Revisiting Calipari's Quotes: What Hasn't Panned Out for Kentucky?
Much of the disappointment among Kentucky fans right now has more to do with preseason expectations than actual performance. John Calipari has had worse Kentucky teams, but none have performed as far below expectations, fair or not, than this year’s to date. But referring simply to expectations is vague. What were some of the things Calipari said, surely prompted by questions in some cases and brought on unprompted in others, that built up this season to points it wouldn’t reach?
Below are selected quotes Calipari gave in interviews in October and early November, ranging from the team’s preseason media day on Oct. 15 to Kentucky’s 78-74 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 12.
Questions are in italics, and the date and occasion of the interview are in parentheses.
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What is it that’s impressing people that come in here about James Young? (Oct. 15, media day)
He is really fast. He’s now not settling for jump shots. So you’re seeing a young man get his head and shoulders by people, take contact, and make baskets, which a month ago he was not going in there. In transition, he’s kind of like Michael Kidd-(Gilchrist). If he’s out ahead, you throw him the ball. Something good will happen. And he has a chance of being a terrific defender. Part of what happened to us last year with Nerlens (Noel), some other guys we thought would be good defenders really weren’t. I think this team could and should be, not just because you have a shot blocker. We have a couple of big kids. We can guard the ball better.
After 2010, you said that you had to figure out that last little skip over the hump for a young team, and obviously, they did it in 2012. What is that element? What can you call upon for these guys? (Oct. 15, media day)
This will be a team that, when they get teams down, will they bury them, or do they go to showtime? Do they let up off the gas? If you ask me right now, that will be our Achilles heel early. We’ll let up off the gas. We’ll have it going good and then back up because that’s what they’ve done their whole lives, and they’re 18 years old. So some of it is you’ve got to get dinged. Sometimes you’ve got to take losses to prove a point. Our game with Indiana helped propel us in another direction in 2012. So I think that’s what will be the case, but I don’t know.
What percentage of the time would you say the best team wins the whole thing? (Oct. 15, media day)
Well, you start knowing in the middle of January, late January, okay, we’ve got a chance, and then you start looking at what could hold us back. 2010, we knew it was shooting. We knew. We had a bad shooing night, we were going to lose. You think of our team, that’s what worried us the most. This team, I don’t know what that will be, but by the middle of January, late January, we’ll know, okay, that’s the Achilles heel. What will they try to do?
How has the chemistry evolved? You talked about last year’s team didn’t know each other. (Oct. 29, after the Blue-White Scrimmage)
They really like each other, but we’ve got a whole season. We’ve got to get dinged up a little bit. Like I said, you can’t compare how you’re playing to somebody else. Just be the best version of yourself. If somebody goes for 30, don’t have that affect how you think or play or you just can’t on this team because you’re going to drive yourself crazy because there could be now that you saw, was my statement an exaggeration? We could have as many as seven, eight guys do that. And so if someone is doing it you can’t let it affect you. Just play basketball, defend, rebound. If we’re going to be what we want to be, we’ve got to be a better defensive team, and I’m starting to zero in on defense. I’m telling you, from the 18th until this date, we’ve just started defense. I did no defense prior to.
With where you are right now, how close are you defensively to where you want to be today? (Nov. 7, the day before the season opener vs. UNC Asheville):
We’re not close there. Look, I was thinking about it today, I was driving over here and I starting doing, ‘November, December, January, February, I’ve got four months to get this thing right.’ Four months. And if I try to do it in two weeks, I’m going to cheat the kids and drive myself crazy. Yesterday, I wasn’t—I’ve got goofy stuff going on, so I didn’t get to work out so I probably wasn’t in the mood. I wasn’t in the frame of mind I needed to be in to coach this basketball team. As long as they’re trying, I’ve got to be good with it. So the things I can’t accept and won’t ever accept: I need more effort, more intensity, more fight, more concentration. Other than that, everything else is, ‘Throw up five balls, here we go, don’t know what’s going to happen.’ ‘Why did you do that?’ ‘I don’t know why.’ Well, what do I say to that? Oh my gosh, he doesn’t know why. So, we’re not—I’ve got four months. I’ve got four months. To help this team put them in a position of how they’re going to play offensively and defensively to do something special. It’s just we are what we are right now.
Is toughness one of the things you’re not worried about, or are you still worried about it? (Nov. 7, the day before the season opener vs. UNC Asheville):
Oh yeah. Look, we’re going to be going against—just about every team we play, they’re gonna have a 21-year-old, a 22-year-old. We’re gonna be 18 and 19 years old. And even our sophomores are 19. So we’re out there with a bunch of young kids, and the other guys are three years older. And that’s big at this age. That’s as big as a 16-year-old playing against a 19-year-old. It’s huge, an 18 and a 22. It’s huge. But we have the physical presence if we want to be able to do it, but it’s gonna—gonna have to go do it. Gonna have to be—I think they’ll be stunned when they really see it.
James (Young) said in September this is a game he’s really looking forward to, being a Michigan guy. Any worries about him? (Nov. 11, the day before Michigan State):
I talked to him today. I thought he’s, like, pressing offensively for no reason. Like, he’s got the ultimate green light. No reason to press. You’ve already established who you are as a player. You don’t have to play great every night out. Just about every third night out. You’ve established who you are, so why would you press? If you don’t shoot open shots, I take you out of the game. I think he’s the best shooter in the country. Now you gotta go in games and do it.
An unprompted aside in a question about using James Young as a defensive stopper (Nov. 12, following the loss to Michigan State):
We don’t have enough pride in our defense right now, but that’s natural. Our team, we’re going to be fine. I’ve got four months to get this right. Less than that now: three and a half months to get this right.