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Calipari: Hold Guys Accountable or Lose Your Team

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

Kentucky coach John Calipari began to own up to Kentucky’s shortcomings on Monday, in a news conference usually held to preview the next day’s game but instead used to ask Calipari questions about how the Wildcats lost to South Carolina on Saturday, why Calipari was ejected with two technical fouls over the course of the game and how the Wildcats will go about the rest of their season.

Calipari was not at the post-game news conference Saturday, so this was his first time taking questions since the unexpected loss. He was visibly agitated at times but mostly stuck to his message of reiterating that whatever problems that plague the team—either in execution or in design through recruiting and building a team that relies almost exclusively on freshmen—ultimately are his fault.

The full transcript of Calipari’s news conference is below. Questions are in italics and are paraphrased for clarity.

On how to fix things:

One little thing at a time. Just keep coaching them and keep meeting with them, keep talking with them, keep showing them tape. They’re 18- and 19-year-olds. It was only two weeks ago we’re like, ‘OK, we got this figured out.’ Two weeks later, you know we don’t have it figured out.

On the team playing well when assistant coach John Robic was coaching following Calipari’s ejection:

He’s a better coach than me. He’s a better coach than me, Jerry (Tipton, Herald-Leader sports reporter). He’s a better coach than me. He’s a better coach. Should let him be the head coach.

On when he’s resigning, since Robic is a better coach:

As soon as you retire.

On what he wishes he’d done differently this year:

No. How this plays out—at the end of the day, where we are—they’re 18 and 19. It’s my job. They need me to keep leading them. It was two—what, two weeks ago, four weeks ago—that I said if I have to be (a) 35-year-old and coach like that, I will. Throughout my career, there’s not been one way that I’ve done things. There’s not been one offense or zone defense or press. It’s whatever the team needs from me. And that’s what I do, and I at the end of the day I take responsibility. I never put it on the kids. It’s on me. And so we’re here. We got to get these kids playing more confident. Part of it is, you got to work your way through it. Part of it is, when adversity hits, will you come together? And it’s all stuff we’re learning.

On how he can put himself in a position to get ejected if his team needs him:

Well, again, it wasn’t like I was—people walked up and said, ‘You did that on purpose.’ I didn’t do it on purpose. But after that point, hopefully I’ve led well enough that they don’t need me out there and they can perform. That’s leadership. That you can—sometimes you’re sick, you step away, something happens, and the ship moves on, and you look back and say, ‘Boy, I’ve done a good job of leading because I’ve had other people around me and a team that knows they can do this without me.’ I think that was important for them to see. But again, this team is a work in progress. A lot of young players. Two weeks ago, Florida, Mississippi, we got this figured out. Two weeks later, all of the sudden, we’re like a bunch of teams in the Top 25 that lost. Some of us lost to unranked teams. You lose and you regroup and figure it out.

On if this team has been harder to figure out:

They’re just younger. They’re younger.

On why the offense has declined the last two or three games:

Well, part of it is we’re getting no free baskets, and the ones we’re getting next to the goal, for some reason we’re missing. So if you look over the last three games, I’m guess we’ve missed over 20 one-foot shots. I mean, right next to the goal.

You’re talking about out-rebounding teams by 20-some rebounds each game and getting no breakout baskets. So we’re not getting enough free baskets. We’ve been working hard on running and getting it out and going. The other thing I think, again, getting the ball in the basket with contact. You’ve got to get it in. You can’t have an excuse. You’ve got to get the ball in, so we’ve been working on that some with the kids. We’re trying to do stuff to let them know, ‘What you need to do, you’re capable of doing. Now you have to get out there and do it.’

On if it’s possible to erase the preseason expectations from players’ minds now:

You just, you keep going. It’s all a process. I mean, where we are right now has no bearing on where we’re going to be. It’s what are you willing to do to get yourself to play better? We have a team, we have a style, we have the defense, we have an offense, we’re good enough to do what we have to do. Now, the biggest thing is when adversity hits will you come together? It’s, you know, you just keep making a point of it. You show them in the tape where we started to break down, where things didn’t go quite our way.

On if he thinks players perceptions of themselves are still colored by preseason expectations:

I’m not in their mind. You’d have to ask them. I don’t know. All I’m trying to do is, ‘Let’s get ready for our next game.’

On if his teleconference comments meant he is going to take a lighter tone with this team now:

Whatever they need from me is how I coach, and that’s what they know. Whatever they need. And I’ve done it every year I’ve coached. So, anywhere I’ve coached that’s been the case. Now, if you remember, two weeks ago if you really were listening where I said, ‘We need this to be driven by? Players.’ Well, what does that mean? That I step back, that they take on more responsibility. Obviously they weren’t ready. Now, if I have to coach every possession, I will. It’s not what I want to do. And what I want them to do is take on more responsibility. Also, to where they’re taking to one another and holding each other accountable. If they hold each other accountable it’s less I have to do. But it’s hard for an 18- and 19-year-old group. When you’ve got juniors and seniors you can do it. We’re asking them to grow up fast. That’s what we do here. That’s what we’ve always done here.

But, you know, again, I’m going to be what they need me to be, because the job here for me is about them, not me. Now you could all focus it on me, but my job is about these young people, how can I get them to understand, adversity hits, you’ve got to come together, how you’ve got to play more for your teammate, how you build self esteem and self-confidence? That’s what we’re doing, and I said it. You know they’re are a lot of things we’re teaching now that may not hit home but it may hit home 10 years from now, that they look at it. Inner dialogue, all the things we’re talking about, the dregs of all that stuff that we had to deal with. But, again, my mind hasn’t changed about this team. It’s just that we’ve got to get them in a little different mindset. We’ve got to practice it, and then they’ve got to carry over into a game. And when adversity hits, when the other team tries to take the game or take it from you, you just don’t let them and you respond to it.

On what’s working and what isn’t offensively for Julius Randle:

Um, again, they’re still being really physical with him, they’re still running people at him. You say, ‘What’s not working?’ The kid’s averaging a double-double the last three or four games. I don’t know if he should be averaging 25 and 15. I want him to shoot a few more jumpers than he’s shooting. Everything is a drive right now when there are opportunities for him to shoot jumpers. But again, he’s gotta be comfortable doing it, more confident doing it. He’s doing fine. I mean, again, we talked about our 2010 team. They were never execution team; they just were a competitive team. They would look at a guy – that’s what we’re trying to grow to here. You gotta make this personal. You’ve gotta make some of it like, ‘I’m going at this guy,’ and that’s what we’re trying to get to.

On Aaron Harrison saying the players still think they can write a great story and if that’s the attitude he wants after a loss like USC:

Yeah, yeah. I mean it’s exactly what we want. Exactly what we want. I know we were the only team to lose on Saturday (rolls eyes), but you deal with it and you move on. And now how do we get this team thinking right. Great group of kids, just young. And like I’ve said to them: I’m not saying an 18, 19-year-old kid is responsible; I’m responsible to get them to play right, to get them in the right frame of mind. If they’re not in that frame of mind, that’s back to me. This team is young because we recruited a young team. So all of it comes back to me.

On whether the last two years’ struggles make him reassess his recruiting philosophy then:

I don’t think so. I think, look, I’d like to have guys stay for me but if the opportunity arises for them, I’m not going to hold guys back. I’m recruiting good players. Some of them people think would go; others think they wouldn’t go, and you don’t know until the year’s out. You just don’t know. The environment we’re in, you can either convince guys to stay that should leave or recruit players that aren’t quite good enough to be here and compete. ‘Well recruit a top-50 (player).’ He thinks he’s one-and-done, too. That’s why the rule, like I keep coming back to, I’m hoping this rule changes and it goes to two years. Makes it good for the kids: high school kids, college kids, the NBA. It’s good for everybody.

On how much role he/college coaches have in getting that rule changed:

It’s not. It’ll be between the NBA and the Players Association. Has nothing to do with us. My hope is they come to terms with it and they know it’s best for everybody involved, including the players. It’s hard to have fun here. You’ve got to make it fun. And today, when we met, it looked like they were good with each other. They know playing at Kentucky’s not easy. It’s a tough deal. And lose a couple of games, makes it even tougher. It’s just how it is here. You buy into it being the coach here or being a player here.

On how tough it is to balance being demanding with trying to reinforce and build confidence:

Well, one thing I know being a coach: If you don’t hold guys accountable, you lose your team. So one thing I know, if you don’t hold guys—this is that story you’re trying to write, this is probably the most important thing: The most important thing as a coach, if you do not hold guys accountable, you lose your team. Now how you do that, there’s all different kinds of ways of doing it. Throughout the year, it changes. You talk for a while, you have them in the office, you yell. You scream, you sit them out of games, you take them out of games—you do whatever you have to. Everyone on the team needs to know: Everybody’s being held accountable. If you don’t hold them accountable, you lose your team.

On if he’ll start Polson and Hood on Senior Day:


On if the bench hasn’t been as friendly to him as he thought it would be:

Bench has been fine. Bench has been fine. I don’t—I think Jarrod, Dominique, I think Alex and Willie or Dakari, I think Marcus Lee has done good things. Jon Hood has gone in and played as well as he’s ever played in his career. So I don’t think that’s the issue for our team.

On what recourse he has with regard to his issues with officiating in Saturday’s game:

I can’t—I can’t talk about officials. That—no, no reason to do it.

On if he has to address that with his players since players have gotten frustrated at times with officiating:

Players play, coaches coach, and officials officiate. That’s how it is. That’s what we talk about all the time. You try to protect your kids, but at the end of the day, the way the game is being called, it’s being called. Play.  They officiate, you play, and I coach.

On if he uses the league as an example of how Saturday’s game may have been poorly officiated:

Look. The rules have changed how they’re supposed to officiate. It’s supposed to be called closer. Twenty feet and two feet, it’s supposed to be the same. Those are what the rules—did I—I made the one-and-done rule. Am I also the one that changed those rules? I didn’t change them, they were—and then we all taught a certain way of having to play. And that’s what you’re teaching. And short of that—the only thing I can control is how we play. Not how the other guy plays, not how the official officiates, not how the other guy coaches. Only on what we teach and how we do it, which is: This is what we were told what the game would be called like.

On sounding like Jim Boeheim after his ejection last week:

No, I’m just—you asked me a question, and I answered it.

On if he’s saying they’re not calling the rule:

No. You asked me a question, and I gave you an answer. I can only control what they tell me we can do, and that’s what we’re doing.

Photo: John Calipari/KY Forward file

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