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October 1, 2012Last month, Kentucky coach John Calipari sat down with a group of reporters, including Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated, to talk about the upcoming 2012-13 basketball season. The content of those interviews was embargoed until Oct. 1.
Calipari met with reporters for almost an hour, and Cats Illustrated will present his comments in their entirety in a three-part series. Presented here is the second part of that roundtable discussion.
Reporters' questions have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What do you envision for Nerlens Noel?
If a kid is slow going to the ball or reacting to the ball, he can't play. I don't care what you say. He cannot play. If a kid is quick - really quick - going to the ball, now he's got a chance of being special. Anthony was really quick getting to balls. Michael Gilchrist was really quick. Now we had two that were just 'Bang!' to balls. Well, this kid is the same way. He's the quickest on our team getting to balls and doing stuff like that.
If he's on that baseline or he's in the high post area with hand-offs and rolls and all that stuff, he'll finish with dunks. But he's not in shape right now. He's physically behind. Back hurts. No kidding; you're out of shape. You just started here. But I think he'll be fine.
Q: Any concerns about his availability?
Q: Before, it was always your point guards, could they live up to the reputation at that position?
Q: But do you think Nerlens can handle that comparison to Anthony?
Physically couldn't hold his position. He did stuff and looked good, you know, running, but he came a long way as the year went on. And he was able to because the team was so good, it wasn't totally on his shoulders and he was able to build some self-esteem and confidence as the year went on. And that's what I'm hoping for this kid. That's why I like the fact that we do have seven guys that could lead us in scoring, similar to last year.
Q: Which of the freshmen came in most ready to play a game tomorrow?
It doesn't mean you make every shot. It doesn't mean you shoot consistently as far as making them. It means every shot you shoot is in that range. You look at it and that's the same shot, whether you're running, whether it's in transition, whether it's a three, whether it's a free throw, you have the same look to your shot. He doesn't have that right now.
Alex is just the motor. We've got to get him to understand how hard on every possession you must play. When we get him there, he will be scary. But right now, we're going to be behind. That's just the way it is. Last year we had Doron (Lamb), we had Terrence (Jones) and we had Darius Miller. They had all been to a Final Four the year before. You're talking about one truly veteran player and two that seems to be as veteran as we keep here, two-year guys.
Q: What sense do you have about whether Jon Hood and Twany Beckham can help you?
If we do that, you think about it - if those two can play against the other guys, then shoot, you should be able to play against any of these guys. Then it's like, 'OK, what do I do to help the team win?' not, 'How do I want to play?' It's not how you want to play. 'What do I do to help this team win, and what's going to be my job?'
Jon's gotten better. He's coming off that knee (injury). He was with the guards the other day (in practice) and he did fine.
Q: You've said it takes a certain mentality to play here. Does this group get what it means to play here?
And so I think it starts in the recruiting process. We're not begging kids. We're recruiting kids and we're recruiting hard, but we're telling them the truth. It's hard here. This is a unique place. 'Aw, you're arrogant.' All right, I tell the kid he'll start and play 30 minutes a game and we'll give him every shot and you'll be drafted No. 1 and then we'll put your name in the rafters. What else you want me to tell him? I mean, you can do it that way, or you can do what I do, which is tell the truth and just say, 'That's it. That's how it is here,' and if you want this, then you come. The result is, of what's happened for our players, not only that, that they're prepared, though, for this stuff that's happening. Our guys have gone and stepped up, and guys that people never thought would do X, Y, Z are in that league (the NBA).
Q: How much did the level of success from last year affect this group this year?
The other thing that I would tell you is that if you think shots matter, like, 'If I'm not getting my shots?'; if you think shots matter, ask Michael Kidd and Anthony Davis, the No. 1 and 2 picks in the draft, who got the fourth- and fifth-most shots on our team. Ask those two if it mattered. So I don't need any phone calls. I don't need anybody talking to me. That's changed now. So don't tell me.
I think again what they were as a team and how they were their brothers' keeper gives you an idea. Are you willing to do all that? Are you willing to be the sixth man? Are you willing to do what Michael Kidd did (against) Vanderbilt and come in and say, 'Coach, start Darius Miller in the (SEC Tournament) championship game, because he's playing so bad; we need him in the NCAA Tournament?' Are you willing to do that? 'Umm, I don't think so, but I think he will.' Then everybody that surrounds us are these kids that think, 'Well, I should do this.' I think it just kind of wipes all that out and it makes us different in that they understand it's not how many shots I take, it's how I play. It's what I add to the team. It's what people see in me and what I'll be as a teammate. It's 'Does our team win? And if we win at a high level, everybody's going to want all of us.' Those are the kind of things that are teaching tools I'll use the rest of my career. This will be one of those things. Hopefully this team I'm coaching now will give me more ammo to be able to go back at people and say, 'Don't look at this; look at that.'
Q: Does putting former players on the coaching staff have an impact on your current players, giving them somebody who's been through playing here?
Marquis (Estill) being back, I just got a letter from his seventh-grade teacher, who was a brand-new teacher, and the kid was so nice to her that she had a relationship with him that she helped him with math or something. And now, he made her feel good as a teacher when she first started when she was unsure, because he was such a nice kid, and (she wrote), 'I'm the biggest fan of this kid. He made me feel good.' I just got that letter back about him. That makes it kind of like, hey, these kids, they're good kids. Some of them are finishing careers. I told Nazr. Nazr has some time left. He didn't finish (his degree). I said, 'When you're done playing, come back and finish. You can be on my staff for a year. Finish up.' We did it obviously with Wayne Turner, who was really good for us. Really good for us.
Q: Will players listen to them more because they've been here?
Q: What do you hope Kyle Wiltjer got out of his trip to play with the Canadian team?
It's like Willie the other day, and this is the greatest thing when you're coaching, when you see guys start building. He didn't have a shirt on, and I looked at his arm and I said, 'Man, you got some bumps. It's crazy.' He makes a muscle and points at the weight strength coach, 'He helped me.' And I just bust out laughing. I said, 'Come on, man. You gotta be kidding me.' But that's the stuff in this.
You're coaching at Kentucky and you understand that this is life and death for some people, but it's not life and death for me. I told you before, we want to win championships for the state and the commonwealth. The most important thing is helping these young kids. It's a players-first program. If we do right by them, if we make decisions based on them, they will drag us where we want to go.
I said three years ago - and we had guys write stories and try to get people to comment on it - those five guys going in the first round were the biggest or one of the biggest (days in the history of the program). I may have said the biggest, and I think I probably am right, because now you have every player in the country wanting to do what? Play here. And it started with those five going in the first round which is something that's never done, may never be done again unless we do it here. Now all of the sudden it's changed what's happened for us, and now we stay as a players-first (program) and they drag us to this. Let's see where this team can drag us.