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October 1, 2012

Part I: Calipari discusses upcoming season, 'repeat' bid

Last 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 first part of that roundtable discussion.

Reporters' questions have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: Last year you cautioned us how hard it was to know anything about your team at this point. How much difference did the summer workouts make as far as what you know you have?
There are times when the more information you get, the more confused you are. That's kind of where I am with this group. Like, what I would have thought, some of the questions I had, now I have more questions. One of them being, how much can we play two big guys together? It's funny, I said to Coach (Joe B.) Hall, 'We're going to have to sit down and talk about this two-big-guy thing.' And he (said), 'I got some good stuff for you.' But we're going to have to figure out, do we play with those two (Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein) together, and how about, do we play with the three big guys together? How much does Archie (Goodwin) play point, because if he's at point, he's a lot like Tyreke Evans. And then with Alex (Poythress), your question is, OK, how close can we get his motor to Michael (Kidd-) Gilchrist? Can we even get him in the same ballpark? Will Julius (Mays) who makes shots, be able to make them in this environment, when he's not playing 35 minutes a game, but yet you've got to make shots? So we've got a lot of questions.

We're going to play fast. We're going to play the dribble-drive. How we get into the dribble-drive, we've changed every single year I've been here. We're going to play defense. Will we play some zone this year? I can say yes and the chances are slim and none, but I'm going to tell you, yeah, we're going to think about playing some zone this year. I've talked about maybe a 2-3 with the two big guys on the wings, 7-foot, 6-11. Then I thought maybe we could play a 3-2 with the two bigs down low, which means they cover the corners, which those two can: one cover (a) corner, the other under the basket, the other cover (the opposite) corner, the other under the basket and maybe a Kyle (Wiltjer) or an Alex in the middle covering the low post. I mean, there's different ways we can do it, but we could be longer than we were a year ago at times.

Q: Who's your most pleasant surprise of the summer workouts?
Willie's the guy that I would tell you that I did not (foresee). First of all, I never saw him play in a high school basketball game. I saw him play football a bunch. I went to the high school and he had a tennis racquet. And we're walking around, 'Kid do you ever play basketball? Do you ever think about that sport?' He was a kid that would play Wiffle ball… . I told him when we recruited him, 'You don't even know how good you're gonna become. You have no idea what's going to happen for you.'

He and I were sitting in the Lodge the other day, and I said, 'Are you kind of amazed?' He says, 'Yeah.' You say, 'You're better than you thought, aren't you?' He says, 'Yeah.' He's taking on the sport for the first time where he's really focused on this sport. He's gained weight - 20, 25 pounds - his skill set has absolutely improved. He's fast, he's nimble; you see him on the football tapes. So now he gained ground on Nerlens because Nerlens wasn't here. Those eight weeks of conditioning, weight training and 16 one-hour workouts put him on a different level than Nerlens. Now, I'm good with that. Because now when Nerlens catches up, you'll see the improvement of his game. (People say) 'Oh he's not as good as we thought.' OK, so when he's drafted really high you'll say, 'Well, he was that way when he got him.' Well, you just said he wasn't what you thought. 'Yeah, I was just saying that.'

Q: So many coaches talk about the challenges of repeating. With such a new team, how do you even treat the fact that you won it last year?
We've already talked. That thing's done. None of these guys were even a part of that. We're worried about being the best team we can be. And does that mean we could be better than last year? Maybe. What does being better than last year mean? You're really good. That means that the team is really close and that means the team really sacrificed. Shared sacrifice is the No. 1 thing in the team if it's the same.

But we're not worried. That thing's over and done. This is a new team. We don't even know how we're going to play. Literally, we don't know how we're going to play yet. And that's the disadvantage that I said where you have all these teams that know how they're going to play. They have the same teams back. They're just going to touch up. They add a couple guys to see if they can get better and they build on a base. Well, we have no base.

Thank goodness we could do some this summer. I don't know if I had a senior team, junior team, whether I'd have liked the summer stuff.

Q: Bill Self said after he won a title that he thought he was prepared for all the stuff that came with it, and maybe he wasn't as prepared as he thought. Have you reached out to any guys who have won titles in the past about things that might be unexpected?
First of all, you're at Kentucky. I can ask the guy that sat in this seat. Other than that, you're asking somebody who… this is a different animal. But I did sit down with Nick Saban. We spent an hour talking about 2010, what happened in 2011 and now it's 2012, what are you going to do different? He and I sat down for an hour, and it was really good stuff that he talked about.

The difference is, he had returning players from that team. But he said, 'I have some guys that were on that 2010 team that are now on this team, and they are not letting that happen.' A lot of it is you take your eye off the ball. He talked about, as a group you step back. I read the article that was in USA Today (in August) that he talked about, 'We talk about drinking the poison all the time.'

But this is different here, because it's a brand-new team. It's not like, 'OK, they won and now how are you going to guard against complacency?' How about we change the whole team and no one's on the team? How about that one? There's one way of changing it.

The only thing I can do is what I do, which is, I'm worried about this team; how good can we be? When we lost six games in our league (in 2011), I kept telling all you guys, 'I like my team. We're going to be fine. We're losing by a point, we're losing by two points. I like my team. We're going to be fine.' What ended up happening is, if we had played better against Connecticut on that day, we'd have won the national title. I kept telling you, 'There's no team out there that scares me.' And I don't know enough about the teams coming up (this year). I do know the first two teams we're playing are going to give us a problem. You're going to talk about veteran teams that, their whole summer has been thinking about Kentucky. Both of those teams. So we could go 0-2 to start off and still have a really good team. I mean, we don't even know how we're going to play. It'll be interesting.

Q: You've talked about trying to play up-tempo. How does Kyle Wiltjer fit into that style?
Perfectly. And I'll tell you why: he'll be behind the ball all the time. So now, he'll take it out and we are flying. If he rebounds it, he'll be behind. If he doesn't rebound it, he'll still be out ahead and he'll be fine, and we still may trail him into a dragging screen. But what I like is, we fly, and as the ball comes back, it's coming back to his hands. Now you have a skilled player. And again, I'm not trying to compare him to somebody, but later in his career, that's what they did with (Larry) Bird. Then from that position, they would go pick-and-roll, dribble handoffs, he'd shoot the three. After it went, 'Here we go,' it's not there? Give it to him and now we'll play through him. And I see that being one of the things (Wiltjer does).

I see us running random pick-and-rolls with him a bunch, because what happens is, there's pick-and-pop, and (the other team will) say, 'You can switch, because you don't have to guard him in the post.' Well, he's a really good post player, and if you're too small, he will score on you in there. Right now, he's having to score against these two long ones. When we put Anthony (Davis) and those three together, two of the three were bigger than Anthony. Now longer? I didn't really have them put their arms up, which if I had to do it over again I would. Maybe I will next time. But Willie's reach is longer than Nerlens'. With Kyle having to score over those guys, you put a little guy on him, he's scoring baskets.

Q: How important can Wiltjer be to be the one guy to anchor the new guys to the success you've had?
What I keep telling these guys (is), 'You can't just work by yourself. You got to drag some guys with you.' I came over one night, I was here about 10:30, 11 o'clock, and a light was on. I heard the ball bouncing, I look outside my office window, and it was Kyle, who had grabbed a manager, walked across the street and had a great workout. I grabbed him after and I said, 'Why wasn't someone here with you, or a couple of these guys? Don't come over here by yourself. Drag a couple guys with you.' We've got to start doing that.

The other side of it is, they played the other day with Anthony (Davis). So I called Anthony into my office after and said, 'Tell me what my team looks like.' And the first thing out of his mouth, he said, 'Kyle is way better. He's way stronger, can do more things. I really like where Kyle is right now.' So that was one of the things he said, which was kind of neat.

Q: Who might fill the Darius Miller role, the veteran guy?
I don't even know if we'll have that role. Again, I don't know what this team is. This team's going to be different. Could it be Julius coming off the bench doing it? Yeah. It could be a guy like Willie or somebody coming off the bench. We're going to have six or seven starters again, like we did a year ago. So whoever comes off, you want them to add to what we're doing. I don't know who that'll be yet.

Q: What about Julius made you want to add him to this team?
Great kid who had performed at a high level, who could make baskets, especially jump shots and that wanted to be a part of this and understood what it meant. Like, we don't make any promises. Are you good coming off the bench? Are you good if that's the case? 'I'm good. I'm good. I'm good.' He knew what he was walking into.

People say, 'Why don't you just go out and recruit a Top 50 or 60 player that understands he's going to be seventh or eighth man?' Well, good luck. The Top 50 or 60 player what does he think? How long until the NBA? Do you understand? To say you just go find that guy - it's impossible. Those guys think that they're starters and they think that they're one-and-done. It's hard to do.

Q: Did Ryan Harrow get out of the year off what you wanted?
Yeah. He got beat up. He played against a pit bull every day who just was letting him know. The thing I've said about Ryan (is) I want Ryan to be the best layup shooter in the SEC. I don't need any cuteness. Get to the basket and shoot layups. If they absolutely back off like they tried to play Marquis Teague, (Harrow) shoots it a little bit better. But I want you to shoot layups, and that's what you're doing, which means you've got to play through bumps, keep going. 'Well, the guy's big.' You better shoot it over him. That's what we want.

The good news is, you have Archie right there who can play the position too. We've got flexibility. You can do Archie and Julius. You can do that. You could to two guards and three bigs. You could do Alex as a four. I'm going to be honest, Alex is a three/four, four/three. Now you put him at four, you know how quick he is? Oh my gosh. There is no four in our league that can guard him off the bounce. They'd have to just back away and hope he's not making shots. So there's a lot of stuff that we've just got to play games. You can think we'd know it in practice. You've got to play the games. And then you've got to play games like those first two. Those first two are going to be major learning experiences, and we've got to use them that way. We want to win every game we play. But the biggest thing is, we've truly got to learn and experiment and mess around, because we'll see something like we did two years ago that it's like, 'All right, we got this,' and (the players) get it. Not just me getting it, they get it, and all the sudden they start having confidence in who's what and how they're going to play and what they're going to do. These guys haven't played together.

Q: Do you have a team that you think has six guys who on a given night who could lead the team in scoring?
Seven. Oh yeah. Let me tell you what (Cauley-Stein's) job will be: outrun everybody down the floor, both ends. When we do drills, everything we do, someone wins, someone loses. He finishes first in all the runs. He's 7-foot tall and he's finishing first. And he's running hard, not just striding. I mean, he's flying. What we'll look (for) from him is, just take off (to see) if he can get two, three layups a half just flying. Just outrun their big.

Q: With that kind of team, do you go into a game thinking about matchups or just get the ball to who's hot?
Usually the game unfolds and you know. Anytime you go in (saying), 'Here's how we're going to do this,' OK, now it didn't happen coach; what are you doing now? I mean, it's almost like we're going to go in, 'This is how we play' and then we kind of move from there.

Last year, how were they trying to stop us? Well for a while they just said, 'Just beat 'em up. Just absolutely throw people to the floor. Physically go after people. It's the only way.' Then they tried a little bit of zone, and we're throwing dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk in the zone defense and they're better off playing man. Don't leave Anthony. You remember that one? Just stay back. Then you had what Louisville did. Just run at the guy so he couldn't throw the lob. Just leave him completely. Just run. Here he comes, run, block the lob. Well, you blocked one, but it only tipped it and we dunked that one.

You've got to look at what they do. Ryan could lead us. How will people play us? Until we start playing games (we don't know).



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