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October 2, 2012

Part III: Calipari talks schedule, fans, his UK future

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 third part of that roundtable discussion.

Reporters' questions have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: Are you happy with how the nonconference schedule turned out?

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
Yeah. And again… I wanted to play that Indiana game. I thought those would be great games in Indianapolis, but that's fine. We got Baylor. North Carolina's being added back (next season) and you'll have Louisville and North Carolina one away, one home every year. You'll have some neutral games every year. We're still in the process of the Duke stuff every year where we'll play at a neutral site. Mike (Krzyzewski) says he wants to do it, so now we've just got to (do it). He and I, you won't believe this, he's been kind of busy and I've been kind of busy, so we haven't matched cards yet, but I think that'll be done. And then we'll play two or three other games, maybe another game here and there depending on our team. What if everybody comes back? Yeah, we may add some single-shot games and play more to prepare the team. But I think we're doing what most of the teams are doing now. You're playing a schedule that fits, and you'd like to play more, but that's for fans and me. This is about these kids. You put a schedule together that, when you start talking about the SEC adding two more games, you can say, 'Well, you're not playing as many non-conference,' yeah, because we're playing two more conference games. Missouri; we're playing one of those teams twice, Texas A&M.

Q: What do the two new teams do for the strength of the conference?
Missouri is picked above us. A&M, they struggled last year, but I think they're going to be good again. I think they'll be fine. They slipped a little bit, but I think they're going to be fine.

Q: It seems you've been going nonstop even since winning the national title. Are your batteries recharged enough to do this again?
Probably when I'm done, in my last year, I'll run out of gas then. I took some time before (coaching) the Dominican Republic that I've never done before. We got back (from the Final Four) and I took some time. We went to Boston, were with my daughters, and I took some time. I took some good time this weekend (Sept. 1-2), read about 150 pages of a book I started and kind of kicked back. But I kept coming over to the office. My wife's like, 'You're out of your mind.' We have two workouts that go about 50 minutes, so if I choose to grab a player and work on his shooting, I can do that. So I had Archie over here; we did a little shooting. And I called Nerlens; I said, 'I've been thinking about you, kid. Let's do this, finish this.' So I'm just enjoying it. Listen, you know, the pace you go here is the pace you go. You want to coach here, you take a lot of crap. If that's what I have to do to be the coach here, then I'll take a lot of crap. I'm the coach at Kentucky. It took me 20 years to get this job. I look back, and I say this all the time: Man, how about if I coached here 20 years? Daggone.

Q: Could you coach here 20 years?
I would've loved it back (when he was younger). If you could last here 20 years, then I would be like saying, 'Why don't some of these other guys go coach at some of the places I've been?' So the stuff you have to do and the stuff you have to take, it's just part of this job. But I think I'm ready (for this season). I need to lose a little weight. I gained a little weight. Went and saw a friend of mine today to make him feel good and as I'm leaving he says he you've got (rubs belly). I said, 'That's real nice. I make you feel good and I walk out and you're touching my belly.'

Q: You say the UK coach must take a lot of crap. What is your definition of 'crap'?
Uh, everybody knows your job better than you. You take it. I say take it; I don't listen to it and I don't hear it. DeWayne (Peevy) will tell you I can't even barely turn on a computer. And they go, 'How do you (know what's being said)?' Because we talk all the time and the guys I talk to - we don't put anything out that I don't first see, whether it's Twitter, Facebook or something on the Internet, on the web page. But being the coach here, there are a lot of people not rooting for us and me. Would you agree? Would you agree? Am I like being paranoid or is that true? I mean, it's just what it is. There are people that aren't rooting for you. There are people that aren't rooting for this school. And you've gotta deal with all that. And it's OK. I mean, right now we're at that point where: How do you slow this down if you're those people? How do you slow this down? (Detractors say) 'We can't deal with this. DeWayne might seat me in the upper deck if I want to go. How do I deal with this? What do I do? What do I say? What do I write? How do I … I've got to slow this down.' And that's just part of what this is, and it's not being paranoid; it's what it is. And you know what? To be here, you deal with it. Or go somewhere else and coach.

Q: What was your take on CBS' recent anonymous polls of your coaching colleagues that portrayed you negatively?
I didn't see them all. DeWayne had called me and said, 'Hey, this and that.' Hey, look, (it's) stupid. The thing that you just don't want for the profession we're in, let's not hurt the profession. You've got to be smarter than that, please tell me. When you hurt the profession with the stuff you do, you almost want to say, 'Why are you in this? Why would you hurt the profession?' But we don't know the question that was asked (or) that it was even answered. We don't know anything other than this guy says this was what he did and this is what they said. Was it said? (Maybe the question was) 'Well out of these six guys, who do you think?' Is that how it was asked? Because I know some names were not (included). 'Well those are my boys. I'm not going to put them in.' We don't know anything. But my point was just: Why hurt the profession? One, we don't talk about other schools in recruiting. I would never damage another coach because it damages our profession. I don't do it. I think there are a lot of coaches like me, but there are others that I guess choose to do it.

Q: Did you ever take a moment this summer to revel in winning it all?
I'm telling you, you guys think that it meant that much to me. It meant more to my fans and my family and the people that want to say that I'm this or I'm that, or I'm better than this or that, better than this guy or that guy. You know I'm saying. Those people. But the reality of it is, the only time that I've kind of - and you'll think this is crazy, but there was a (fan YouTube) video done about the last three years (of UK basketball) and I watched that video because goofball (Peevy) gave it to me. I watched that video and it kind of touched me, like, wow. You think back and you're like, 'Man.' And then I said, 'Alright, what's next.' If you want a (moment), that would be it. But it wasn't that we had won the national title. It's that we've - you kind of forget that play against Mississippi State (buzzer beater in the 2010 SEC Tournament), but when I saw it, it just goose-bumped me. Or John Wall's first (game-winning) shot. We could've lost that game. Dudes would've all been happy, you know? That shot, we shouldn't have won that game. And then I can even remember the Stanford stuff. We had no business - and if DeMarcus didn't foul out, we wouldn't have won the game. So he had to foul out for us to win. And then you go back to Brandon Knight, when we play at Louisville, and that's where Josh's (Harrellson) coming-out party. And then the shots we made down the stretch. How the heck did we beat North Carolina and Ohio State? Tell me. How did we beat those two? Are you crazy? And we did. And we should've won the national title (in 2011). It's crazy. And then last year, the stuff and, you know … So you look back on that in its entirety and you say kind of like, 'Daggone,' like, 'Whoa.' And then you just say, 'I don't want to think about that because we've got to move on here and we've got other stuff.'

Q: Is the fan base what you expected when you took the job, and have you embraced the craziness?
Well, first of all, that fan base, 99 percent of them are: that's what they're into and they're about Kentucky. Then you have one percent that are - I don't know what they are. But if you try to lump that together, you lose sight of what this is. This is the greatest fan base. Now, did I understand to what level? No, did not. But when I figured it out, it didn't take me long. And when I did figure it out, I'm like, 'You know what? We need to connect with these people.' It changes who we are and puts us on a page that no one else can touch, because of that fan base. Everything we do is to try to separate from the pack. Well that was the first thing that we did; we're connecting with these people. We're going to have an army of people with us and they're going to know and we're going to be transparent, and that's one of the first things.

And then, I did some stuff early (in his UK career) and it was by chance. Do you remember what I did when I first took this job - by chance? I did a tour. Do you remember what that tour was? The book tour. That book was written a year and a half, two years earlier. I never knew I was taking this (job). It was by chance. That tour showed me, like, 'Oh, my gosh, it doesn't matter where I got in this state; these people are into this program and it means something to them.' And then you do Midnight Madness and you've got the grandmother, the granddaughter, the grandchild, the great grandchild, and they're all under one tent. Then you start saying, 'Wait a minute. This is a little bigger than I'm thinking.' That happened.

And they've been great at home games. Have we lost yet there? (Nope) OK. So I'm anxious to find out when you spill one, how are they then? And I still tell the story - DeWayne will tell you - I don't know if we were in the 40s (consecutive home wins) somewhere and I said, 'DeWayne, this thing, we need to lose one just to get this thing off the deck.' And I said, 'By the way, what's the record (for consecutive home wins at UK)?' He said, 'A hundred and twenty-nine.' And I go, 'Straight?' I said, 'That had to be nine years.' It's twelve. How in the world do you win 12 straight years of home games? That means a person was 12 years old and you didn't lose until he was 24; he went from sixth grade to having two children. That's sick. But that's where this thing was.

So I could see why - how did Coach Hall follow this guy (Adolph Rupp)? How in the world does he follow? He was telling me he was a little meaner then, huh? But I mean, it's part of it. It's part of what you do here. And the last thing, and I'll just say: What I also learned is when you're in this seat I'm in, which is you're the keeper of the tradition; whoever is this seat is the keeper of the tradition as much as anything else you do. So if you come in and you think, 'Well I'm just going to watch tape and coach my team,' you cheat the position. Which means connecting to the past. If you ever try to eliminate the past, it's because you wanted the program to start with you, like it was going to be all about you. The reality of it is this thing started in the 30s. You're the keeper of the tradition. That's one. And the second part of it is you have a chance to move people for the good or bad by how you act and the things you do. Or you can sit in the office and watch tape. So you almost, if you're not going to cheat the position, understand you better be the keeper of the tradition and keep people around and connect the dots and bring everybody back in and be a gatherer.

Q: Looking back, what was the significance of dropping last year's SEC title game?
I don't even remember it, to be honest. All I know is I got Darius in the game; he took his 17 shots, we got him ready for the NCAA Tournament - which meant if he took 17 shots we probably lost, which we did (in the SEC title game) and we moved on. I don't even remember - I think the one thing I remember is we were up a few at the end and couldn't make a shot. That's the only thing I remember in the game. I don't remember anything else, other than we were up (and) how in the heck did we not make? And we got good looks if I remember right. We had great looks at the basket and we didn't make.

Q: With Louisville, Indiana and UK all expected to be top-five teams this season - and Murray State will be good - do you like this area being the epicenter of college basketball?
Ohio State's going to be good. Yeah, it's fine. We're a national program. I mean, I guess if you live around here it's great. But this thing for us, the epicenter of college basketball is here. Well, they're good? That's great. If they play well, I just want them to lose to us. Other than that, I could care less. I don't follow their teams. I don't watch the games. I really don't. I don't root against them. If I feel myself - if the game's on and I think I'm rooting against them, I'll turn the channel because I don't want that stuff coming back at us. It always does. But for the fans around here, I guess it's great.

Q: So are you a believer in karma, then, if you say you 'don't want that stuff coming back at us'?
I always say that. If you're a nice person, it's usually good stuff. If you're mean and nasty, old and bitter, shit comes back at you, comes back and hits you in the mouth. That's just how it is.

Q: Did you view Kentucky as the epicenter of college basketball when you were coaching against the Cats, and how badly did you want to beat that?
Well, I liked Tubby (Smith) when I was coaching against him. We beat them one time. But for a while, Kentucky was, when they walked in to recruit, everybody went, 'Ugh. Kentucky's walking in.' And that changed for a while. Then it became, 'OK, maybe we can get these guys.' But Kentucky in the families - the kids know three years; when I go in to recruit a player, he only knows (the last) three years. He could care less after. He would know nothing about '98. He wouldn't know a player, nothing. Matter of fact, he'd probably know our team a few years ago and before that he probably couldn't name one player on their team. But that's not just Kentucky; it's any team.

But their families understand the history of this place. The 2K game means something. It did. It did then. And we knew, we scheduled, believe me. We needed to get there before Carolina and we knew it. I said, 'Can we win these games to make sure we get there before they do?' I didn't want it to have to be us playing them - oh, my gosh - for the 2K. That's all we needed. But this is a unique place. The expectations are high. You're under a magnifying glass. Stuff that goes on, on other campuses, psssh. If it goes on here, it's a big deal; goes on over there, 'Eh, he didn't mean it; the guy walked into the kid's fist.' But if it goes on here, I'm telling you it's huge. It's all part of what it is.

I'll just leave you with this: The whole thing here, it's a players-first program. It's not changing. Every decision I make is based on what's right for these kids. That's not changing. Everything I do is based on them, and if I do right by them and keep doing right by them, they'll drag us where we want to go. Now I'll say this: This team will drag us maybe as far as it can go and that may not be what we all want, but I look back and say, 'Hey, I feel great about that.' I think of the team two years ago and the first team I had here; those two teams, both of them had a chance to win both national titles. You all may say we should've won it in 2010, we should've won it then. Well if we don't go 0 for 20 against West Virginia then maybe we do. Because I think we were better than the other teams. And then that next year, where you didn't think and we ended up going farther, and we should've won it then. Man, that's just how it is here. You just want to be up at bat.

I think we've got good kids, but it's going to be hard. This is one that it's not going to be as easy as it looks to figure stuff out how we play. That'll be the challenge of it. But that's exciting. People will say to me, 'Doesn't that drive you crazy to have a new team?' I say, 'No, it's exciting.' I mean, think about it. You wake up every day and your whole thought is, 'How do I make this better for these guys? How do I figure this stuff out?' I say this: Guys staying with you three years, they don't learn to hate you after one, maybe two, but they do after three and four.



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