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October 1, 2012

Part II: Calipari discusses Noel eligibility, freshmen

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 second part of that roundtable discussion.

Reporters' questions have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: What do you envision for Nerlens Noel?

TIP-OFF TIME
With basketball season approaching, Cats Illustrated will roll out plenty of preseason coverage this week. You can see it all here as it becomes available:
DateStory
MondaySeason Preview
MondayFeature: Nerlens Noel
MondayQ&A I: John Calipari
MondayQ&A II: John Calipari
Tuesday Feature: Archie Goodwin
TuesdayQ&A III: John Calipari
Wednesday Feature: Kyle Wiltjer
Thursday Feature: Julius Mays
Friday Feature: Twany Beckham/Jarrod Polson
Oct. 8 Feature: Alex Poythress
Oct. 9 Feature: Willie Cauley-Stein
Oct. 10 Feature: Ryan Harrow
Oct. 11 Feature: Jon Hood
Oct. 12 Feature: Brian Long/Sam Malone
I asked Anthony, 'How was Nerlens?' because that's who he matched up against mostly. He said, 'He's good, coach. He'll block some shots.' I said, 'How was he offensively?' He said, 'I kind of pushed him off the post.' I said, 'You pushed him off the post?' Which is kind of like, OK, we've got to teach the kid how to sit down and hold your position until he gets stronger. But what he is, he's not ever going to be Shaq. That's not how he is. But he's really quick and fast, and he's got a quick twitch.

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?
They do this kind of review with a bunch of kids. And the review, when you change (classes), you're reclassifying, there's a red flag. And then some people are mad that you reclassified? There's another red flag. And they go through the process, but it's a review. So we feel confident. We feel pretty good about it.

Q: Before, it was always your point guards, could they live up to the reputation at that position…
This one has that too.

Q: But do you think Nerlens can handle that comparison to Anthony?
He shouldn't be compared. They're totally different. They're not even the same. Nerlens is going to give us a different type of game. Anthony understood how to compete on possessions. Nerlens is still learning. Like, he'll take possessions off. Well, you can't do that. What he is is a normal freshman. And Anthony, we forget where Anthony was early in the year. I mean, yeah, he could dunk balls and do all that. He had absolutely no post game. He was shaky shooting free throws until the end; he became a real good free-throw shooter.

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?
Probably Alex and Archie would be the two. We've been working on Archie (developing) a consistent shot. You can't shoot different kind of balls. You can't lean one way. You've got to shoot consistently. When you're in high school you can miss your first 12. I'm getting 12 more, 15 more; I'm good. Now you can't do that. In his case, you've got to be a very consistent shooter. So he's not ready for that yet. And if he's going to shoot a lot of balls for us, he better be a consistent shooter.

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?
We're counting on (that). I'd like to know one of them (could help), or Jarrod right now. I mean, Jarrod has probably improved as much as anybody that I saw in the workouts that we've done. For us to be what we need to be, those two and Jarrod have got to give us something on that court. But really in practice, they've got to perform at a high level so we're going at each other.

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?
We'll see. They knew coming in, I know that. It was explained to them very directly in the recruiting process. It's funny, Bob Rotella met with the team and met with individuals. I've never done it this early, but I felt to do it with this team was important. His thing to me is, 'Where do you find players that are this good that are this nice of kids? How are you finding these guys?' I said, 'Well, part of it's the recruiting process where you're telling kids "If you think you're going to shoot every ball, if you think it's all about you, if you think that you're going to be the only guy, if you think I'm going to tell you you're going to start, play 30 minutes and get all the shots, you don't need to be here. It's the wrong place to be. If you want to go out and run around, chase and do all that stuff, don't come here. It's the wrong place to go."'

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?
Well, there's a couple things. One, the academic bar has been raised here. It's been raised ever since Brandon Knight came here. So you're talking about, they understand that you've got a responsibility and if you don't hold up that responsibility then it's hard for us to believe we can count on you. So that has changed.

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?
If they do, fine. That'd be great. It'd be like an added (bonus). But that's not why we're doing it. We just added one of the first players I ever recruited, just got done playing in Europe, was added to the weight staff; Brian Shorter. Was at Pittsburgh. He just got done playing. Just finished up his degree. Orlando and I got after Pitt, 'Hey man, get this guy back, let him finish his degree.' He wasn't that far. So now we're getting him started in that weight and conditioning thing. It's the greatest thing, being in a position to do it. Now, does Brian Shorter add something to (our staff)? Well, I don't know. If he does, that's great. But if he doesn't and we help another young man get on with his life, you know.

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?
The players know players from the last three years. They have no idea who that kid is. 'You played here? How old are you? They have no idea who these kids are.

Q: What do you hope Kyle Wiltjer got out of his trip to play with the Canadian team?
One, I knew he'd be up there with good players and he'd get good coaching and good competition. He and I talked; I said, 'You need to go up there.' Maurizio (Gherardini) who I knew from my UMass days, he used to be a GM over in Italy and had a couple of my players on his team, called and said, 'Hey, we really want Kyle up here.' I said, 'Look, as long as he doesn't miss too much school.' So we got him up there, and I'll tell you what, they loved him. They loved him. And he was ecstatic. He said, 'Coach, there was this guy from the Lakers and he had us doing stuff. I wish I could have stayed. It was really good. He gave us some different things we were doing. I said, 'How'd you shoot?' He said, 'I was really making them.' He said, 'I was killing' is what he said to me.

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.



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