the paint and Mays, Harrow and Archie playing smart basketball we could be a tough out. You just can't count a Calipari coached team out. I'm not counting on these things to happen. Hell we could get beat tonight. I'm just saying don't count this team out yet.
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