The Kentucky Wildcats, with seven possible first round draft picks on the roster, are 4-1 favorites to win the NCAA Championship this season. Kentucky rolled through its last exhibition game on Monday, beating Montevallo 95-72. Below is a transcript of John Calipari’s post game press conference.
Q. Are you any happier with how your kids ran?
COACH CALIPARI: We beat them up pretty good this weekend. They had a lot of practice this weekend, and so I got to their legs a little bit. But that’s fine. I thought we played better than we did last game, and that’s all I’m asking. We’re a ways away now, folks. But I’m learning about them every time they play, and Montevallo, they came out, greatest thing was there were some juniors and seniors, and the kids balled. They weren’t afraid. They were physical. They banged, they were not backing down.
You know, some things that I liked: Aaron, who again, I had to take him out because he jogged the floor, James did a couple times, but he goes seven assists, no turnovers. And he’s really, you know, not supposed to be our primary point guard. Dakari Johnson plays 15 minutes, goes nine points and five rebounds. And then Julius, you know, obviously it’s a game, you see I’m teaching them how to play out on the floor, but when the game is on the line, where is he going? Go get that ball next to that basket and get us something good.
I thought Willie came out in the second half and blocked shots, which he didn’t in the first half. As a matter of fact I took him out because a guy drove and he stood on the weak side.
But again, we’ve made strides. We’re better. We have five guys in double figures and another have eight and another have nine. But the one thing I’ll tell everybody: We’re still not a good team offensively or defensively yet. We just, when I say team, one guy is breaking down, two guys are breaking down. One guy forgets where to go. One guy holds the ball too long. Instead of pass, pass, cut, cut, drive, it’s pass, try to drive. And again, I mean, the most anybody shot were 13 balls, so it’s not like guys are being selfish. It’s just that you’ve got to play more for your team than yourself, and we’re getting closer, but we’re, this was a good game for us. I’m glad we played this team, and I’m glad they played the way they played.
Q. You tweeted today you wanted to get Aaron back to his normal position. How much of that was the way he played tonight?
COACH CALIPARI: Probably. You know, it’s a good point. So you watched the game? That’s why I tried to put Jarrod at point. I wanted to see him, because the reality is going to be he’s going to play some point, probably 10, 12 minutes a game Aaron will play, but we just have to see. Hopefully today being off and tomorrow being off, Andrew can come back Wednesday and we can start. But if he can’t, he’ll be out until he’s ready to go.
Q. What happened at the beginning of the first half? Talk about Willie getting sort of pissed off because he’s not doing well and maybe Dakari is?
COACH CALIPARI: No, I think the second half, we just told him, come on, you had two rebounds at halftime. And again, he only had four, but he fought and he did some things. You know, we’re a big team. We’re big, and there were some plays that I thought we should make, let me say this: I thought Alex played as well as I’ve seen him play. He went after balls. But again, I could go back and tell you there were five possessions that he gave up on. But that used to be 15. So now he’s going after balls, he’s fighting, and I was happy to see him play the way he played, too.
Q. What can you say about some of the rotations you had tonight, some of the lineups? What things did you like?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, again, I mean, the hard thing is without Andrew, you can’t, it’s like, okay, we’re playing without our quarterback. Now, the good news is his backup looks just like him. But he’s not him.
And so I wanted Jarrod to start tonight and play him at the position he’s going to feel more comfortable with. You know, Marcus Lee didn’t get the minutes. I wanted to get him some more minutes. But it’s a tough deal right now, and even Dakari, because Dakari deserves to play, and I’ll tell you, he gives you a great post presence. He turned it over a few times, Julius turned it over three times, and Jarrod three times. That’s six. 16 turnovers is too many, and a lot of them unforced, just like, four of them were lob passes that hit the shot clock, like what in the world?
Q. How do you think on a daily basis, how is Julius’s effort and the kind of things you see game in and game out? Is he just a natural like that?
COACH CALIPARI: The thing I asked the kids this week, I had individual meetings, and I said, have you ever been coached like this, and they all said the same thing: No. I said, well, I know I’m raising the bar, but tell me what you mean. He says, you hold us all accountable on every possession, and I’ve never been coached that way. So what these kids do is they coast on a possession, maybe they don’t run the floor, maybe they don’t make a hard cut, and I’m stopping it.
There’s a reason for that, too. And the same with the twins and the same with James Young. I mean, we’ve raised the bar. The biggest thing I can tell you is we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve made strides. We’re not a good team right now. We’ve got a nice collection of guys, but we’re not a good team.
I put on the board, our execution on defense and offense will be about 30 percent right now. 70 percent of the time we’re wrong, so just talk your way through it and scramble, cover for each other, be a good teammate. That’s where we’re lacking right there. I don’t mind that we’re wrong a lot, it’s that we can do the other stuff.
Q. It didn’t look like you posted guys up intentionally a lot tonight.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, if you look at our team, most of the teams I’ve had, I haven’t been able to just say, okay, we’re going to post a James Young, who’s 6’7″, against a 6’3″ guy. We’re going to post Julius. We’re going to post Dakari. We’re able to do that because we have some guys. Our point guard is 6’6″. He’s going against a six?footer, we’ll post him.
Now, you may post to shoot a three. In other words, post them, they come out down and help, and all of a sudden it’s pass, pass, pass, and a guy gets a wide open shot for a drive from that.
But Julius was a beast. Now, he got 11 rebounds. I thought he should have had 20. There were four or five balls, easy six balls, he should have gotten, and he didn’t. I got on Alex a little bit on a couple of those, because again, he had four, and he played 17 minutes, but he could have had eight.
Q. Seems like all that is about getting comfortable playing on the perimeter.
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I don’t like the spin because I think people are going to play the spin. I’d rather him just go to his right hand and shoot it. If you miss it, we’ll tip dunk it. You know what I mean; get to your right hand. Like you’re saying, so what’s everybody say? When he drives right, everybody get in the lane because he’s going to spin and he’ll run you over. They put it on the scouting report. We’ve got to get James Young going right more. They jumped on his left hand a little bit and he settled for some jumpers.
Like I said, all in all, we made strides. They have tomorrow off. We come back Wednesday, Thursday, we play Friday, we have a practice on Saturday, we play Sunday, travel Monday, play Tuesday. So basically it’s on. And whether we’re ready or not, and we’re not, the bus is taking us to the games and the plane, and we’ve got to play games. So we’re going to have to learn as we go.